Special Investigations Unit
The Special Investigations Unit (French: Unité des enquêtes spéciales, SIU or "the Unit") is the civilian oversight agency responsible for investigating circumstances involving police that have resulted in a death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault of a civilian in Ontario, Canada. The SIU's goal is to ensure that criminal law is applied appropriately to police conduct, as determined through independent investigations, increasing public confidence in the police services.
|Headquarters||5090 Commerce Boulevard|
Complaints involving police conduct that do not result in a serious injury or death must be referred to the appropriate police service or to another oversight agency, such as the Ontario Civilian Police Commission or the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
As a civilian law enforcement agency, the SIU has the power and authority to investigate and charge police officers with criminal offences. The SIU is a unique investigative provincial body, overseeing approximately 23,000 police officers from municipal, regional, and provincial services. However, the SIU does not have the authority to investigate First Nations constables, or Federal police officers such as Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers or Canadian Forces Military Police officers. Ontario is the first province to have such a civilian oversight agency in place, and one of the few jurisdictions worldwide with an independent civilian agency. (In 2007 Alberta created the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, and in September, 2012, the Independent Investigations Office was established in British Columbia) As a result, the SIU has become a model of civilian oversight for other jurisdictions in the light of the international movement towards greater civilian accountability of the police. Civilian oversight of police services has become an important accountability mechanism to police powers. The role of the SIU is not necessarily to lay charges against police officers but to investigate and to assure the community that the conduct of the police is subject to independent scrutiny. The SIU strives to maintain community confidence in Ontario’s police services by assuring the public that the actions of the police are subject to independent investigations. They are completely independent of the police and have an arms-length relationship with the government. This means that although the SIU Director reports to the Attorney General, the decision-making on cases and their day-to-day activities are independent of the government.
Before the SIU, police services investigated themselves or in some instances, another police service was assigned to conduct the investigation. In 1988, the Ontario government established the Task Force on Race Relations and Policing as a result of a fatal shooting by police of two Black men. During the hearings conducted by the Task Force, there was public concern, spearheaded by the Black Action Defence Committee, about the integrity of the process in which police officers investigated other police officers, particularly of police shootings where a member of the public had been wounded or killed. There was a lack of public confidence in a system where police policed themselves. The Task Force’s report recommended changes in the law on the use of force by the police. As a result, the SIU was formed in 1990 under a new Ontario Police Services Act. Initially, the SIU was headquartered in Toronto, but in 2000 it moved to the current location at 5090 Commerce Boulevard, Mississauga, Ontario, L4W 5M4.
There are two ways that the SIU becomes notified: by police officers or by public request. The police are legally obliged to notify the SIU to report any incidents that may fall within the SIU’s jurisdiction, which is set out in section 113 of the Police Services Act. Also, the SIU receives and acts on many requests from members of the media, lawyers, coroners, medical professionals, and people who feel the police have injured them. Once the SIU is notified, an Investigative Supervisor gathers information to determine whether the complaint/incident falls within their mandate. If so, they will begin investigating.
The objective of every SIU investigation is to determine whether there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of the police. Although the circumstances of every case are unique, the approach to most investigations is the same. The investigative process begins by assigning a lead investigator and as many investigators, forensic identification technicians, and resources as necessary.
Investigations typically involve:
- Examining the scene and securing all physical evidence;
- Seeking out and obtaining the cooperation of witnesses and taking their statements;
- Monitoring the medical condition of those who have been injured, notifying the families in death cases and keeping them informed on the progress of the investigation;
- Consulting with the coroner if there has been a death;
- Securing potentially relevant police equipment for forensic examination; and
- Submitting an investigation brief, which is reviewed by the Investigative Supervisor, the Executive Officer and finally, the Director.
Once all of the facts are gathered, the Director then makes a decision whether there are reasonable grounds to lay a criminal charge against a police officer.
SIU investigators come from both civilian and police backgrounds. In the 2006-07 fiscal year, the majority of the full-time investigators came from civilian backgrounds. All of the Unit’s investigators have extensive experience investigating serious incidents, such as deaths, sexual assault allegations, serious assaults, shootings, and motor vehicle incidents. The average investigative experience among over 40 investigators and forensic identification technicians is 29 years. SIU investigators now have state-of-the-art audio video rooms, secure evidence and file storage facilities and project rooms.
