Mother bankrupt, heartbroken after fight for police accountability in son’s
2013 decision means that police can no longer consult with a lawyer before
turning in their notes, but fight left mother devastated
Ruth Schaeffer took the police all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in
2013 that police officers under SIU investigation cannot consult a lawyer before
preparing their notes. (FRED
7:00 AM, Sun., June 12, 2016
PETERBOROUGH, ONT.—Ruth Schaeffer found out from the newspaper that no
criminal charges would be laid against the OPP officer who killed her
schizophrenic son in
a remote camping area in 2009.
She had already been in a bad place for months, since officials from
Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, turned up on her
doorstep to inform her that her youngest child and only son, Levi, was dead.
She spent weeks in hospital for depression, was suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder, and had difficulty leaving the house.
Devastated, she was about to begin the biggest fight of her life — one that
she doesn’t regret, but for which she would pay a heavy price.
Because not only had Ruth discovered from the paper that no officer would
stand trial, she also learned that the SIU director could not conclude what
exactly happened that day because the two officers involved had consulted a
lawyer before preparing their notes, as was standard practice at the time.
There were no other witnesses.
“It puts me in the position of not really knowing how my son died, which is
unreasonable,” she said. “He was killed by public employees, who should have
been able to tell me exactly what happened, without a lawyer’s assistance.”
A self-described “poorly resourced citizen,” Ruth would find herself at the
centre of an expensive legal battle that would last more than four years.
Along with the family of Douglas Minty, a 59-year-old developmentally
delayed man killed by an OPP officer in a separate 2009 incident, Ruth took
the case against the police to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled
in a landmark 2013 decision that
officers under investigation could not speak with a lawyer before writing
It ensured that the record of an incident was independent and contemporaneous,
which did not happen in the Schaeffer and Minty cases.
“Put simply, appearances matter. And, when the community’s trust in the police
is at stake, it is imperative that the investigatory process be — and appear to
be — transparent,” wrote
Justice Michael Moldaver.
“Manifestly, the legislature did not intend to provide officers with an
entitlement to counsel that would undermine this transparency.”
Just weeks after the provincial government announced
an independent review into police oversight bodies, including the SIU, Ruth
reflected on that gruelling legal challenge.
As beneficial as it was to police accountability, it wiped out her life savings
and most of her possessions, leaving her bankrupt and her emotional recovery
that much more difficult.
Her story is indicative of the challenges to overhauling police practices in
Ontario, says her lawyer, Julian Falconer. It’s rare that politicians will take
the lead on these issues, he says; the job falls to the victims and their
“It was extremely insulting that I would have to have a bake sale to raise money
to change the laws so that people would be safer in Ontario,” Ruth said.
“The Ministry of the Attorney General has tons of money and could have done the
legislative process. They certainly didn’t have to wait for me.”
She pointed out that problems affecting investigations into the police,
including note-taking, had already been highlighted before the court case by
former Ontario ombudsman André Marin, a former SIU director who published two
reports on the oversight body.
Sitting in a friend’s backyard, she must at times take long pauses, as the tears
flow freely down her face. After all these years, her emotions are still raw,
and her frustration with the government and its sluggish pace toward reform
still very strong.
“What I did, by taking the police up to and including the Supreme Court, was not
actually my job to do, it was my government’s job to do, and I had already paid
them for doing that job through my taxes, but they didn’t do it.”
Some changes to communications between the SIU and police were made as the legal
challenge moved through the courts. For example, the government has prohibited
witness officers from using the same lawyer as the subject officer — the officer
responsible for causing death or serious injury.
“I want to express my sympathy to Ms. Schaeffer,” said Ministry of the Attorney
General spokeswoman Jenna Mannone. “It is incredibly hard to lose a loved one
and I recognize that these were especially difficult circumstances.”
It was shortly after noon on June 24, 2009, when two OPP officers from the
Pickle Lake detachment, about an eight-hour drive north of Thunder Bay, arrived
at 30-year-old Levi Schaeffer’s isolated camping area, reportedly looking for a
stolen boat. One was never located.
“There was an interaction of sorts,” wrote Ian Scott, then the SIU director, in
the public portion of his report included in a Sept. 28, 2009, news release,
“and the subject officer discharged his firearm at Mr. Schaeffer, causing his
“Beyond that, I am not sure what happened.”
