Ontario Ombudsman André Marin is calling for the government to give the Special Investigations Unit more power to charge police who fail to co-operate with SIU investigations, amid mounting protests over police shootings of two black men.
Mr. Marin also said Tuesday that the controversial police practice of carding is "illegal" and a "breach of individual liberty," and must be banned.
At the release of his annual report at Queen's Park, Mr. Marin said the province should explicitly outlaw police from thwarting SIU investigations. The SIU is the provincial agency that investigates police incidents in which civilians are killed or seriously injured.
"There should be an offence for police who don't co-operate with the SIU. It should be an offence where the charge is laid by the SIU. That would get the police's attention," said Mr. Marin, who himself served as SIU director in the 1990s. "Right now, there's no consequence."
Mr. Marin's stand came a day after a Black Lives Matter protest blocked the Allen Expressway in Toronto to decry the police killings of Jermaine Carby and Andrew Loku.
A Peel Regional Police officer gunned down Mr. Carby last September during a traffic stop in Brampton, Ont. Police said Mr. Carby had pulled a knife on them, but the SIU did not find a knife at the scene. Hours later, Peel police gave the SIU a knife they said an officer had removed from Mr. Carby and stored in a brown paper bag.
SIU director Tony Loparco blasted police in his report on the shooting, saying they had "tampered" with the scene and "cast a pall over the integrity" of the investigation. Mr. Loparco, who decided despite these problems that there were no grounds to charge any officers, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Mr. Marin said there should be consequences for officers who do such things: "Any police officer who thinks that removing evidence from the scene is okay needs to be retrained or shouldn't be in his job."
The case of Mr. Loku, who was shot July 5, is still under SIU investigation. Monday evening's protest began at a Toronto park near the building where Mr. Loku was killed.
The ombudsman also took aim at carding, sometimes known as "street checks," in which police stop people who have done nothing wrong, take their information and enter it into a database. Critics charge the practice is an impingement on civil rights, which stigmatizes innocent people and disproportionately targets black people.
"I've always thought that carding is an illegal measure. I think it's wrong," Mr. Marin said. "Whatever benefit the police get out of it is outweighed by the breach of individual liberty involved in carding."
The governing Liberals have promised to bring in provincewide rules on the use of carding, but have so far refused to ban the practice outright.
Lauren Callighen, a spokeswoman for Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday that the regulations on carding will "ensure these encounters are without bias, consistent, and carried out in a manner that promotes public confidence, and protects individual and Charter rights."
Attorney-General Madeleine Meilleur, meanwhile, ducked questions about giving the SIU more power. In an e-mail, spokeswoman Christine Burke said the Liberals "will continue to consider ways to improve civilian oversight" of police, but did not address Mr. Marin's demands specifically.
NDP Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh said he plans to table legislation later this year to both beef up the SIU, including giving it more power to charge unco-operative police officers, and to ban carding.
"The SIU needs legislative reform to be strengthened," he said. "It's to the benefit of the police that the public has trust in the police. It's to the benefit of the public that they can believe there is strong accountability."
He said the Liberals' planned reform of carding "is not going far enough," and the practice needs to be simply abolished.
"It needs to be banned. It can't be regulated – you can't regulate an illegal activity," he said. "Carding is a practice that by its very nature violates the Charter, infringes on personal liberties and creates a tension and a climate that is not conducive to the public working with the police."