Changes urged in probes of police
Heisey seeks independent body for complaints
Sees improvement over officers doing the investigating


Jul. 27, 2004. 06:17 AM

It's time to end the practice of police investigating themselves, the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board says.

Instead, an independent body should be re-established to investigate public complaints against the police, Alan Heisey recommends in a report he will present to board members Thursday.

"It's the old story of police investigating themselves," Heisey said in an interview yesterday. "It's harder to complain about an outcome where the people involved in the process are independent of the service. I think it will lead to fewer complaints overall and less ability to attack outcomes."

But a small number of police officers should be included on the administrative body that oversees hearings on police misconduct to ensure panels have an understanding of "the way policing works," suggests Heisey who will be leaving the police board when his term expires in September.

In his 16-page report, Heisey calls for a massive restructuring of the existing public complaints system, including:

width="15" height="13">Allowing witnesses not only victims of incidents of police wrongdoing to launch complaints, as well as family members of victims with physical or mental disabilities.

A flexible standard of proof be applied, so people complaining of minor misconduct such as officers using foul language with them will be judged with a more lenient "balance of probabilities" standard, rather than the rigorous "clear and convincing evidence" employed in cases of alleged serious misconduct.

The independent body become a one-stop shop for citizens complaining about the police that would end their right to sue officers in civil court or file separate claims before the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

"That's much better for complainants because they won't get exhausted by limitless legal proceedings," Heisey said of restricting complaints to the lone independent body.

"It's also better for officers because the toll that is taken on them, being embroiled in legal proceedings for three, four, five years ... is terrible," said Heisey, who spent a year researching public complaints systems around the world. "The only people who will be worse off are the lawyers."

While he backed many of Heisey's recommendations, one critic of the current system was opposed to losing the opportunity to take complaints to the courts or human rights commission.

"Persons that are the victims of police misconduct are invariably more disenfranchised, least advantaged and often visible minorities in our community. To suggest they should be treated differently so they should give up rights of private compensation through litigation or otherwise is purely discriminatory," said Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer who is counsel for the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.

If approved by the police services board, Heisey's recommendations will be forwarded to retired Superior Court chief justice Patrick LeSage, who is conducting a formal review of the province's police complaints system and will present his report in late fall.

Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino supports the current system in his own report to the board.