Thursday we had the gift of a timely Special Investigations Unit annual report which, bonus, had some meat in it, even though some was hard to swallow.
For the last few years, the SIU’s reports came in many months late. In typical bureaucratic speak, both the SIU and its mother ministry, the Ministry of the Attorney General both pointed to the lack of legal requirement to even deliver an annual report. Where is the common sense in that? Must every good practice be legislated?
In investigating the SIU in my prior position as Ombudsman of Ontario, I found that the SIU had had its report, on at least one occasion, nixed or shelved by MAG because they were too explosive, i.e. too likely to rattle cops’ thin skin. In another SIU report, the unit attempted to duck controversy by cleverly distracting us away from the work the unit actually did.
For example, the SIU’s 2006-2007 annual report could have easily been mistaken for a glossy brochure for the Mountain Equipment Coop. Although it was ominously titled “One Law”, the message from dreary-looking, bow-tied former director James Cornish is juxtaposed by shining light through lush green woods.
On page 3, we see a bunch of happy kids white water rafting. What exactly does that have to do with investigating the police when serious injury or death occurs? Next we’re shown a picture of a woman rock-climbing with a serious look on her face.
Finally, Part 3 of the SIU annual report titled “Looking Forward” has someone in a Rocky-like pose with his victorious arms with clenched fists in the air. Hey, you’re located in Mississauga, not Philadelphia.
This particularly weird report made light of the seriousness of the SIU’s job. Investigating the police when they’ve caused serious injury or killed a civilian shouldn’t look like a fun outdoor adventure.
Ten years later, the SIU’s report is thankfully more serious and substantive. But a caveat about SIU reform in the Director’s Message shows that the SIU still has a propensity to shoot itself in the foot. SIU Director Tony Laparco appears to laud proposed reforms which would make individual case reports public when no charges are laid, but quickly points out that “significant issues are likely to arise if law enforcement agencies such as the SIU release information that has historically been implicitly confidential as per common law practice.”
Loparco talks of scary things like the impact on “criminal proceedings, other court processes, civil litigation, a coroner’s inquest or parallel investigations.” He then warns about the impact of potential witnesses who may think twice about coming forward if they think they’ll see their name in a public report.
All of this, of course, is hogwash. If no charge is laid by the SIU, it won’t affect its court proceedings as the report won’t be public. Currently SIU files are not protected from civil discoveries, nor are SIU staff immune from being subpoenaed or sued, so why be concerned about releasing a report? If the police have a parallel investigation that reaches different conclusions, it will justifiably raise red flags. Too bad. And there is no need to name witnesses. The report could easily be anonymized.
The SIU missed an opportunity to fully embrace reform. Instead, it preferred to raise bogeymen scenarios that do little but reinforce the notions it likes, the secretive status quo.