SUMMARY OF OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE OTTAWA WITNESS GROUP PUBLIC TEACH-IN, SAINT PAUL'S UNIVERSITY, OCTOBER 3 - 4, 2003
On October 3 and 4, the OWG held a public Teach-in at Saint Paul's University on accountability in policing and the need to ensure community oversight in order to protect freedom of expression in an increasingly restricted political environment. Approximately 40 people attended the event.
The two-day teach-in focused on the following issues:
Highlights of the Teach-in included:
- whether police strike a balance between protecting property and persons, and free expression.
- whether policing services are really accountable to the community.
- whether police service boards are effective and police complaints processes are fair.
- how the media portray to issues.
- how provincial, municipal and federal politicians should supervise policing.
- Media commentator Judy Rebick noted that public space for dissent is disappearing because the police alone determine the public interest in these situations. She pointed out the growing criminalization of dissent, about targeted police activities, and noted that turning over vast powers to the police necessitates civilian oversight for accountability. Rebick noted the police responses during the protest in Ipperwash provincial park that culminated in the shooting of unarmed native protester Dudley George, the pepper spraying at APEC in Vancouver; the OCAP demonstration at Queen's Park, and the FTAA demonstrations in Quebec City. Rebick thought it is hopeful that factual information can be spread via the Internet.
- Former Mayor of Toronto and Toronto Police Accountability Coalition founder John Sewell stated that the Toronto Police Services Board has interpreted their mandate of not being directly involved in daily police operations so widely that they now give no direction at all to the police service. He noted that the TPS has provided no policy on strip searches despite a ruling from the Supreme Court (as a consequence that 40% of suspects are now strip-searched). The TPS is also unresponsive to civilian complaints and the complaints process is stacked against the citizen. Sewell also observed that no PSB in the province has the resources for independent investigation and none have the will to rock the boat. The result is no effective civilian oversight of the police. Concurrent with this is increasing political influence by police despite prohibitions under the Police Services Act. Politicians are afraid to challenge this, fearing this will result in them being labeled “anti-police”, “anti-law and order”. Sewell suggested that larger PSBs would be more representative of the community and be less afraid to carry out their oversight responsibility. He also advocated changes in legislation related to the mandate of PSBs and complaints process.
- Retired police officer Doug Kirkland noted that it is difficult to change police culture.
- OWG member John Baglow gave an overview of the origins and activities of the Group. OWG member Paul Durber noted that the Toronto Auditor raised a strong concern that Ontario is the only jurisdiction without the right to third party complaints about police misconduct.
- Legal activist Brian Edgecombe stated that protesters need to humanize themselves in interactions with police to avoid depersonalization and get better treatment. He recommended obtaining more information on police approaches to the handling of dissent in order to decide on what expectations we can have for their standards of conduct.
- Reporter Jake Rupert described the challenges in covering police work. He advocated the importance of citizen groups establishing relationships with reporters and editors.
- Ottawa municipal Councillor Alex Cullen noted that self-investigation of citizen complaints against its members offends the principles of natural justice. He expressed serious concern regarding the complaints process and recommended a third-party independent body to review and judge complaints.
- Lawyer Michael Swinwood stated that the path to an open, responsive police service will be found through the media, law and lobbying. He advocated that citizens need to take back the responsibility they have abdicated for democracy and given over to the media and the politicians.
- Muslim activist Neeam Saloojee noted sensitivity training and cultural education for police and citizen groups may assist in interactions between police and the Muslim community.
OWG subsequently developed and approved an action plan to guide their activities for the next several months. The action plan includes:
- Homelessness activist Jane Scharfe pointed out that protests and dissent can bring change even if it is behind the scenes and not acknowledged by the police.
1. legislative initiatives involving:
2. lobbying initiatives involving:
- the Polices Services Act to address problems with the complaints process and the effectiveness and independence of Police Services Boards;
- the use of force with weapons such as pepper spray and tasers;
3. media works to accompanying these initiatives;
- the 2003 Ottawa municipal election;
- the release of the OWG second annual report on the policing of major events in Ottawa;
- the newly constituted Ottawa Police Services Board;
4. measures to ensure sustainability such as incorporation as well as recruitment and retention activities; and
5. outreach activities to gain additional visibility and understanding of the work of the OWG.