Today, Ontario’s provincial government introduced major proposed changes to Ontario’s Police Services Act, including significant changes to complaint, oversight and discipline measures through new independent police oversight legislation. The Canadian Civilian Liberties Association has long advocated for policing reform, including strong accountability and oversight measures, and today’s proposed legislation is an important first step for achieving this goal.
The new bills are only just being made publicly available, and CCLA intends to study them in depth to provide concrete and detailed responses to this proposed legislation.
Government communications suggest that their proposed legislation, including its implementation of Justice Tulloch’s recommendations on police oversight, transparency, and accountability, have the potential to dramatically improve Ontario’s system of police oversight and accountability. The creation of a new Inspector General to oversee and audit police services, the expanded mandates and powers for the civilian agencies currently charged with police oversight and accountability (including penalties for police offers who do not cooperate with Ontario Special Investigations Unit investigations), and the substantial reforms to Ontario’s police disciplinary processes (including adjudicating public complaints before an Ontario Policing Tribunal, as opposed to internally by police services), could all be important measures for addressing the oversight and accountability deficits that have plagued policing in Ontario.
These reforms, however, are no magic solution. Justice Tulloch’s recommendations arose out of thorough and expansive public consultations that revealed alarming levels of distrust of Ontario’s police services and their oversight and accountability bodies, including a widespread concern regarding pervasive systemic discrimination in Ontario policing. While many of the government’s declared reforms may help tackle the problem of racial and social profiling – such as by requiring human rights and systemic racism training, by mandating plans and consultations that would address issues at the heart of systemic discrimination, and by requiring data collection and other accountability measures – what is ultimately required, as Ontario’s Attorney General recognized today, is a “full cultural shift” in Ontario policing. In addition, some of the detail of these measures are left to regulation, whose content and thereby whose potential effectiveness is as yet unknown. Substantial efforts will be needed to ensure that any new oversight and accountability bodies are truly independent of the police services which they oversee and to ensure that any new oversight and accountability bodies are adequately funded, and are willing to use the powers they may be given.
CCLA will be engaging in a detailed examination of the proposed legislation, and will continue with our advocacy to ensure that any new laws lead to real policing reform.