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Resolution in works between Toronto police and its watchdogs

A resolution to the three-way verbal tussle between the Toronto Police Service and two provincial agencies that investigate police appears to be in the works.

At issue was a complainant's statement that the Special Investigations Unit has been trying to obtain, but which neither the TPS nor the Office of the Independent Police Review Director would hand over, citing protocols and legal concerns.

Without that document, SIU director Ian Scott said Wednesday, he was unable to complete his investigation into the complaint by Torontonian Tyrone Phillips, who said he was badly beaten by police when he was arrested outside a nightclub last year. Mr. Scott said the probe was being shut down.

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On Thursday however, in a short dispatch, Mr. Scott announced that his office will now ask Mr. Phillips to contact the OIPRD – a provincial agency that, like the SIU, probes allegations of police wrongdoing – and authorize it to release his statement to the SIU.

"Asking the complainant to go through these steps could have been avoided if TPS had simply provided the SIU with a copy of his original statement pursuant to his written consent," Mr. Scott wrote. "Police services in other cases have provided to us, with no issue, the original complaint filed by the complainant to the OIPRD."

TPS spokesman Mark Pugash responded that the SIU could have done that in the first place.

"Mr. Scott has conceded the point we made yesterday, namely that the document belongs to the OIPRD," he said.

Mr. Phillips, 27, was arrested in July and brought to hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. He has since recovered.

Ten days later he lodged his complaint with the OIPRD, claiming he was beaten unconscious during his arrest.

The matter was referred back to Toronto police in September, and from there the file was passed to the SIU, which probes all police-civilian interactions resulting in death or serious injury.

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Mr. Phillips did not keep a copy of his complaint, however, which he filed online, and the OIPRD refused to give one to the SIU, citing a policy that only permits it to share information with the police service involved.

So SIU director Ian Scott asked the Toronto Police Service to give the SIU its own copy, saying he couldn't conduct a full investigation without it.

The request was refused and Mr. Scott described the resultant impasse as "almost comical," suggesting the police may have breached their duty to co-operate with the agency.

Police spokesman Mark Pugash, however, says the TPS is legally unable to release a copy of the complaint, because the original belongs to the OIPRD.

"Director Scott is wrong," Mr. Pugash wrote in a notice posted on the TPS web site.

"The document in question belongs to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director. We are not allowed to release a document which belongs to someone else without their express permission. If Mr. Scott wants that document, he must get it from the OIPRD."

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But in an interview, Mr. Scott said that under its mandate, his agency can ask the Toronto police to turn over its copy of the complaint, and that Mr. Phillips has consented to them doing so.

If the TPS gives up the document, the investigation will be reopened, he said.

OIPRD spokeswoman Rosemary Parker declined to discuss Mr. Phillips's case specifically .

In general, she said, the reluctance by her office to supply information directly to the SIU stems from constraints under the Police Services Act.

However, if the complainant gives written authorization, then the OIPRD can release such documents, she said, and that's what will likely happen now.

But the move is unlikely to mend differences between the TPS and the SIU, which have sparred in the past.

"Mr. Phillips's signed consent [authorizing Toronto police to release the statement] is to us meaningless because it's not our document," Mr. Pugash said, rebuking Mr. Scott for the "inflammatory and offensive" news release he issued Wednesday.

"You can't authorize someone to release something that doesn't belong to them."

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About the Author

At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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