Dr. Dawg

Police brutality and Ontario's civilian review

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Adam Nobody.jpg

Adam Nobody has been vindicated—sort of. Ontario’s relatively new Office of the Independent Police Review Director has spoken.

The OIPRD was established in 2009 to provide some relief to victimized citizens and a public tired of police almost invariably exonerating their brothers and sisters in blue. “The OIPRD’s role,” we are told, “is to make sure that public complaints against police in Ontario are dealt with fairly, efficiently and effectively.”

The OIPRD has a difficult task, likely made impossible by its legal limitations. As I noted soon after it was established:

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.

I made this comment after it was revealed that, in a matter of just over a year after it was set up, the OPIRD had received over three hundred complaints about the Ottawa police alone.

In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the OIPRD had 49 full-time staff and 10 temporary employees.

From April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011, it received a total of 4,083 complaints, averaging 340 complaints per month. 93% of the complaints were directly related to police conduct.

The OIPRD retained 259 of those complaints for investigation. All of 26 findings of serious misconduct were made, and ten less serious ones. OIPRD decisions are final and binding—there is no appeal process. But any resulting discipline of a police officer, which is under the purview, not of the OIPRD, but of the police force involved, may be appealed to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

The OPIRD cannot investigate or recommend criminal charges. But, unlike the SIU, it can compel testimony or the production of documents and records.

[Source: OIPRD Annual Report, 2010-2011]

It must be said that the OIPRD did not begin well. In May, 2010, it exonerated a thuggish Ottawa police officer who brutalized an innocent fifteen-year-old boy (original story by Gary Dimmock of the Ottawa Citizen, no longer online). In fact, the OIPRD report stated that the officer could have used even more violence had he so chosen. Its shoddy investigation did not include actually talking to eyewitnesses or to the doctor who found that the cop had not only broken his hand hitting the kid, but had bitten him as well.

But recently the OIPRD has at least shone the light of unwelcome publicity on truly egregious cases. In fact the Windsor Chief of Police has just taken early retirement when an OIPRD report found evidence of a police coverup after a vicious and unprovoked assault by a uniformed thug on a local doctor.

In that case, the cop lied and so did his colleagues and superiors, all the way up the line. But the whole incident was captured on video, and even the discredited Ontario Special Investigations Unit was moved to lay a criminal charge.

The OIPRD is still reviewing the behaviour of police at the G20 protest in Toronto, but has finally named the officers involved in the savage beating of protester Adam Nobody, and ordered Chief Bill Blair to take disciplinary action against five of them: Michael Adams, Geoffrey Fardell, David Donaldson, Oliver Simpson and Babak Andalib-Goortani. Andalib-Goortani, once again because he had been recorded on video, had already been criminally charged by the SIU after all the homework was done by Toronto Star reporter Rosie diManno.

The report, it must be said, is couched—one senses the author(s) straining to find the victim at fault, and the account takes police testimony rather too obviously at face value. But the video of the assault doesn’t lie, and the OPIRD really had little choice in the matter.

Astoundingly, Officer Michael Adams was already under investigation for his role in the killing of Junior Alexander Manon, but had been placed on active duty at the G20 anyway.

In any case, what now happens is up to Chief Blair, who has been covering for his troops since the G20 police riot occurred.

On balance, the OIPRD is mostly about optics: its miniscule size sets it up to fail in providing meaningful oversight for the 58 Ontario municipal police forces and 165 Ontario Provincial Police detachments—approximately 24,500 sworn police officers.

The citizen’s best weapon against police abuse is a video camera. If he or she can afford it, a lawsuit may at least mitigate the abuse suffered. Perhaps at some point the cops will run out of hush money:

According to figures released to the [Ottawa] 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.

I have no up-to-date figures for Toronto, but in the past the payouts have been huge:

In March 2005, the CBC announced that they had obtained documents via the Access to Information Act showing that between 1998 and 2005 Toronto had spent $30,633,303.63 settling lawsuits against police.

Like open-line talk shows and comments threads in on-line media stories, bodies like the OIPRD are merely escape valves for citizen frustration, in this case over our increasingly out-of-control police. The OIPRD is not really intended to enforce accountability—its resources are kept pitifully small and it is hemmed in by numerous legal restrictions. Rather, it provides optical public relief, while its very existence reinforces the fundamental flaws in our system.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? That’s an open question—and the fact that it remains open in 2012 should concern us all.

[H/t POGGE]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on January 20, 2012 11:02 AM.

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