In the beginning, due to a shortage of resources, the SIU often relied on the OPP for forensic investigation assistance and would involve the police services for interviewing witnesses. Similarly, there were also many cases where the SIU would allow the police service involved in the investigation to investigate the entire incident, while the SIU oversaw that investigation. This was a problem because the public still saw the police being policed by the police. As a result, the SIU's budget was increased to $4.7 million in the 1999-2000 fiscal year.
Currently, the SIU is equipped with their own in-house forensic identification team, staffed entirely by civilians. They are now well equipped with tools and personnel. The in-house forensic identification team is an important part of most investigations. It is managed by two supervisors and staffed by a handful of forensic identification technicians and includes a fully equipped laboratory. They are now equipped with enough scene examination and evidence gathering supplies to investigate effectively. The forensics identification team is responsible for protecting, collecting, preserving, and analyzing the physical evidence. Their duties include the interpretation of trace evidence and recording of the autopsy process. The team has particular expertise in several areas of forensics, including collision reconstructions, scene mapping, and bloodstain pattern analysis. They also liaise with scientists at the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Ontario and other external experts for DNA analysis and ballistics.
Most SIU investigations lead to a decision by the Director about whether she or he has reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence has occurred. If the director does not feel that a criminal offence has occurred, the Attorney General is notified in a written report and the case is closed. If the director believes that a criminal offence has occurred, a charge is laid and the SIU refers the matter to Justice Prosecutions of the Criminal Law Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General. The charge is then prosecuted through the courts.
List of directors:
|Tony Loparco LLB||2013–present||former provincial Crown Attorney (Toronto area)|
|Ian D. Scott LLB||2008–2013||former provincial Crown Attorney (Toronto area)|
|James Lawrence Cornish LLB||2004-2008||former acting provincial Crown Attorney (Norfolk County), Assistant Crown attorney (Haldimand County and Milton)|
|John Sutherland LLB||2003-2004||former provincial assistant Crown Attorney (London and Toronto) and criminal defence lawyer; now Justice with the Ontario Court of Justice (Toronto)|
|Peter A. Tinsley LLB||1999-2002||former International Prosecutor at Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo/UNMIK for the United Nations, Director of Hastings County Law Society and former member of the Canadian Forces (military police officer and for the Office of the Judge Advocate General); now Chair of the Federal Government's Military Police Complaints Commission)|
|André Marin LLB||1996-1998||former Crown Attorney (Ottawa), University of Ottawa law professor, Canadian Forces Ombudsman and Ontario Ombudsman|
|James M. Stewart QC||1996||acting director; director of Crown Attorney's Office East Region (Ottawa)|
|Mr. Justice John Harty Osler LLB QC||1990-1995||former Ontario High Court of Justice 1968-1990; partner in Jolliff Lewis and Osler|
Affected Persons Coordinator (APC)Edit
Dealing in a compassionate and respectful manner with injured persons and families of those whose deaths are subject of an investigation is a top priority. To highlight this commitment, an Affected Persons Coordinator (APC) position was developed in 2005, contributing to the ability of the Unit to respond meaningfully to the social needs of those persons impacted by the SIU investigations. The APC takes the lead in liaising with affected individuals and/or families. The primary function of the APC is to do a very specific kind of outreach by helping persons impacted by the SIU investigations access required support services, such as professional counselling, financial assistance or admission into rehabilitation programs. The APC also sends condolences to families that experience a death as a result of the police action that the SIU is investigating, and follows up to offer further assistance. The Coordinator’s services are available on a 24/7 basis and can be offered over the telephone or in person.
