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Canada Doug Ford government seeking new director for police watchdog amid controversy over proposed law changes

A recruitment process is under way for a new leader for Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, with its current director’s appointment set to expire at the end of this month.

Tony Loparco, a former Scarborough Crown attorney, has held the post since 2013. His five-year term ended last October, but was extended until March 31. By that date, he will have been the agency’s longest-serving director, SIU spokeswomanJasbir Dhillon confirmed on Friday.

In an e-mail statement on Friday, Brian Gray, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney-General, said the government has hired an external recruitment firm to lead the search for his successor.

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“Using an executive recruitment firm will ensure that there is a pool of qualified candidates for the position. We will consider candidates from a wide range of professional backgrounds,” Mr. Gray said. “It is contemplated that an interview process will take place with panel recommendations provided to the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General will then provide her recommendation to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council [Cabinet].”

During his tenure, Mr. Loparco has been outspoken about the importance of police oversight. Just last week, he raised concerns about Premier Doug Ford’s new Comprehensive Ontario Police Services (COPS) Act – which he said could “completely subvert” the agency’s independence and open the door to “political interference.”

Under the current rules, the SIU is mandated to investigate any case of police interaction that leads to serious injury or death or allegations of sexual assault. Under the new legislation, the mandate would be restricted to those cases that “may have resulted from criminal conduct by an official.”

In a nine-page letter to the Ontario Legislature’s standing committee on justice policy, Mr. Loparco said this could not only expose the SIU to accusations of “anti-police bias” (because it would require a determination to be made before any evidence is collected), but would also require police chiefs, when considering whether to call in the SIU, to decide whether one of their own officers likely committed a crime.

“This would completely subvert the SIU's independence and its police oversight mission,” Mr. Loparco wrote. “I strongly recommend that the word ‘criminal’ be struck from the section. To do otherwise would be to go backwards.”

Mr. Ford’s changes have been praised by police unions and chiefs across the province, who said the previous Liberal government’s legislation to strengthen police oversight was overbearing. Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones has called the previous government’s changes the “most anti-police piece of legislation in Canadian history.”

Among other changes, the Liberal legislation would have imposed much higher fines on officers who failed to co-operate with an SIU investigation.

In his March 7 letter to the justice policy committee, Mr. Loparco also warned he expects “further significant cuts” to the SIU’s budgets.

In an e-mail on Friday, Ontario Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney’s office said the timing of Mr. Loparco’s departure has nothing to do with his letter.

“The decision to not further extend Mr. Loparco’s term was made, and communicated to him, well before his recent comments,” spokesperson Jesse Robichaud said. Until a new leader is named, SIU deputy director Joseph Martino will act as interim director, effective April 1.

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