The Ontario Association of Police Chiefs met with the province’s Minister of Community Safety on Wednesday to discuss police reform and oversight, as the Progressive Conservative government shapes their plans for the future of law enforcement in the province.
One of the main issues discussed at the meeting, according to OACP Executive Director Jeff McGuire, was the association’s concerns about the province’s Special Investigations Unit and their investigations of officers who provide the opioid antidote naloxone to people who overdose and ultimately die.
The SIU – which investigates all cases involving police officers that result in death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault – says they have a mandate to investigate these cases.
But police services and officers’ unions have argued it puts undue stress and scrutiny on officers who are simply trying to save people from fatal overdoses.
Earlier this week, the SIU announced an investigation into an OPP officer in Midland, Ont., who had provided CPR and naloxone to a 31-year-old woman who ultimately died.
Rob Jamieson, president of the union that represents OPP officers, issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the police watchdog to put an end to this practice. He said the same day that they “want to send a clear message that we don’t think this is appropriate.”
Concerns about SIU investigations in naloxone cases are not new – they have been cited by many police services as a deterrent to deciding to carry the opioid antidote in the first place.
The OPPA has a meeting scheduled with Ontario’s Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney to discuss their concerns.
Ms. Mulroney’s office said on Wednesday that they cannot comment on the SIU’s processes or investigations.
Under the Liberal government, the Safer Ontario Act was passed this spring to overhaul policing rules for the first time in a generation. The legislation was meant to address concerns from minority groups about unjust treatment, and worries that police were doing an inadequate job of policing themselves. It also included a specific SIU act, which would’ve broadened the unit’s authority to investigate current, former and off-duty police officers, volunteer members and special-constable and First Nations police members.
But on his first day in office, Premier Doug Ford put that legislation on hold – arguing the changes would have hurt police officers.
Jessica Trepanier, a spokeswoman for Ms. Mulroney’s office, said on Wednesday that the pause was to “ensure the government has time to conduct a full and thorough review of the legislation by consulting with experts, police services and the public.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. McGuire said Community Safety Minister Michael Tibollo was “receptive” to their concerns on the issue of SIU oversight in naloxone cases.
In an e-mail statement on Wednesday, Mr. Tibollo’s office said the PC government is “currently engaged in on-the-ground research and policy development to identify and address harmful gaps” in Ontario’s community safety and corrections systems – which they say has been “damaged by 15 years of Liberal neglect.”
Communications director Rita Smith said in an e-mail on Wednesday that the new government will be sharing their “proposed solutions and plan” in the coming months.
“The government is taking a hard look at existing policing legislation to ensure that it supports our policing partners and strengthens community safety.”