The CCLA seeks to ensure that police services and individual officers are accountable for their actions. Accountability mechanisms, such as police complaints and external investigative bodies must be independent and effective in order to enhance public faith in policing.
Police Accountability is part of the Public Safety program. You can find more information about it on its main program page.
By Abby Deshman
on April 19, 2013
The CCLA is before the Supreme Court today, arguing that police officers involved in an investigation by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) into the use of force resulting in death or serious injury to a civilian are not entitled to the assistance of legal counsel in the preparation of their duty notes of the incident. Duty notes are notes that are prepared in the normal course of an officer’s day on the job. When there has been a police-involved death or serious injury, witness officers must hand their notes in to the SIU, which is the independent body that conducts criminal investigations into such occurrences. It is essential to the integrity of the investigation and public confidence in the process that officers’ notes be contemporaneous and independent, thereby ensuring that they are accurate and unedited accounts of what occurred. Allowing lawyers to review, edit, or advise police officers on the content of their notes would significantly undermine the independent oversight regime.
To read the CCLA’s factum before the Supreme Court click here.
To read the Court of Appeal’s decision click here.
To read the CCLA’s factum before the Court of Appeal click here.
By Abby Deshman
on April 5, 2013
The Supreme Court has released its decision in Penner v. NRPSB, a case that examined whether a finding by the police complaints system can effectively terminate an ongoing or subsequent civil action. The Supreme Court affirmed that, due significant differences between the two legal procedures, it would be a “serious affront to basic principles of fairness” to allow a finding in a police complaint hearing – which is presided over by the Chief of Police or his or her delegate – end a civil suit suing the police force. The Ontario Court of Appeal had decided that, because the police discipline complaint brought by Mr. Penner had been dismissed, he could no longer pursue his claim in a civil action for damages. CCLA welcome’s the Supreme Court’s majority decision overturning that ruling.
An individual who has been mistreated by the police has a number of remedies:
- A victim may complain to a police complaints system – a system that is designed to discipline police officers for misconduct through employment-related sanctions. In the Ontario police complaints system, the Chief of Police is the one who is ultimately responsible for conducting a hearing into alleged police misconduct.
- A victim may also sue the police for damages through a civil action, claiming that his or her rights have been violated and demanding compensation for the injuries suffered. In a civil suit, an independent judge is the ultimate arbiter of whether or not the police force is liable.
CCLA was extremely concerned about the implications of the Court of Appeal’s judgment, which would have deprived individuals of essential remedies for police misconduct and made the Chief of Police an adjudicator not only of internal discipline matters, but of the civil liability of the police force as well. The resulting conflict of interest would have seriously undermined public confidence in the police complaint and discipline process. The Association intervened in the case to ensure that the avenues for victims to pursue redress for police misconduct remained meaningful and viable.
To read the CCLA’s factum click here.
To read the Supreme Court’s decision click here.
By Cara Zwibel
on April 4, 2013
The CCLA is deeply concerned about the Montreal police force’s use of a controversial municipal bylaw to cut off social protests before they begin, detain individuals en masse, and issue costly tickets to individuals seeking to exercise their constitutionally protected rights.
In May of 2012 Montreal’s City Council adopted amendments to a bylaw that made it illegal to wear a mask during a public demonstration and required demonstrators to provide prior notification to police of their meeting place and route. At that time, CCLA wrote to the Mayor and city councillors expressing our concerns about the bylaw – in particular that these provisions placed unnecessary and unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, both of which are protected under the Canadian and Quebec Charters. While these freedoms may be subject to limits or restrictions, such restrictions can only be put in place where there is a demonstrated compelling and pressing objective and where the measures taken to achieve the objective do not infringe on rights more than necessary. Restrictions similar to those included in the Montreal bylaw were also in a controversial piece of provincial legislation in Quebec, Bill 78 (which subsequently became Law 12). Quebec’s new PQ government repealed Law 12 shortly after coming into power in September, but Montreal’s similar municipal bylaw remains in place.
In a series of recent demonstrations in Montreal, the Service de police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM) has used the bylaw to “kettle” demonstrators when they fail to provide the police with a route for their demonstration. In three instance in March of 2013, police put an end to demonstrations before they even began and issued hundreds of tickets under the bylaw for over $600 each. In CCLA’s view, individuals should not have to pay to exercise their fundamental freedoms, nor should police engage in mass arrests and detentions of peaceful social protesters. CCLA has written to the Mayor of Montreal urging repeal of the bylaw and to the Chief of the SPVM urging the police to cease engaging in these troubling practices.
Read the CCLA’s letter to the Mayor of Montreal.
Read the CCLA’s letter to the Chief of the SPVM.
By Sukanya Pillay
on March 25, 2013
This morning in Geneva, CCLA addressed State Delegations at a pre-session of the Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”), organized by the organization UPR-Info. CCLA’s intervention was to update States on our concerns about Canada’s ongoing human rights record, in anticipation of Canada’s Second Universal Periodic Review. Canada, like all member States of the United Nations, participates in the Universal Periodic Review process, in which States make recommendations to each other on steps to further adherence to international law commitments, and the State Under Review (in this case, Canada) has the option to “accept” or “reject” recommendations, and to undertake “voluntary commitments”. The purpose of the 2nd UPR of Canada incorporates examining progress on Canada’s commitments made during the first UPR in 2009.
