Serendipitous circumstances—a judge with a conscience, overreaching Crown attorneys, a video and an awakened media—have recently allowed an unprecedented light to be shone on the unprofessionalism of Ottawa police. Today, the Ottawa Citizen’s Chris Cobb has in hand a report indicating that we have seen just the tip of a colossal iceberg.
Three hundred complaints have been filed so far against the Ottawa Police Service with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), since the civilian body was established in October 2009.
This disproportionate number of public complaints against Ottawa’s finest is accompanied, it seems, by quite a bit of hush money:
According to figures released to the Citizen from the Ottawa Police Services Board, a total $85,671 was paid out in settlements against the police in the first nine months of 2010; a total $486,500 in 2009 and $162,750 in 2008.
That’s our tax dollars at work, folks.
Details of each settlement remain secret, but the overwhelming number of complaints were for false arrest with excessive force/assault, malicious prosecution and personal injury cited as other reasons for complaint. [emphasis added]
A few points are worth noting. First, the OIPRD has no power to punish—its findings are reported back to the police chief with jurisdiction, and the internal police process once again takes over. Secondly, the OIPRD has no authority to hear complaints against special constables. Finally, given the flood of complaints it is struggling to handle, it is evident that the OIPRD is under-resourced and ineffective in resolving complaints in anything like a timely manner.
The exemption of special constables from civilian oversight is a glaring omission: two of the Ottawa officers involved in the savaging of Stacy Bonds are special constables. And in a case reported just this morning, a judge upheld a complaint by an anti-war protester accused of assault on police—the man was kneed without provocation by yet another special constable as he was being put in a cell.
But the worst part of all this is the secrecy in which these numerous instances of police misbehaviour are shrouded. The public has no knowledge of what, if any, discipline was meted out to the offending officers where payouts to complainants were made.
Defence lawyer Laurence Greenspon, speaking of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigation of the Stacy Bonds matter, says:
If the media think they are going to get a copy of the Stacy Bonds SIU report, they can think again. The only person who will see it will be the attorney general and maybe Chief (Vern) White. They’ll give you a little media release, but they won’t give you the report. What’s the point of a report that stays secret?
Indeed. And the wider question is: how can out-of-control police officers be made accountable to the public they are supposed to serve and protect when the police continue to operate under this cover of darkness?