Faith lost in police complaints system, board told
Number of complainants `falling off,' lawyers' group says

Many presenters at meeting urge a civilian review approach


Jun. 17, 2004. 01:00 AM

There's been a dramatic "falling off" in the number of people making complaints against the police, despite having legitimate grounds for doing so, David Bayliss of the Criminal Lawyers' Association told a special public meeting last night.

The Toronto Police Services Board convened the meeting at city hall to deal with one issue: Should there be a new civilian complaints system and, if yes, what should it look like?

The lawyers' group, in its written submission, said public confidence in the police complaints system has been greatly damaged since the former Conservative government of Mike Harris scrapped the independent civilian agency. It had the power to investigate complaints and hold disciplinary hearings.

The Tories replaced it with a system where police forces investigate complaints against their own an approach critics say favours police and discourages the public from coming forward. Currently, complaints can be reviewed by local police services boards and be appealed to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services.

Bayliss' group recommended a process, in place in Quebec, whereby the complainant and officers are required to meet face to face, in the presence of a conciliator, for less serious allegations of police misconduct.

Sixteen organizations and individuals addressed the board meeting, which was also attended by senior police officials, including Chief Julian Fantino.

All but one Inspector Bob Genno, of the Toronto Police Service's professional standards department, which handles complaints against officers urged the board to set up an independent, civilian review board. "The choir is singing from the same sheet," Karen Mock, of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, said in noting the near unanimity in the deputations presented.

While not perfect, the current system "works well," Genno said.

Many of the presenters called for a complaints procedure to review third-party complaints. Right now to register a complaint, a member of the public must be "directly affected" to report misconduct.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association's Alan Borovoy called for a complaints machinery that will apply to "everyone, police officer, special constable, or civilian, who wields significant police powers."

The African Canadian Legal Clinic said civilian oversight is critical because "many African-Canadians do not believe the current system promotes fairness." When police act as investigators, "there can be no objectivity," Estella Muyinda, a policy research lawyer, said.

It was the first time the board has met in public since chair Alan Heisey, citing personal reasons, announced he plans to leave the board as soon as a replacement can be found.

Last week, the province appointed retired Superior Court chief justice Patrick LeSage to conduct a far-reaching review of the police complaints system.

Heisey said last night that board members will consider suggestions presented to them by the public before putting a firm recommendation forward to LeSage. The judge has said he will confer throughout the fall with police, community groups and individuals.

Additional articles by Betsy Powell