By: Elizabeth Saucier
On Nov. 8, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch hosted a police oversight community outreach meeting at the Hamilton Public Library.
The Independent Police Oversight Review occurred following the results of a string of investigations into police activity in the city. Along with this meeting in Hamilton, several others have been scheduled in the province.
Tulloch was tasked by the province of Ontario to study current police oversight organizations and draft a report, due in March 2017, to include suggestions about how to ensure accountability and transparency.
The meeting began with a light buffet and the crowd was a diverse group of around 100, who were asked to mingle and discuss the issues at hand.
“I assure you that in this process all of you will be heard,” said Tulloch, after which the meeting took an unexpected format. Instead of holding a town hall meeting, attendees sat in groups around tables.
Danielle Dowdy, the strategic initiatives lead, explained that each six-person table of attendees was to have a 45-minute round table discussion where various topics were explored. Some of the topics discussed were the likelihood of reporting police brutality, the transparency of police oversight agencies, and the appropriateness of former police officers working for said agencies.
Since many of those who attended did not have any prior knowledge of the three police oversight agencies that were being reviewed, namely the Special Investigations Unit, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, a pamphlet with a flowchart was provided to explain their functions.
These agencies are currently facing public criticism for lack of transparency, inability to establish justifications for use of force and their continued operation in a climate that encourages retaliation against victims.
The goal was that, after 45 minutes of group discussion, one member from each table would stand and give a four minute speech outlining the answers at which his or her group arrived.
Many recommendations were given, along with criticisms of the current organizations. Some individuals argued that these agencies don’t share enough information to increase public confidence in their function, and that the SIU can establish that an officer acted in self-defence without establishing that he acted with sound judgment or compassion, or without establishing that the officer didn’t cause the initial escalation from which he was defending himself. Attendees also stressed the lack of public education about encounters with the police and the role media outlets hold in smearing victims.
Tulloch listened to the various recommendations without comment. He will publish his review of the SIU, the OIPRD and the OCPC in March 2017.