Police ignore letters of concern from watchdog

OTTAWA — It’s “troublesome” that Ottawa police only respond to a fraction of the letters Ontario’s oversight body sends outlining concerns about investigations into officers’ misconduct, said the provincial government’s chief watchdog Sunday.

Ontario ombudsman André Marin, who investigates complaints from the public with an eye to changing how government operates, first detailed the concerns in a report released in December 2011.

The oversight body, the Special Investigations Unit, sent 11 letters to Ottawa police between October 2008 and October 2011 detailing problems officers have created for them as they attempt to carry out their investigations, the report found.

The force responded twice — once with a promise to look into the matter and the other as a means of outlining concerns with the SIU investigation.

The other nine letters received no reply.

“To me that’s troublesome,” Marin told a few dozen participants at an information session held in the basement of the downtown public library Sunday afternoon.

“The police service and the police chief are responsible for enforcing the law and when the chief official responsible for overseeing the police puts them on notice that the police service has failed to follow the law, it’s deserving of a response.”

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau, who took over the post in March, was expected to comment Monday morning.

The SIU, a body of civilians that operates at arm’s length from government and independently of police, is supposed to be called in to investigate anytime a civilian is seriously injured or dies in an incident in which police are involved.

Marin outlined a number of concerns with both the SIU and how far police forces across the province are going to comply with their investigations in the December report.

One of his major concerns was what he called a lack of co-operation from police in SIU investigations, which included in some cases denying SIU officials access to a crime scene that could involve misconduct by an officer. Others involved a failure to notify them immediately and a failure to notify them at all — both of which run contrary to provincial law.

The letters the SIU sent to Ottawa police included four detailing concerns about a lack of co-operation, three regarding a delay in notification and one about a failure to notify at all.

Marin couldn’t say on Sunday whether the SIU has been receiving more responses since he released his report.

“I am hoping that we’ve turned the corner,” he said. “I’m hoping that when (SIU director Ian) Scott writes to a chief of police pointing out failings from that police service that he will receive a substantive answer to his queries and a reassurance that it won’t happen again.”

Part of the issue, said Marin, is that there are no real consequences for not complying with the law that governs SIU investigations.

There have been a number of cases in recent years involving SIU investigations in Ottawa.

Hugh Styres, a 50-year-old homeless man, was taken to hospital with injuries to his face following an altercation with police in August. The SIU later laid assault causing bodily harm charges against two officers, Const. Colin Bowie and Const. Than Tran.

Windsor police underwent new training from SIU officials in January outlining when to call in the oversight body following an incident in April 2010. The force did not call in the SIU after a man alleged he was beaten by a police detective in August 2010.

The detective is now facing charges and the force’s chief, Gary Smith, retired in the midst of the controversy about the incident last December.

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