The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, is investigating after a52-year-old man died of gunshot wounds during an interaction with officers of the Ontario Provincial Police in the village of Douglas. The SIU reports that police were called to a home in the village near Renfrew around 3 PM by someone concerned about a family member. At some point during the police encounter the man suffered a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
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The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, is investigating the death of a 57-year-old man in custody of Toronto police on the evening of Sunday, November 26, 2017. According to the SIU, the man, who has not yet been named publicly, was sitting handcuffed in an apartment building security office when Toronto police officers arrived in response to a disturbance call. The SIU reports that after the officers searched the man he was returned to a sitting position. A short time later, the man fell over and his vital signs were absent. He was pronounced dead in hospital early on the morning of Monday, November 27. No other details have been released publicly, including information regarding why the man was arrested in the first place, or what the so-called disturbance involved.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, is investigating the death of a 44-year-old man during an arrest outside a home in Brampton on October 31, 2017.
According to the SIU, a 911 call was made to Peel Region police at around 8:45 AM. The SIU further suggests that police officers arrived at a residence near Bovaird Drive and McLaughlin Road sometime later. There police reportedly “interacted with a man” who was then taken to hospital where he later died. The SIU statement did not provide any specific detail regarding what the “interaction” entailed, any details of the man’s injuries, or why the 911 call was made in the first place.
The SIU has said in a statement that two officers are under investigation. Details about the victim’s identity have not been released publicly.
Details are still emerging about a police involved shooting at the Northumberland Hills Hospital emergency room during which two people were left dead, at least one whom was killed by police. The incident unfolded right before midnight, Friday, October 27, 2017, at the hospital in Cobourg, Ontario, a small town about 115 Kilometers east of Toronto. The two victims are a husband and wife in their 70s. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, is investigating.
SIU spokesperson Jason Gennaro has publicly stated that police in Cobourg were initially called to the hospital emergency room on reports of the sound of gunshots at about 11 PM. The SIU reports that police claim they encountered the 70-year-old man and two officers fired their weapons striking the man and killing him. He was pronounced dead on the scene. The SIU reports that officers then found a 76-year-old woman who was dead, apparently of some type of head wound.
The SIU has only confirmed that the couple were admitted to hospital. “for unknown ailments” and that at some point in the evening they had been next to each other on gurney’s in a triage area of the emergency room. Other important details have not been released publicly or confirmed.
There has been some speculation that the woman had been shot, but Gennaro would not confirm that. It has also not been confirmed at this point that the man had any type of weapon.
One witness claims hearing at least five or six shots after police arrived. Other witnesses have reported hearing multiple shots in a manner that suggested to them the use of an assault weapon.
Northumberland Hills Hospital has only confirmed in a statement that there was a “serious incident” in its emergency department that involved a weapon. There are no details on whether this refers to the police weapons or another weapon. The SIU has not confirmed that the man had a weapon, but questions have been asked of the hospital how a patient with a gun could be admitted.
The SIU has assigned six investigators and two forensic investigators to investigate this shooting by police.
Letter From SIU Head to Ottawa Police Chief Raises Questions About Transparency and “Old Boy” Favors in Investigations
Two officers of the Ottawa Police Service were involved in a car chase that ended with the death of 24-year-old Alex Cross and an unnamed 39-year-old on April 12, 2016. Cross was killed when a Pontiac G6 plowed into his car on the city’s Vanier Parkway, throwing him and a 21-year-old woman from the vehicle. The woman was seriously injured. The driver of the G6 died in hospital eight months after the crash. The two officers had chased the G6. They have never been named publicly.
Now the Ottawa Citizen has gained access to a letter sent to Ottawa’s police chief, Charles Bordeleau, by the head of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines police harm to civilians, offering a stern rebuke of the two officers and raises significant questions about the training that police officers receive and the transparency of investigations into police.
The “Old Boys” Letter
The letter from SIU head Tony Loparco to Chief Bordeleau, states that the police chase “clearly” broke Ottawa Police Service policy and “likely also ran afoul” of the provincial regulations that govern police chases, specifically of Ontario Regulation 266/10 under the Police Services Act (Shaw 2017). Additionally, the letter points out that the two officers were “long overdue” for their driver training (Shaw 2017).
Notably the letter was dated April 21, 2017, which was about a month before the two officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Special Investigations Unit, the very unit that is raising these issues and reporting them, not publicly but only to the chief of the officers’ force. This raises deep concerns and questions about the transparency of the SIU, its insiders practices and friendly relationships with the forces it is supposed to be independently investigating, favoritism toward killer cops, and the lack of public accountability for police and for the SIU.
This letter was only obtained through the efforts of the Citizen and its filing of a freedom of information request. Loparco’s concerns about the force were not communicated publicly, only to police, and did not seem to inform the SIU assessment of the officers’ actions or the SIU’s decision to let them off, odd given the issues raised by the SIU’s own director in his letter.
