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A fundamental shift in Ontario police power: Chiefs want ‘archaic’ union-controlled discipline reformed

By: Isaac Callan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For decades, Ontario’s police forces were ruled by names like Julian Fantino, Mike Metcalf and Jennifer Evans. They rose up the ranks and protected the culture at all costs.

They also did irreparable damage to public trust, ignoring calls to represent the public’s interests before those of the tight-knit unions they had been groomed by. 

Misconduct among officers ran rampant on their watch and police profiling of racial minorities became a hallmark of many forces in Ontario.

George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer last year heightened mistrust in the men and women who swear to protect and serve. Notions of the police as a key part of our public safety net have been tested by a constant stream of misconduct in this province as well, including criminal behaviour by many who wear the uniform. 

Peel Regional Police was dogged by widespread officer misconduct long before 2020. And in the past year, more issues of questionable behaviour and systemic racism have risen to the surface. 

Just last month, PRP’s media department chose not to publicize the fact one of its own cadets had been charged with allegations of serial domestic violence.

Chief Nishan Duraiappah, brought to Peel in 2019 with a mandate to modernize the force and deal with endemic issues of discrimination, is facing pressure to deliver. After an early honeymoon, community members are growing frustrated at a perceived lack of progress on promises to bring reform. 

He is part of a new generation of police chiefs, a group of leaders who arrived to high expectations. 

Duraiappah — along with Peter Sloly (Ottawa), Interim Chief James Ramer (Toronto), who, despite concerns of being a status quo man, has shown a commitment to progressive reform, and Bryan Larkin (Waterloo) — have been heralded as reform-minded chiefs. Advocates hope their stances can break past cycles of misconduct and loosen the unions’ iron grip on policy. They are the antithesis of Fantino, Metcalf and Evans in many ways.

A first sign of movement could be the top brass’ recent call for additional discipline powers. The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) passed a motion in June asking for “substantive and sweeping” changes to the discipline process, including the option to suspend officers without pay. 

In a media release, Larkin said the current system is built on “an archaic, paramilitary” model that “no longer instills public trust, confidence and transparency”. He and his fellow police leaders want to see the introduction of an arbitration process and the public release of the misconduct details for officers serving 40-hour-plus penalties.

Larkin and Chatham-Kent Chief Gary Conn (OACP president) say changes would improve public trust in police. They hope reform can save the taxpayers money and bring the process closer to how unionized labour is conducted in other sectors. 

Critics of the current Ontario police discipline processes, including the people tasked with leading forces around the province, say it is too generous and a drain on public funds. Even facing the most serious charges, most officers will be fully paid while they are suspended, sometimes for years at a time.

Police unions have for decades dictated the terms of such policies and have largely controlled the dynamics of policing in Ontario. 

A new generation of chiefs is finally changing the rules of the game. And consecutive provincial governments seem less beholden to powerful police unions.

It’s a sign that Ontario’s shifting demographics are also shifting the way policing is perceived. 

In 2019, Ontario passed new legislation designed to overhaul policing. A far reaching bill, the Community Safety and Policing Act, was approved. It has yet to be brought into effect and regulations are still being drafted.

“Our government agrees that the nature of policing and community safety has changed since the Police Services Act, 1990 was first introduced,” Stephen Warner, a spokesperson for the Solicitor General’s office, told The Pointer. “The issues faced by police services and their members today are more complex.”

On June 7, consultations on revised regulations to suspend officers without pay concluded. 

The draft regulations suggested police chiefs could suspend officers without pay “as an interim measure” before a disciplinary hearing. To do so, the officer would need to be charged with a serious offence, defined in the draft rules as a charge under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. 

The Province also says it has appointed an Inspector General of Policing to work as an arm’s-length body, providing independent oversight of policing. 

“Our changes will enhance police oversight in Ontario by creating a simpler system for public complaints, reducing delays in the investigative process, increasing transparency in investigations and ensuring greater accountability,” Warner said. “We want to ensure Ontario has a police oversight system that will help build safer communities on a shared foundation of restored trust.”

Allegations of police misconduct have shaken the Peel Regional Police for years.

A steely-strong union lobby and the structure of the Police Services Act has meant discipline proceedings dealing with egregious examples of police misconduct have been slow and confusing. Officers accused of serious breaches and those facing criminal charges have found themselves at home, fully paid. 

A 2019 media release announced that 16-year PRP veteran Sean Duggan had been arrested and charged with three counts of Breach of Trust and one count of Unauthorized Use of a Computer. He allegedly used a police computer to search for members of the public and contact them. Despite allegedly breaching public trust and abusing his position of authority, Duggan was suspended with pay.  

Less than a year earlier, Sergeant Badal Kaushal was charged with two counts of assault and one count of assault with a weapon, after an on-duty incident that resulted in minor injuries to two women. Kaushal too was suspended with pay. 

Between 2010 and 2016, a Toronto Star investigation found some 640 Peel police officers, about a third of the uniform complement, received discipline for misconduct. The offences ranged from Detective Craig Wattier (a one-year sentence for secretly watching child pornography seized as evidence) to retired officer Mark Androlia (charged with fraud and money laundering).

This reporting on rampant misconduct within the Peel Regional Police came out shortly after the chief at the time, Jennifer Evans, claimed that only 2 percent of the force’s officers are disciplined for misconduct during their career. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) had roughly the same number of discipline cases during the same period, though it’s nearly three times the size of Peel police.

