The lack of effective and independent oversight of police is an ongoing issue in the Canadian context. This is true even where supposedly independent investigations units exist provincially. In every case investigations are impeded by police harassment, non-cooperation, and/or intimidation. In addition their is no mechanism to force police to comply with or adhere to investigation procedures. In many cases investigating agencies have connections with police forces, including dependence of police for their own training. This all means that there is no proper oversight of police in Canada and families are often doubly victimized, first by the taking of a loved one by police and then by a process that excludes them and lacks efficiency and transparency.
One issue being raised by families of victims of police killings in Ontario is with the slow pace of investigations and the lack of information provided publicly and to families. This has been a concern for the main police oversight body in the province, the Special Investigations Unit (considered the gold standard globally, which says plenty)
Growing attention and increasing public outcry in Canada over police killings of civilians has led to an independent review of police oversight in Ontario. One issue examined is the matter of public release of information from SIU investigations. The final report from Justice Michael Tulloch on police oversight in Ontario is slated to be released in March.
The family of Tony Divers (36) has been waiting for answers since their loved one was shot and killed by Hamilton Police on September 30, 2016. The family says it was told that forensics and toxicology work was done in December but it could still take several months several months before the SIU release any information about the investigation. Incredibly, in the meantime, Edward Divers, the victim’s brother, was arrested on an old warrant when he attended a Police Services Board meeting and raised questions about the killing of his brother. This has been viewed as a punitive act of harassment by police.
Police have said they were responding to a call when they targeted Divers. Yet no details have been released about the call or who made it. In addition police have claimed the victim had a gun, yet there is no evidence available that suggests any gun, or any other weapon, was present at the scene apart from police weapons. At least one witness has said that Divers did not have any gun at the scene.
The family says Divers was struggling with mental health issues at the time police killed him. The use of lethal force by police against people experiencing mental health crises has become a too common situation in Canada. So too is the stonewalling of family requests for basic information and insight into the police killings of their loved ones.
Karyn Greenwood-Graham, whose son was killed by Waterloo Police almost a decade ago, points to what she calls the “police culture” that dominates throughout the SIU. In her words: “What we have seen is a lack of support, a lack of respect, a lack of acknowledgement to the families who have lost a loved one, a son, a brother” (quoted in Bennett 2017). Greenwood-Graham organizes with the Affected Families of Police Homicide provides solidarity and support for families of victims of police killings of civilians
The slow process of investigations raises questions about transparency and credibility. It also leaves families in turmoil, harming their health and well being.
Bennett, Kelly. 2017. “Family of Man Shot by Hamilton Police Frustrated by SIU Decision.” CBC News. February 23. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/family-of-man-shot-by-hamilton-police-frustrated-by-wait-for-siu-decision-1.3996304