Government overhauls Ontario Police Services Act

According to a recent media release by Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson, police officers in Ontario will finally be able to count on a fair and transparent police oversight process that will always put public safety first.
The provincial government has introduced new legislation, the ‘Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act, 2019’.  If passed, the legislation will fix the previous government’s Bill 175, which, according to the government, treated police with suspicion while making it increasingly difficult for them to do their jobs.
“The men and women who serve our communities as police officers work to keep us all safe,” says Thompson. “While we might not always hear their success celebrated on the news, we take comfort knowing that they are responding to emergencies and that they are dedicated to preventing crime. They deserve to be treated fairly and professionally.”
Among other changes, the overhauled Act would streamline the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigation process, which would have persisted under the previous Bill 175 and that saw police officers labour under months- or years-long investigations, even in cases where they had no contact with an individual.
“Bill 175 was the most anti-police piece of legislation in Canadian history,” said Sylvia Jones, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. “It was a disaster that actively undermined policing efforts. It also undermined public confidence and trust in the work police do.”
If passed, the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act will also enhance police oversight in Ontario by creating one window for public complaints, reducing delays in the investigation process and ensuring more accountability.
Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said that when elected one of the first orders or business for the government was to “pause implementation of Bill 175  so that we could fix it in a way that continues to ensure oversight – but does so in a way that is balanced, respectful and fair.  Our legislation, if passed, will focus investigative resources where they are needed, on criminal activity, within a police oversight system that will ultimately help build safer communities on a shared foundation of restored trust and accountability.”
Jones added that “… police officers who serve and protect deserve gratitude and respect – not our suspicion and scorn.  That’s why our government for the people is providing police with the tools, resources and support they need to keep our communities safe, stand up for victims and hold offenders accountable for their crimes.”

For instance, on February 13th, Minister Jones recommended that Constables Volodymyr Zvezd’Onkin and  Hongfei Zhou (54 Division in Toronto ) for the Ontario Medal of Police Bravery for their courage in stopping the Danforth Shooter. The two officers had previously been subject to a six-month investigation by the SIU.

Several police officials have said that the proposed changes are being reviewed.  “Changes proposed by the government today intend to empower police across Ontario to ensure community safety. We look forward to reviewing details of the Bill and participating in the legislative process,” said Rob Jamieson, President and CEO, Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA).
Kimberley Greenwood, President, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and Chief or the Barrie Police Service said that, “The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police has long advocated for significant changes to the Police Services Act in order to assist us in the efficient and effective management of police services that enhance public and officer safety. We believe there are items in this new legislation that are welcome and look forward to continuing to work with the government and stakeholders, knowing that community safety is our absolute priority.”
Changes are also included for Police Services Boards.  Board training on roles, responsibilities and critical skills is to be mandated and expected to significantly enhance every board’s ability to make the best possible decisions about local policing policies, strategic plans and budgets.

The new bill, the ‘ Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act 2019’ will repeal and replace the Police Services Act, 2018, and the Ontario Special Investigations Unit Act, 2018.  The bill would also repeal the Policing Oversight Act, 2018, and the Ontario Policing Discipline Tribunal Act, 2018.

First Nations policing provisions laid out in the Police Services Act, 2018, would be adopted providing First Nations communities with greater choice in how their policing services are delivered.

While many amendments to the Act maintain current legisltion in force, the new police oversight legislation would respond to Justice Tulloch’s recommendations in the Report of the Independent Police Oversight Review.