Nathalie Des Rosiers, CCLA General Counsel and Executive Director, addressed the State delegations this morning on behalf of CCLA. She was part of a delegation of Canadian NGOs who took the floor during the Pre-Session this morning.
Later in the day, CCLA participated in a “working lunch” at the Canadian Permanent Mission to the UN, with other Canadian NGOs.
To read CCLA’s statement to the UPR Pre-Session click here: STATEMENT OF CCLA – UPR 2013 Pre-Session
For background information on the upcoming Second UPR of Canada click here: http://ccla.org/2012/10/09/ccla-submits-ngo-report-regarding-2nd-universal-periodic-review-of-canada/. To read a copy of CCLA’s WRITTEN SUBMISSIONS to the UPR Process please click here: click here.
By Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
on January 23, 2013
As part of an ongoing public discussion with the Toronto Police Services Board about race-based harassment (racial profiling), CCLA’s Equality Program Director Noa Mendelsohn Aviv will address the Board. The current issue is the “receipt” the police will provide to individuals who are detained by police, questioned, and “carded” (the practice by which police record the identity and personal information about a person in the police database). CCLA is urging the Board to make sure individuals receive a mirror copy of certain basic information recorded by police about them, and the specific reason for the stop.
For CCLA’s submissions to the TPSB on this matter, click here.
on December 17, 2012
For more information about CCLA’s work on post-G20 accountability, click here.
on November 13, 2012
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association joins 50 other organizations in calling for a public inquiry on police actions during the Quebec student protests. “Student associations, human rights groups, trade unions and affinity groups are coming together to avoid that one of the biggest police crackdowns in the history of contemporary Quebec falls into oblivion. Disappointed that the multiple requests for investigation have remained unanswered, these organizations – representing tens of thousands of people – are now challenge the Premier of Quebec,” a press release from La Ligue Des Droits et Libertés reads. “The organizations reaffirm that only a public and independent inquiry will shed light on the causes of the repression occurred during the student strike and prevent it from happening again.”
CCLA supports this call for police accountability in Quebec.
>> To read the press release (in French), click here.
>> «Un traumatisme collectif», article from Le Devoir, November 14, 2012
>> Des groupes réclament une commission d’enquête sur les opérations policières, article from La Presse, November 13, 2012
on November 5, 2012
TORONTO – The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is calling on several Chiefs of Police and Ontario’s civilian oversight body, the Independent Police Review Director, to move forward on substantiated G20 complaints. The specific police complaints at issue are serious and involve substantiated allegations of unlawful detention and arrest, excessive use of force, and an illegal search. After written letters of concern to the OIPRD and Chiefs of Police were unsuccessful, the Association is now supporting court action on behalf of the complainants. Clayton Ruby and Gerald Chan of Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan Barristers are representing the complainants.
By Abby Deshman
on October 30, 2012
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has published a detailed brief outlining its concerns with Bill C-42, legislation that is aimed at improving the RCMP oversight and accountability regime. The Bill is certainly a step in the right direction – its s preamble indicates the importance of public confidence in the national police force and the important role of civilian review and accountability in maintaining such confidence. CCLA agrees, and certainly supports the bill’s objectives. Civilian oversight is an investment in good policing. Because the police hold a monopoly, their actions must be subject to robust public review. Because the police are conferred the right to use force to carry out its mission, they must be accountable for the way in which this power is used. In a democracy, we strive to develop institutional mechanisms that establish meaningful accountability, not because we suspect all individuals of foul play or abuses, but because it is the right thing to do.
There are, however, several areas in which the legislation falls short of its full promise of robust, civilian review. In particular, the legislation departs significantly from the detailed recommendations of the O’Connor Inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Maher Arar. This is disappointing and a lost opportunity for meaningful reform. In an effort to shore up some of the legislation’s failings, CCLA has made a number of specific, detailed suggestions for amendment. The recommended areas for improvement include:
- A more robust independent investigation mechanism for serious incidents and injuries
- More expansive access to information rights for the Commission
- Improved public complaints procedure
- Elimination of restrictions currently imposed on the Commission’s self-initiated review powers
- Increased powers to ensure adequate review for national security activities
- Equal oversight for American law enforcement authorized to act as peace officers in Canada pursuant to the Cross-Border Law Enforcement Act
- Consider giving the Commission the power to make binding recommendations and decisions and at a minimum impose a mandatory 5 year review
It is CCLA’s hope that the Committee currently considering this complex and important piece of legislation will take steps to ensure civilian oversight is robust, meaningful and effective.
To read CCLA’s full brief click here.
on August 21, 2012
The 2012 Summer Series is a collection of essays, articles and op-eds published by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The Summer Series explores some key questions about rights and responsibilities in democracy and examines topical issues through a civil liberties lens.
