The Ontario Provincial Police is reviewing the use of reinforced gloves issued by the force after questions have been raised about whether they could be considered a weapon.
Acting Staff Sgt. Peter Leon, an OPP spokesman, confirmed to CBC News on Monday the force is in the midst of the audit and intends to share the results with the Ontario government in the interest of transparency.
Concerns about the use of reinforced gloves surfaced earlier this month after a civilian police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, charged an Ottawa police officer in the July 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi. Const. Daniel Montsion was charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon.
Sources close to the investigation say the gloves worn by Montsion are central to the assault with a weapon charge. The gloves feature carbon-fibre plating in the knuckles and fingers.
Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau has since ordered an internal audit of all gloves issued to officers for on-duty use. The province's Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Marie-France Lalonde, has requested the results of that audit — which has come as a surprise to Bordeleau — and has signalled she wants other police forces in Ontario to follow suit.
Leon said the OPP audit, however, started before the request from the minister.
The audit will cover other equipment used by officers but "the gloves in question" were what sparked the review, he added.
"This is a story that's very front and centre as we speak, and it's important for the citizens of Ontario to realize the fact that OPP officers are issued gloves for protective purposes … but the reinforced gloves are only provided to officers who are performing very specialized functions," Leon said.
"They are not the day-to-day issued gloves that are provided to the members of the OPP."
Ontario police groups surprised by minister's request
Two police groups in Ontario say they were both caught off guard by Lalonde's call for police forces across the province to conduct audits of reinforced gloves, and they're set to meet separately on Tuesday to discuss how to respond.
Joe Couto, director of government relations and communications for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, told CBC on Monday he was surprised to learn about Lalonde's request because he hadn't heard from her office directly.
"We heard the news, unfortunately, like everybody else did — through the media — so we have been trying to open a discussion with the ministry with regards to the comments made by the minister," Couto said.
The minister's request also came as a surprise to the Police Association of Ontario (PAO), which represents some 18,200 sworn and civilian members from 52 police services across the province.
PAO president Bruce Chapman said he, too, learned about the request through media reports.
"So I'm not second-guessing the ministry on it, but I was not given any notice on it," he said.
Chapman said PAO members have been asked questions about the proper use of gloves, which is on the agenda for Tuesday meeting with the association's board of directors.
Chapman said he is not opposed to the review, but stressed that the gloves at the centre of the debate are meant to protect officers while they perform their duties. That's why, he said, officers are surprised they could be considered a weapon.
"Officers throughout the province have been wearing them for a number of years and having interactions with the public on a daily basis and it's never been an issue," he said.
"Now, as a result of this unfortunate incident, it's being brought to light in a different context or a different light."