Ontario’s Attorney-General has turned down a request from Toronto’s police union that his office launch an examination into the way the province’s Special Investigations Unit operates.
“We will not be conducting an inquiry,” said Jason Gennaro, spokesman for John Gerretsen.
“The SIU operates at arm’s length from the ministry. This is designed to ensure that the SIU can carry out its operations without interference from government or the police.”
The call came come from Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack, who on Friday morning issued a news release highly critical of the SIU’s handling of two recent investigations.
Mr. McCormack also demanded that in the meantime SIU director Ian Scott step aside, a suggestion that appeared to leave Mr. Scott unfazed.
“Mr. McCormack is entitled to his opinion about my leadership of the unit,” Mr. Scott responded in a statement.
“Frankly, I would have been more surprised if he issued a news release saying he was happy with the way the unit is functioning.”
Mr. McCormack had asked Mr. Gerretsen to examine two cases in which Toronto police officers were charged criminally, following SIU probes, and acquitted.
In both instances, the association says, the SIU acted improperly.
Established in 1990, the SIU is an independent agency that scrutinizes all police-civilian interactions involving death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.
Over the years, there has been considerable friction between the SIU and the scores of different police forces it oversees, but in general the climate has markedly improved.
Only a fraction of its investigations result in criminal charges: Last year, there were 15 cases, out of a total of 382 investigations; in 2011, the figures were 11 and 269 respectively; in 2010, there were also 11, from a pool of 281 investigations.
Mr. McCormack’s first bone of contention involves a Toronto officer who earlier this month was found not guilty of aggravated assault and improper use of his gun – discharging a firearm with intent.
At trial, it emerged that arrest warrants had been issued for the complainant, Phabian Rhodius, on charges of domestic assault and marijuana possession. The SIU investigators were aware of that, Mr. McCormack states, and as peace officers they had an obligation to either arrest him or report him to police, but did neither.
Mr. Scott responded that in fact the SIU did apprise Mr. Rhodius of the warrants, and that they advised him to speak to his lawyer about the matter. A few days later, Mr. Rhodius turned himself in.
The second case involves a Toronto officer who in April 2011 was charged with assaulting a 61-year-old man in custody at the 51 Division police station. The SIU subsequently issued a news release stating that the man had sustained a fracture.
Here, too, the officer was acquitted, and the judge concluded the man had not in fact sustained a fracture, Mr. McCormack says. And if there was no serious injury, he asks, “Why did the SIU go beyond their mandate and investigate their officer?”
There Mr. Scott disagrees.
“Medical records collected during the investigation support the opinion that the complainant sustained a nasal bone fracture,” he wrote Friday.