Const. Kris Wood, who killed Levi, was told to prepare notes that only the
police association lawyer would review, Scott wrote. After the notes had been
approved, Wood then wrote in his memo book, two days later, an account that was
the combination of his confidential notes to the lawyer and the discussions with
Acting Sgt. Mark Pullbrook, the other officer on scene, was advised to do the
same. Neither officer shared their first set of notes with the SIU.
“The SIU director . . . concluded that he had no information from which he could
base his conclusion as to what happened in the death of Mr. Schaeffer as a
result of counsel’s involvement,” Moldaver would later write in the Supreme
Court ruling. “Surely this is not the stuff out of which public confidence is
Falconer, who has represented a number of families of people killed by police,
goes as far as calling it a “corrupt practice” that had festered for too long.
“It is troubling, the kind of burden that members of the public should have to
bear to fix what so clearly should be fixed by government, and that is a reality
in the policing world,” he said. “Far from Ruth’s situation being unique, we
live in a society where the police lobby is so powerful that, generally,
political leaders follow. They don’t lead.”
He believes the government should compensate the Schaeffer and Minty families.
“I’m not against police officers, I’m against what happened in this situation,”
said Douglas Minty’s sister, Diane Pinder. “They have unlimited funds. We don’t.
And they fight you each step of the way.”
The families’ case was thrown out in Superior Court in Toronto, but they won at
the Court of Appeal, after which the police took them to the Supreme Court,
where their’ victory was upheld.
“My son never embarrassed me,” said Ruth of Levi, who became ill when he was
about 18 or 19 years old. “My son had an illness. If he had cancer and found
himself in pain in public, then somebody would help him. He had a mental illness
and sometimes found himself in pain in public, but nobody helps.”
She said she soon realized the mental health system was not prepared to let him
live a full and satisfying life. Quite adept in the great outdoors, Ruth
discussed with Levi the possibility of living on his own in a secluded area.
She had just saved up enough money to buy him a piece of land, as well as one
for herself, and false teeth, when the knock came at her door.
“I opened, took one look at the guy and said, ‘It’s my son, is he dead?’ I just
From what she understands — as a result of the legal challenge and the coroner’s
inquest into her son’s death — Levi had gone down to the water when the two
officers arrived in Wood’s personal boat, asking if he could be of assistance.
She believes that at some point, Levi panicked. According to Wood’s account,
Levi was advancing with a knife.
“I think I would panic if I was on a small area of land with two armed men, one
of whom was becoming very aggressive toward me,” she said. (Wood and Pullbrook
declined to comment through an OPP spokesman.)
Before her son died, Ruth was in the happiest period of her life. She was
working as a human-rights worker with the Elizabeth Fry Society, often at the
Lindsay jail, and spending a lot of time with her two daughters and
“I had stopped worrying so much about my son,” she said. “I had been terribly
worried about him for a long time and didn’t really expect him to make it, and
then he decided on a dream and started working actively toward it.”
That life would be shattered by Levi’s death and the subsequent court case,
leaving Ruth a shell of her former self. She had to give up her home and move in
with friends and then a rooming house. She sold practically everything she
owned. And those savings for the pieces of land — between $20,000 and $30,000 —
were completely depleted.
She now rents a small two-room apartment, but trying to fit her six
grandchildren inside isn’t even an option. She’s unemployed, living on
government assistance, and regularly sees a psychotherapist and takes classes to
manage her PTSD.
“Because (the government) doesn’t do their job, they destroy people. They have
completely financially destroyed me, and they have also made my recovery process
a lot harder than it should have been,” she said.
Would Levi be proud of his mother’s fight? She believes so. He was proud of all
of his family members, maintaining strong bonds with his two sisters.
If he were alive today, Ruth knows exactly what he would be doing.
“He would be on that piece of land, in his cabin. Happy.”
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Decades of corrupt Ontario Government have carefully set up to protect those who
have absolute power in society and who, without any accountability, are
guaranteed to abuse that power absolutely.
It's an economic and social time bomb exploding in slow motion that all
politicians in Ontario refuse to acknowledge.
Police Complaints in Ontario are treated as a joke. What ever is available is
guaranteed to fail unless a complaint fits into an extremely narrow field of an
offence against political correctness as seen by the Police themselves.
Anyone who holds the Police in Ontario to be accountable is at a high risk of
facing fabricated criminal charges by the Worlds most corrupt criminal
organizations, the police forces of Ontario.
The Ontario Government spends Billions of Dollars of your money, promoting crime
and social destruction in the form of a Fascist Program of Gender Superiority.
Welcome to Ontario.
Ottawa Mens Centre