The “Investigation”: Chasing Training
Four SIU investigators and two forensics investigators were assigned to the case. They interviewed nine civilian witnesses and five witness police officers. On May 17, 2017, thirteen months after the crash, the SIU absolved the two officers of even any suggestion of wrongdoing. Said the SIU news releases at the time: “There is no basis whatsoever to hold either of the two subject officers responsible for the terrible outcomes of the motor vehicle collision” (Shaw 2017).
Yet, this finding is in complete contradiction with Loparco’s own review and assessment of the officer’s actions in this case as communicated to Chief Bordeleau. Loparco’s letter states that, if not for a senior officer calling off the chase, the two officers could have been in criminal jeopardy and this was a “pursuit that never should have occurred” (Shaw 2017).
According to the Ottawa Police Service, its Suspect Apprehension Pursuit policy was developed in conjunction with provincial guidelines that all Ontario police services must follow (Laucius 2017). All officers involved in pursuits are required to have successfully completed a course in pursuit driver training which is approved by the Ontario Police College and they must complete refresher training every two years (Lauicius 2017). Yet the two officers in this case did not follow the policies. Said Loparco, in his letter: “It is my hope that as Chief of the Ottawa Police Service, you will revisit the training that these two subject officers have received” (quoted in Shaw 2017). Yet, really, what does it matter if police disregard policies leading to the deaths and injuries of multiple civilians if they face no negative consequences for their actions?
It is still not known why one officer made the decision to try to stop the Pontiac G6 around 1:15 AM that morning. All that has been said publicly is that it was for “licensing and regulatory” reasons (Shaw 2017). There was no criminal offence suspected. Yet Ottawa police policy only allows for chases in criminal cases, and a handful of other restrictive conditions (Shaw 2017). The officer who initiated the pursuit was not conducting a criminal investigation and already had the license plate number for the G6. Loparco noted that the Ottawa police list of requirements for engaging in a pursuit includes: “an identified criminal offence; no other alternative for apprehension; a threat to public safety; the vehicles involved in the pursuit are marked and the police officers involved have successfully completed police college driver training and refresher every two years” (Lauicius 2017). The first officer even radioed for assistance leading another officer to join the chase. A road sergeant had to make two calls for the officers to end their pursuit.
In Loparco’s words, the road sergeant insulted the officers from charges but he does not say why since the officers did initiate and pursue a chase improperly. Said Loparco:
“I commend him for his commitment to public safety. I am also hopeful that the officers under his command appreciate that his directions insulated them from criminal jeopardy in these circumstances. Their imprudent actions could well have grounded dangerous driving or criminal negligence charges if they had persisted in a pursuit that should never have happened in the first place.” (quoted in Laucius 2017)
Here is the thing. The fact that the chase was initiated in “the absence of a criminal investigation,” as Loparco notes in his letter, means, by definition, that the two officers in pursuit broke both their own force’s rules, as well as possibly violating provincial police chase regulations as established in the Police Services Act.
Why did SIU head Loparco raise these serious issues privately with the chief of the force involved, but never publicly? Why did Loparco identify these serious violations yet absolve the officers in spite of his knowledge, beforehand, of these violations?
While the SIU director often sends a background letter to the chief of police in the jurisdiction where the incident occurred, outlining any concerns the director has about the case, after a case ends, this letter was sent beforehand.
Where there are questions about a police officer’s actions under terms of the Ontario Police Act, a police chief or a victim’s family member can request an investigation by the Office Of Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD). This office is responsible for receiving, managing, and overseeing public complaints about police in Ontario (Laucius 2017).
At present, there is no legislative mechanism for the SIU to notify OIPRD about concerns it has regarding misconduct or neglect of duty involving police (Laucius 2017). In consultations with Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch, who led a recent review of police oversight in Ontario, it has been recommended that the SIU be made a “direct complainant” to OIPRD or the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (Laucius 2017).
This case offers some important insights into the nature of police “oversight” in the Canadian state context. It shows the secrecy of investigations into police and the lack of accountability in even obvious or basic situations of police violations of their own limited regulations. It also shows the friendly “old boys” networking that exists between investigative bodies and the police they are supposed to investigate. The state protects the state and informs its members instead of the public.
Dawson, Tyler. 2017. “Private Letter to Bordeleau Reveals Officers Lacked Training in Night of Horrific Crash.” Ottawa Citizen. October 19. http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/dawson-training-needed-on-police-pursuit-policies
Laucius, Joanne. 2017. “SIU Director Sent Scathing Letter to Ottawa Chief Over Downtown Chase.” Ottawa Sun. October 18. http://www.ottawasun.com/2017/10/18/siu-director-sent-scathing-letter-to-ottawa-chief-over-downtown-police-chase
SIU Lets Off Cop in 2016 Police Chase Death of Teen, Despite High Speed, Possible Breaches of Police Services Act
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, has decided not to recommend charges against a Leeds OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) officer who was involved in a high speed chase in May 2016 that ended in a crash near Smith Falls that killed a teenager in May 2016.
