The former head of Ontario's police watchdog says Ottawa's police chief and the chair of the police services board should be answering questions about the force's use of reinforced gloves.
The reinforced gloves — worn by Const. Daniel Montsion during a fatal confrontation with Abdirahman Abdi, sources have said — came into the spotlight earlier this week when CBC News revealed the police force is conducting an internal audit of all gloves issued to officers for on-duty use.
The audit was announced to police inspectors on Monday, at Chief Charles Bordeleau's request, after the Special Investigations Unit last week charged Montsion with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in Abdi's July 2016 death.
A source told CBC the reinforced gloves Montsion was wearing at the time of the attempted arrest are central to the assault with a weapon charge against him.
André Marin, who was director of the Special Investigations Unit from 1996 to 1998, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Thursday that he's "very concerned" by the refusal of Bordeleau and Ottawa Police Services Board chair Eli El-Chantiry to discuss the reinforced gloves in general terms.
'This has nothing to do with the SIU investigation'
Bordeleau has said the SIU investigation into Abdi's death, and the fact that the matter is now before the courts, prevent him from answering general questions about gloves used by police. El-Chantiry, meanwhile, said he's prevented from answering questions because the Police Services Act states he isn't allowed to get involved in day-to-day police operations, including equipment needs.
Marin, who was also Ontario's ombudsman from 2005 to 2015, disputes both rationalizations.
"When legitimate questions are asked about which officers have these gloves, the protocols for use, when were they handed out, and everybody seems to hide under the desk, the police chief should be able to have some answers, the police services board should have answers," he said.
"This has nothing to do with the SIU investigation. ... We just discovered that there's these gloves that are in use. Give us the answers: where are they from, when were they bought, who has them, what's the training, what are the protocols?
"And for the chief to hide behind the SIU's investigation ... that's a separate issue. We're not asking you to comment on the SIU investigation. We're asking you to comment on how these gloves got in the hands of police officers."
'Shirking his responsibility'
As for the board, Marin said a 2010 report by retired judge John Morden into G20 protests in Toronto concluded that police services boards "must get involved in the operations of the police."
The report recommended that police services boards should be given more power. It took Toronto's police services board to task for not asserting itself as an oversight agent, and found that the board misinterpreted its mandate by being too sensitive in its interpretation of a section of the Police Services Act to not direct the chief on specific operational decisions.
"To be clear, there's no doubt that a police services board chair or member cannot tell the police, do a search warrant, arrest this person. Of course. But that would be a different issue. That's interference in a police investigation. But to have the police services board chair say, oh, it's operations, we can't get involved, is basically shirking his responsibility," Marin said.
"The board is the civilian representation of the public. They're there to uphold the public interest. They're your voice and mine. So when the police chief runs away from an issue, and the board runs away from the issue, who's left to give us answers? Nobody."
Marin said he hopes the board will seek a legal opinion and study Morden's report.
"And if they're not prepared to ask those tough questions, they shouldn't be in that position. We rely on them to be the civilian authority over the police."
Can't jeopardize officer's right to fair trial: El-Chantiry
El-Chantiry again refused an interview Thursday, but wrote in an emailed statement that the board "is fully aware of, and prepared to act on, its responsibilities under the Police Services Act.
"What the board is not prepared to do is act on hearsay information that has been reported by the media and unsubstantiated in court.
"The [board] has not received any information from the SIU on this matter. And even if it had, a judicial process is underway — one that the board must respect. To draw conclusions, make recommendations, or create policies in advance of the judicial proceedings could undermine the process and interfere with the officer's right to a fair and impartial trial," El-Chantiry wrote.
"The [board] will be following the court proceedings, much like many members of the community. When the facts of the case are brought to light, the board will be in a position to represent the community interests and work with the police service to address any possible gaps."