The organization charged with investigating Ontario’s police had a record number of cases last year.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), released its annual report yesterday, and it states the 382 cases opened in 2018 matches 2012 as the highest caseload in the unit’s history.
SIU investigations are called in incidents where there is a death or serious injury directly or indirectly involving police. The SIU also investigates allegations of sexual assault against police.
They operate under the motto “one law for all.”
SIU Director Tony Loparco, whose term ended March 31, 2018, said 2018 was a “demanding” year.
The unit closed 416 cases in 2018, laying charges in 15 cases against 17 officers. Once charges are laid, the case proceeds to court.
There were 229 cases closed after a full investigation found no reasonable grounds to lay charges, and 172 cases were terminated prior to completion of a full investigation where it was found the case did not fall within the SIU mandate of “serious injury” or evidence showed the injury was not directly or indirectly caused by the actions of a police officer.
Last year’s caseload included 58 sexual assault allegations, 37 custody deaths, six vehicular deaths and 18 ‘other’ deaths.
In York Region, the SIU investigated 11 cases involving York Regional Police, representing 2.8 per cent of the total cases, and three cases involving OPP officers at the Aurora detachment, accounting for .08 per cent of total cases.
The York Regional Police cases including seven custody injuries, one firearm injury, two vehicle injuries and one vehicle death. The OPP Aurora cases regarded one vehicle injury, one vehicle death and one described as other.
One of the custody injury investigations concluded on Dec. 10, 2018 that there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of officers in the arrest of a machete-wielding man in Newmarket. On Aug. 21, 2017, York Regional Police officers responded to a report that a man had a machete at a plaza on Yonge Street. Officers located the 40-year-old man, who eventually dropped the weapon. However, in a struggle with officers during the arrest, the man was seriously injured.
In another case, in which the finding was released Dec. 19, 2018, the SIU found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of York Regional Police in regards to a motorcycle collision in Markham that occurred Sept. 25, 2017.
An investigation was terminated Dec. 4, 2018 regarding an October 2018 interaction that occurred between a 30-year-old man and York Regional Police when officers attempted to arrest him for a firearms-related offence at a residence on Wilbur Pipher Circle in Newmarket. The man fled into the home, leading officers to contain the area. Sometime later, the man was apprehended as he climbed out of a basement window of the residence. During the arrest he complained of pain in his ankle and was taken to hospital for treatment.
On Nov. 9, 2018, the SIU found no charges were warranted against YRP officers in the shooting death of a 25-year-old man in a hostage situation at bank in Vaughan in December 2017.
In the SIU annual report, several cases are profiled, including one in Ottawa that lead to sexual assault charges against a sergeant with the Ottawa Police Service. The case is still before the courts.
Attempted murder, aggravated assault, discharging a firearm with intent, and reckless endangerment charges were laid against a Waterloo Regional Police Service officer who allegedly discharged his firearm several times at a man police suspected of stealing a vehicle. The man was struck by one bullet. The case is still before the courts.
According to his report, Loparco said the SIU worked toward more transparency in 2018, issuing 518 news releases (an 86 per cent increase over 2017) and making changes to its website, including a chart allowing the public to track the progress of all cases from beginning to end.
“The last five years have seen a desire to make the unit even stronger,” said Loparco.
In 2017, the Ontario government committed to releasing the SIU director’s reports to the public. Prior to that, they were only shared with the attorney general.
New legislation originally set to take effect on June 30, 2018 was put on hold by Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government days before it was set to become law. The legislation included governing legislation specifically for the SIU, where before it was under the Police Services Act. It also required an SIU investigation every time a police officer discharged a firearm at a person, regardless of whether there was serious injury or death.
“Staff spent the first half of the year preparing for the implementation of the legislation that ultimately did not get enacted,” said Loparco.
According to the director’s message, there are now more special investigative units being put in place across Canada. While Ontario’s SIU was the only one of its kind for about 20 years, there are now units in BC, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
The full SIU annual report is available online here.
-- With files from Debora Kelly