Toronto Star Nov. 3, 2003. 01:00 AM

Police complaints system will face a review


Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter says he wants a greater degree of civilian oversight of Ontario's much-criticized police complaints system.

"The population has a right and an expectation that if they feel there is problem that has not been addressed properly they should have redress," Kwinter, the new Liberal minister in charge of policing and corrections, said.

Civil liberties lawyers, minorities and opposition critics say the current system of police investigating police, created by the former Conservative government, is biased in favour of the police and the provincial oversight body is little more than window dressing.

In 1997, the Conservative government scrapped the Police Complaints Commission, an independent civilian agency with the power to investigate public complaints against the police and hold disciplinary hearing.

The onus is now on the individual police forces to investigate complaints. Their decision can be reviewed by local police services boards, and if necessary, appealed to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services (OCOPS), stacked with Tory appointees.

"We are certainly going to take a look at that. It is my feeling that both sides can benefit from a process that is fair and equitable and I want to make sure whatever we do we do it that way," Kwinter told the Star.

Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer said OCOPS is "a dysfunctional body answerable to no one and simply ought to be done away with" and urges the new government to start from scratch on the question of civilian oversight.

OCOPS chair Murray Chitra did not return calls from the Star. Alan Borovoy, chief counsel to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said he is asking for a meeting as soon as possible with Kwinter to ask for immediate changes.

"The existing system is a mess. It's a lousy system through and through. I describe it as cop heavy," he said.

Alan Young, a Toronto criminal lawyer and law professor, said the police complaints process "is as maze-like as possible to deter people from going forward with complaints, it's a process which tries to exclude more than embrace complainants."