According to the SIU, the officer, who has not been named publicly, saw a vehicle, a Hyundai, allegedly speeding on County Road 17 and turned around to follow it. With the police pursuit the vehicle turned down a dirt road into trees, killing the 18-year-old male driver. A 16-year-old girl who was a passenger in the front seat was not seriously injured. The SIU report suggests that the speeding car was going 100 km on a stretch of road with speed limits varying between 50 km/h or 80 km/h when the officer saw it, and around 170 km/h when it left the road.
SIU director Tony Loparco, who has rather consistently sided with police officers and forces in cases of harm to civilian since assuming his position, did raise concerns about the officer’s speed, reporting that the OPP vehicle reached 165 km/h, and about the fact that the officer did not immediately notify the dispatcher of the pursuit. According to Loparco, each of these may have constituted a breach of the Ontario Police Services Act.
Yet Loparco decided that the officer’s actions did not meet the bar either for dangerous driving or criminal negligence. In his words: “There is no evidence that the [officer’s] driving created a danger to other users of the roadway or that at any time he interfered with other traffic; additionally the environmental conditions were good and the roads were dry.”
This is a curious statement given that the teen driver was driving at speeds less than the officer reached at the time the officer began pursuit. So if even the officer’s higher speed and the road conditions did not pose a threat to the public, why pursue a joy riding teen driving at lower speeds under the same conditions?
Loparco went further, suggesting that there was no causal connection between the officer’s pursuit and the crash. In his words: “I am unable to establish that there was a causal connection between [the officer’s] actions…and the single-vehicle collision that caused the…death.” Yet the stated evidence appears to suggest the teen both sped up and turned off the road in response to the officer’s pursuit and the closing speed of that pursuit.
The SIU assigned eight investigators to the case. Once again it appears the state has protected the state.
A high speed police chase by members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) ended in the death of Sheila Walsh (65), who was not the target of the chase. The driver of the pursued vehicle, a pickup truck, crashed into the vehicle being driven by Walsh with the truck bursting into flames. Walsh was declared dead at the scene. After the crash police told neighbors to evacuate their homes because of gasoline spilling out at the scene.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which examines harm to civilians by police in Ontario, is investigating the high-speed pursuit and how OPP officers responded to the situation. According to the SIU, police claim that at about 3:20 PM on September 25, 2017, the OPP responded to a call about a reportedly stolen vehicle in Eganville, around 130 kilometers west of Ottawa. The 20-year-old driver of the vehicle in question headed toward Arnprior on Highway 60, then to Highway 17, where the OPP began their pursuit. The truck collided with Welsh’s car a bit after 4 PM as she was pulling from her driveway on Daniel Street.
The SIU has assigned five investigators, two forensic investigators, and one collision reconstructionist to investigate the crash and the circumstances leading to it. None of the police claims have been independently confirmed. It is known that the risky and careless police decision to pursue enforcement of property rights has led to the death of a civilian.
One witness put it in clearly sensible term, In the words of Eric Bayley, a Bell Canada worker who observed the chase and crash while working:
“The chase should never have happened. If the guy robbed a bank they would have got him sooner or later. It was a stolen vehicle. Big freakin’ deal. Now a poor grandmother, mother, sister is dead. There’s no … way in hell those cops should have been chasing them down that … road.” (quoted in Crawford and Gillis 2017)
“There had to have been eight cop cars and three Suburbans wide open going down Daniel Street. It could have been a lot worse. I was talking to my buddy on the phone and I was like, ‘Holy s—t. This is not going to go well.’ He said, ‘What’s going on?’ and I said, ‘There’s a high-speed chase. There’s cruiser after cruiser after cruiser.’” (quoted in Crawford and Gillis 2017)
Indeed, a flag worker on construction site the chase plowed through had to leap to safety.
Ontario’s Police Services Act sets out the rules governing police pursuits. According to the Act, police can pursue or continue pursuit “if the police officer has reason to believe that a criminal offence has been committed or is about to be committed; or for the purposes of motor vehicle identification or the identification of an individual in the vehicle.” The Act also further states police must continually weigh whether “the immediate need to apprehend an individual in the fleeing motor vehicle or the need to identify the fleeing motor vehicle or an individual in the fleeing motor vehicle outweighs the risk to public safety that may result from the pursuit.” Dispatch must be notified of the pursuit and the (Crawford and Gillis 2017).
Crawford, Blair and Megan Gillis. 2017. “Eganville Man Faces Charges After Woman Killed in Crash During Police Chase.” Ottawa Citizen September 27. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/witness-describes-devastating-and-deadly-arnprior-crash