In 2011, Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Gray stopped a trial after ruling that Peel police vice officers had misled the court, falsifying evidence in a case involving human trafficking and pimping. The charges against the defendant were thrown out, because “the state actors, the police, have been prepared to fabricate a case,” Gray wrote in his decision. The actions of the Peel officers who tried to deceive the court were “an affront to decency and fair play,” he said. 

“It would be difficult to conceive of conduct that would more distinctly shock the conscience of the community than a fabrication of evidence by the police.”

A year later, Justice Deena Baltman, of the same court, addressed conduct by Peel drug squad officers in another case that could be described as even more shocking.

“The police lied under oath in order to cover up (an) illegal search and persisted in their lying when confronted with the most damning of evidence,” Baltman stated in her reasons for sparing the defendant jail time in a drug trafficking case. 

Referring to the attempted cover-up by Peel officers, the judge said, “All these misdeeds were calculated, deliberate and utterly avoidable.” Peel officers had “colluded and then committed perjury, en masse,” she said, adding: “The police showed contempt not just for the basic rights of every accused but for the sanctity of a courtroom.”

Peel is not short of examples that demonstrate an issue with police misconduct.

In 2012, three off-duty Peel police officers beat a drunk 62-year-old man at a banquet hall after he allegedly touched the breasts of two female Peel officers. The officers dragged him into a bathroom, kicked him in the face and broke his nose. Two of the officers were demoted.   

In 2015, a Peel officer, Carlton Watson, was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted on 42 counts of fraud. With a friend, he conspired to file fake accident reports to rip off insurance companies for more than $1 million. Watson was also charged with sexual assault.   

How forces deal with officers who break the law is critical to public trust. Lenient or inconsistent discipline creates the impression there is one rule for the police and another rule for the public. 

Adrian Woolley, Peel’s police union president, provides another high-profile example. In 2019, he was pulled over after being clocked going 74 kilometres per hour over the QEW’s 100 kilometre per hour speed limit, with alcohol in his system almost 50 percent above the legal limit. Woolley pleaded guilty to a charge of Operating a Motor Vehicle with excess blood Alcohol. 

When he ends his term as union president, Woolley will serve an eight month demotion to the position of Constable Second Class. He will continue to be an active police officer despite admitting he broke the law. 

While OAPC did not name particular incidents in their call to change how police discipline is handled, Peel has plenty of examples to offer. Government and police chiefs are in agreement the system needs to be reformed, even if the precise details may not quite align.

Not everyone is convinced OAPC’s suggestions are the way to achieve desperately needed reform.

Towards the end of last year, Duraiappah admitted his force had an issue with systemic racism, entering into an agreementwith the Ontario Human Rights Commission to methodically root out the problem. Similarly, in June 2020, the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police acknowledged racism was systemic within her force, after initially denying the charge. 

As police leaders publicly accepted problems in the organizations they lead, some question if giving the current system sharper teeth will yield a solution. 

“Right now, you have police investigating police and the camaraderie and the boys club, it always comes first,” Angie Rivers, a constable with the Waterloo Regional Police who has been on a long-term sick leave after being subjected to sexual harassment on the job, told The Pointer.  

In his 2017 review of police oversight, Justice Michael Tulloch addressed this conflict. He noted that for a hearing, the chief of a force will select a prosecutor and hearing officer, both of whom are likely to be members of the force. The system means the officer accused of misconduct may be judged by other officers who could come with their own biases or political baggage. 

“The problem though is that this arrangement does not keep pace with expectations of adjudicative fairness,” Tulloch wrote. “The role of the adjudicator today is seen as more in the nature of a neutral arbiter, regardless of how it was historically conceived.”

Similar concerns about the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) are common. Critics are concerned it doesn’t have the teeth required and shares the pro-police bias levelled at the internal discipline problem, while some officers and union figures argue police oversight is already significant and wide-ranging. 

Rivers, who is currently engaged in a union grievance process, says the OAPC’s suggestion could work on paper, but gives power to the wrong people. A more transparent process and harsher punishments would only help to improve police discipline if the sector’s culture doesn’t swallow the benefits whole.  

“It completely compromises the integrity of the whole process because you have people — men — who went to OPC (Ontario Police College) together, they went on courses together, even if they don’t work at the same police service, through networking, they’re all very tight and very close,” she said. 

In theory, the police services board should provide this independent accountability to each force’s chief and oversee consistency in decisions. The board’s tasks include hiring a new chief and they are made up of a range of different people, including a member of Brampton and Mississauga council for the Peel Regional Police. 

“The board is supposed to be independent and they’re supposed to oversee the performance of the chief, but they’re not independent,” Kelly Donovan told The Pointer. She is a former Waterloo Police officer who says blowing the whistle on corruption within her force ended her career. “They get all their information from the chief, they rely on education from the chief, these people don’t know a whole lot about policing, so they take the chief’s word for it when the chief says something. They don’t have an independent committee that’s advising them.”

After going through a process she says was weaponized against her, Donovan believes enhancing the power of chiefs won’t solve the root problem. If discipline is not evenly rolled out in the first place, making it harsher doesn’t lead to a fairer system. 

Changes proposed by Ontario police chiefs coupled with an entirely independent discipline body could be a step in the right direction.

“There should be an opportunity for a decision to be made, but it can’t be the chief,” Donavon said. “The chief is the person who decided whether or not to have the person charged in the first place, so that would be a conflict of interest. They’re only seeing it from one perspective, they’re not seeing it from any other perspective.”

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