The following data is sourced from the SIU's annual reports:
|Types of Occurrences||1996-97||1997-98||1998-99||1999-00||2000-01||2001-02||2002-03||2003-04||2004-05||2005-06||2006-07||2007-08||2008-09||2009-10||2010-11||2011-12||2012-13||2013-14||2014-15||Totals to date|
|Sexual Assault Complaints||8||9||11||10||15||15||9||16||11||23||24||41||34||24||44||55||49||34||41||473|
|Number of cases in which charges laid (number of officers charged in parentheses)||3||2||3 (6)||6 (6)||5 (9)||4 (5)||4 (4)||2 (2)||3 (4)||4 (4)||2 (2)||7 (10)||4 (4)||10 (12)||12 (12)||11 (13)||14 (17)||10 (11)||13 (12)||119 (133)|
Accusations of biasEdit
The SIU has been accused of having a pro-police bias.
The attorney general stated in a 2003 report that;
Civilian oversight in the form of the SIU was intended to assist chiefs of police in shouldering their daunting duties, not to be an irritant. The fact that the SIU overwhelmingly clears officers should be seen by the [public] as an endorsement of good policing.
In 2007, Ontario Ombudsman André Marin launched an investigation and a year later released a scathing 121-page report "hammer[ing] the SIU for allowing the police to control its investigations and adopting an 'impotent stance' when challenged by police." Marin said, "There's no doubt in my mind that an SIU investigation is one which is currently done through blue-coloured glasses. There is no doubt that there is a police bias in their approach to investigations". The report also said, "The SIU has not only become complacent about ensuring that police officials follow the rules, it has bought into the fallacious argument that SIU investigations aren't like other criminal cases and it is acceptable to treat police witnesses differently from civilians."
Ian Scott, who was a prosecutor before he became director of the SIU, said in 2004 that police officers accused of excessive force had a one-in-five chance of getting the same level of justice as a civilian charged with a similar offense. But the actual figures as reported in 2008 in the Toronto Star suggest that ratio is much lower. The Star reported that of the 3,400 investigations conducted by the SIU (to that date), 95 resulted in criminal charges, 16 of those resulted in conviction, and only three police officers went to jail.
In 2011, Ombudsman Marin again investigated the Special Investigations Unit and the ministry responsible, the Ministry of the Attorney General. He released a report on the investigation in December. While he conceded that the Unit had improved over the past three years, he still found the ministry to be "actively working against the SIU director”. He found that "the ministry of the attorney general actively undermines the SIU, the watchdog that probes police-related deaths, serious injuries and sexual assaults and that "police officers either obstructed or failed to co-operate with the SIU in more than one-third of its cases in the past three years." He recommended legislation be enacted to better support the SIU. In response to his report, Attorney General John Gerretsen was quoted as saying, "There are always improvements that can be made to any system and whether or not legislation is in the offing remains to be seen. Only time will tell, I suppose.”
- CACOLE – The Canadian Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement
- First Nations Liaison Program – to foster a constructive growth in the SIU’s relationship with First Nations communities.
- The SIU also runs several presentations and lectures at academic institutions, community centres, trade shows, jobs of professional associations. This is a positive interaction with the community, police officers and young people to educate them about the role and responsibility of the SIU.
- Annual Report 2005/2006
- 2006/2007 SIU Annual Report
- Ministry of the Attorney General - Background
- 2006/2007 Annual Report
- Ministry of the Attorney General / Ministère du Procureur général
- Lewis, Clare; Ralph Agard; Kamala Jean Gopie; James Harding; T. Sher Singh; Roy Williams (April 1989). "The Report of the Race Relations and Policing Task Force". Toronto, Ontario: Race Relations and Policing Task Force. Cite journal requires
- Police Services Act
- Special Investigations Unit
- Annual Report 2006/2007
- http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/pubs/adams/recommendations1to8.asp Ministry of the Attorney General Report on the SIU Recommendations
- "SIU Annual Reports" (reports for 1996-97 through 2000-01 are available in paper form by request from the SIU
- Doolittle, Robyn (1 October 2008). "Ombudsman slams SIU bias". The Star. Toronto.
- Bruser, Henry, David, Michelle (28 Oct 2010). "Are these cops above the law?". Toronto Star. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- "Are these cops above the law?". Toronto Star. 28 Oct 2010. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- Benzie, Robert (14 December 2011). "SIU 'undermined' by attorney general, ombudsman charges". The Star. Toronto.
- "Ontario government slammed for undermining police watchdog". CBC News. 14 December 2011.