To view all articles of the Summer Series, click here.
Discussions of police accountability often start with the famous dictum from Sir Robert Peel who created the Metropolitan Police in 1829 that “the police are the people and the people are the police“. Peel meant that there is no policing possible unless the community trusts its police. The police force belongs to the community it serves and it must reflect it. Police forces across Canada strive to adopt such principle by hiring from the community and by engaging into constant dialogue with the various constituencies that it must police.
Civilian oversight also stems from Sir Robert Peel’s dictum. If the police is and belongs to the people, shouldn’t they have a say in its running? In Canada, the commitment to a form of civilian oversight is evident, but not all civilian oversight is equal in strength. In the fall, the government will table a new bill, an Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act., Bill c-42.The Bill gives additional powers to the Commissioner of the RCMP to discipline its members and establishes a new commission, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
An examination of the powers of this new Commission reveals that although it is certainly a step in the right direction, it falls short in many respects. In this piece, I will discuss the limits imposed on the investigations that the Commission can undertake on its own initiative.
A good civilian oversight regime must provide for the power of the oversight body to conduct reviews on its own initiatives, that is, without the presence of a formal complaint. This “audit” power is an important feature of a convincing oversight regime because complaints against police forces are not always forthcoming or the problems may be systemic in nature. For example, although the family of a mentally challenged individual “tasered” by the police may not want to lay a complaint, it may be worthwhile for the civilian body to examine whether the use of Tasers was done appropriately. Such a review could help prevent further tragedies and simply ensure that good policies are followed. It is reassuring to the public to know that there is the possibility of a review by an independent body to determine when and how or even whether new non-lethal weapons should be used. The Bill does provide for the power of the new civilian oversight to conduct such review. However, it imposes several limitations:
a. The review can only be done on specific RCMP activities to determine whether the RCMP has followed its own policies and procedures, the legislation or Ministerial directions. In other terms, it cannot undertake a review of a RCMP policy except in relation with a specific incident.
This seems to undermine the capacity of the Commission to undertake proactively preventive action: it could not comment on the RCMP “infiltration” policy or “taser” policy unless it was raised in the context of a specific activity of the RCMP. After the fact, that is, after it is known that a protest group has been infiltrated or after the taser has been used, the Commission can comment on “the adequacy, appropriateness, sufficiency or clarity” of a policy, but not before. This seems unduly restrictive and confines the new Commission to an ex post facto role. An after-the-fact review is necessary, but, at times, it may have been helpful to have the opinion of the Commission and its advice prior to policies being implemented. There is little civilian input in the development of policies at the RCMP level. This is a missed opportunity. The Morden Report on the G20 events in Toronto, for example, has suggested that robust civilian policy review does enhance the sense of trust in policing. Why not embrace such a model at the RCMP level?
b. The review can only be done if “no other review or inquiry has been undertaken on substantially the same issue by a federal or provincial entity”
Although at first glance, this restriction may seem to make good financial sense, because it may prevent wasting resources, it must be read in the context of multi-forces policing that can occur in Canada. Policing during the G20 in Toronto in 2010 is an example of such cooperation between police forces. Some of the major problems of the multiple reviews undertaken after the G20 is the limited jurisdiction of the various bodies and the irreconcilable conclusions that they reached. For example, the Morden report (undertaken under the authority of the Toronto Police Review Board) concluded that the RCMP was partly to blame for the problems experienced by the Toronto Police while the RCMP Review concluded that it was not. The public is left no knowing what really happened and what could have done better. The new RCMP Act provides for some “joint” reviews with provincial bodies when provinces conclude arrangements for hiring the RCMP, but this is not sufficient. At times, it will be necessary for the commission to conduct reviews even if a provincial body has dealt with the same subject, whether it is the use of non-lethal weapons, infiltrations, or the use of force. The statutory language may prevent the conduct of very useful investigations.
c.The Commission must give notice to the Minister before conducting the review.
It is unclear what are the power of the Minister in this context. He or she receives the information. Can the Minister put pressure on the President of the Commission not to undertake the review? Why impose this requirement?
Overall, the power of the Commission to undertake reviews of its own initiative is couched in language that undermines the potential of such reviews. The model proposed is limited and does not reflect the advances of knowledge in governance. It is already five years out of date.
Civilian oversight is not a curse, or a necessary evil. It is an investment in good policing. Because the police have a monopoly – one cannot choose which officer will come to investigate – it must be subject to review. Because it is the only group that has the right to use force to carry out its process, it must be accountable for the way in which it uses this power.
In a democracy, we strive to develop institutional mechanisms that establish meaningful accountability, not because we suspect foul play or abuses, but because it is the right thing to do. Demanding strong and vigorous civilian oversight is not to be against the police, but in favour of it. Demanding strong and vigorous civilian oversight is to honour the police with our democratic demands. We hope that the government will embrace more fully a civilian oversight model that is at the cutting edge of developments in this area.
We deserve no less.
Nathalie Des Rosiers