Ontario will publish the details of every police-involved fatality dating back to 1990 — when the Special Investigations Unit was established — following a major report into police oversight in the province.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi made that commitment and agreed to immediately implement four other recommendations from Justice Michael Tulloch's report about Ontario's three police watchdogs.
Naqvi said reports from 2005 to present-day will be available by December 2017 and reports dating back to 1990 to 2004 will be available by summer 2018, unless the family objects.
"These are significant changes," he said.
The report also recommended the oversight agencies begin collecting demographic data including race and religion, and release detailed reports any time an officer is cleared of wrongdoing. However, police officers involved in deaths or serious incidents will not be identified unless they're charged.
Tulloch released his government-commissioned review of the three bodies — the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Officer of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) — that oversee policing in the province on Thursday.
Tulloch launched the report after demonstrators blasted the oversight process. The report contains 129 recommendations to make police watchdogs more transparent and accountable.
"I've seen a great appetite for change in the province," Tulloch told a crowd of several hundred who gathered at a downtown Toronto hotel to hear the recommendations.
The recommendations include changes for the SIU, which probes all cases of serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault involving police. The SIU should:
- Release director's reports of all cases where officers are cleared, including all past reports involving death. This should include a clear narrative of what happened, as well as a summary of witness statements and any photo, audio or video evidence collected.
- Ensure at least half of the non-forensic investigators on any given investigation have no police background.
- Recruit more civilian investigators and give them anti-bias training.
- Investigate any time an officer fires a weapon at someone.
- Better define the term serious injury to include any instance where someone is taken to the hospital, or suffers injuries resulting from sexual assault.
"The public should receive as much information as possible when an SIU investigation is commenced," Tulloch said, before criticizing the current system where only the attorney general gets a full report, while the public gets a heavily-redacted version.
"That process, in my view, has to stop," he said.
Black Lives Matter Toronto wants recommendations adopted quickly
Representatives from Black Lives Matter Toronto, whose demonstrations helped lead to the review, praised the recommendations but said more of them need to be implemented now.
"This is really only a first step — there is a lot of work to be done," said Pascale Diverlus.
The group was also disappointed with the decision to shield the identities of officers involved in cases where the SIU is called in.
"It's an excuse to continue the violence on black bodies in this city," said Ravyn Wngz.
The group was pleased, however, with the future release of SIU documents, which they believe will back up their claims that the SIU is "pro-police."
"And we need them to be pro-community," Wngz said.
Ontario Provincial Police Association President and CEO Rob Jamieson welcomed a recommendation that the SIU conclude investigations in 120 days, where possible.
"Putting timelines on that I think is good for the public, but it's also very good for our police officers, who in some cases are waiting up to 15 months to find out whether or not they're going to be charged criminally or not," he said.
"To us that's just unacceptable."
Jamieson said his association will release an official comment on the entire report next week.
Demographic data should be kept
Tulloch also recommended that oversight bodies collect demographic data including: race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, mental health status, disability and indigenous status.
"In my view, data should be collected," he said. "It can help police services detect patterns that would otherwise go unnoticed."
The information, the report said, will allow evidence-based decision making and better shape public policy. Tulloch noted Ontario's system lags behind places like the U.K. when it comes to collecting this data.
The report noted the organizations should have better "cultural competency," especially when interacting with indigenous people.
The OIPRD should be renamed, Tulloch said, and in five years, it should become the sole body looking into public complaints about officers' conduct.
It should also track officers who are the subject of multiple complaints.
Like the SIU, Tulloch says the OIPRD should do a better job of publishing its results.
Police chiefs, who must review all cases where the SIU is called in, should also publicly release those reports.
Ontario's Ombudsman, meanwhile, will be able to look into the findings of all three watchdogs.
SIU responds to review
In a statement, the SIU's Director Tony Loparco said that while the oversight body still needs time to review the report thoroughly, it is "committing the SIU to take the steps required to implement the recommendations that may be legislated."
The report comes after months of public consultations that heard from some 1,500 people as well as meetings with the heads of police forces across the province.
The review began after activist groups like Black Lives Matter demanded an overhaul of the SIU in the wake of several deadly encounters between police and black men in Toronto, including the fatal shooting of Andrew Loku.
Loku's uncle praised Tulloch's report after its release Thursday, saying that he's especially pleased that families of those killed or injured by police will be able to know exactly what happened to their loved ones.
"I think it's a great, positive step towards the right direction to see that the victims and the families actually know what they should ... and this culture of secrecy in the investigation within these institutions are at least minimized," Senos Timon said.
Loku, 45, died on July 5, 2015, after he was shot twice by police in the hallway of an apartment building. The only weapon he had was a hammer. According to reports, police shot him after he refused to drop it.
Although the SIU cleared the officers involved in Loku's death of any wrongdoing, a coroner's inquest is set to begin June 5.
Coroner Dr. James Edwards said in February that the inquest would examine the events surrounding Loku's death and the jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing others like it in the future, The Canadian Press reported at the time.
The results of Tulloch's report and any recommendations from the inquest are part of Loku's legacy, his uncle said.
"I think as a family we felt that this was something, that positive have things happened related to Andrew's death … at least to prevent such incidents to happening to other families. [So] other families [don't] go through what we've been through."