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Toronto For Black Lives Matter, small win on Andrew Loku may go a long way

Protesters chant out front of the Toronto Police Headquarters in Toronto on Monday, March 21, 2016.

COLE BURSTON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Protesters who camped in downtown Toronto in freezing rain this spring have won the release of some of the details they demanded about a police shooting – and in the process they may end up triggering the publication of 26 years' worth of information on similar cases across Ontario.

Black Lives Matters activists spent two weeks outside Toronto Police headquarters in March and April. Among other things, they wanted to know more about the death last July of Andrew Loku, 45, who was shot by police at a subsidized-housing complex for people with mental-health problems.

Nine months after Mr. Loku's death, civilian watchdogs concluded that the officer who shot him had been backed into a corner while the man advanced, wielding a hammer, and that the officer would face no charges. The brief summary of the case sparked the camp-out demonstration to fight "the cloud of secrecy that exists," said Black Lives Matter spokesman Rodney Diverlus. Several front-page stories in the Toronto Star added to the pressure to make the report public.

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The province's Attorney-General responded with a one-time policy exception on Friday, releasing 10 pages of a report into Mr. Loku's death by the Special Investigations Unit, a civilian body that probes all deaths, serious injuries and sexual assaults involving Ontario police.

Such reports are normally kept secret, released only to the Attorney-General with a summary going to the chief of the police force involved.

In a broader move, the province also promised to hold a review of the police-watchdog system, handing the process on Friday to Justice Michael Tulloch, the first black judge to sit on the Ontario Court of Appeal.

The review will look at many accountability measures, including whether Ontario should routinely release fuller SIU reports, following the lead of British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. New transparency rules "could apply back to the start of the SIU, which is 1990," said Shane Gonsalves, the chief of staff for the Attorney-General.

Mr. Diverlus said the group will take all the new information offered but it's not satisfied with Friday's announcements. Twenty-four pages of the SIU's Loku report were not released, with the province saying those parts contained detailed interviews that could potentially identify witnesses. Black Lives Matter wants a full, unredacted report, Mr. Diverlus said.

"What did the witnesses say? Were there contradictions? We know that there are, but were their contradictions taken into account?" he said.

Justice Tulloch's job won't only be to field complaints about the SIU, but from the SIU. The report on Mr. Loku's shooting revealed scathing criticism by the SIU director about police interference with evidence.

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After Mr. Loku's case had been turned over to civilian investigators, a "non-witness officer" attempted to download and view video surveillance from the scene, SIU director Tony Loparco wrote in his report to the Attorney-General.

"This case is a classic example of how conduct of the type in question detracts from community confidence," he wrote.

But punishment is inconsistent for officers who tamper with SIU evidence. Doing so is considered a "sub-criminal" offence, Mr. Gonsalves said. Chiefs of police are responsible for investigating and disciplining officers in such cases, and the chief must then report to his or her civilian oversight board.

However, the oversight boards don't receive a copy of the SIU's report, so they won't know the details of the officer's behaviour or even that there is a complaint until the chief reports it, Mr. Gonsalves said.

The 10 newly released pages provide a deeper explanation of the SIU's reasoning in Mr. Loku's death. There had been concern about "gaps" in surveillance footage, a situation not helped by officer interference, wrote Mr. Loparco. But a manufacturer's technician and a government expert concluded that there was no evidence of tampering and that the camera system was simply old and set to a low sensitivity, only occasionally switching on.

Much had been made of the fact that the building housed people with mental illness, with critics saying police should have been better prepared, the report said. However, there was "no evidence" that the responding officers knew about the nature of the building, because the Canadian Mental Health Association failed to disclose that information, wanting "the housing to be anonymous in the neighbourhood," Mr. Loparco wrote.

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In fact, the CMHA is bound by privacy law not to tell police the addresses of its clients, said Steve Lurie, a CMHA executive director.

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