Province Moving Forward with Massive Policing Overhaul

Over the past few years, few topics have been as hotly debated as policing. With more attention being drawn to troubling interactions between law enforcement and citizens in the U.S. and Canada, more advocacy groups have come forward to demand change in order to improve relationships between officers and the people they serve and protect.

And even though it does not appear Halton—or Ontario overall—has been plagued by as many troubling police shootings as the U.S., the province is still moving forward on what it's calling the "largest policing transformation in a generation."

As for what hot button issues the province intends to tackle, the government that recently worked to restrict and reform the practice of carding (known as street checks) is seeking to set new rules for suspensions without pay and implementing strong penalties for officers who fail to comply with investigations.

The Ontario government recently announced that it's working to "build stronger, safer communities" by modernizing the province's policing framework to make it more "community-focused, accountable, sustainable and culturally responsive."

Recently, Marie-France Lalonde, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced that the government will introduce the Safer Ontario Act, 2017.

The bill is a comprehensive community safety legislative package that, if passed, would represent the largest policing and public safety transformation in a generation.

"Community safety starts in the community with a proactive approach that focuses on well-being," Lalonde said in a statement. "The changes we are proposing represent the largest transformation to Ontario's policing and community safety in over 25 years, and will result in even stronger, safer communities."

The proposed legislation would transform Ontario’s policing framework by:

  • Shifting to a collaborative approach to community safety and well-being planning where municipalities would have a larger role in defining and addressing local needs. By focusing on local needs, vulnerable populations can receive the help they need, when and where they need it most - by the providers best suited to help them. Municipalities will be mandated to work with police services and local service providers in health care, social services and education to develop community safety and well-being plans that proactively address community safety concerns.
  • Enhancing police accountability to the public by creating a new Inspector General of Police with a mandate to oversee and monitor police services and police service boards. All board members would be required to complete training, including diversity training. Reporting requirements for boards would also be strengthened. The province is also updating the police disciplinary process, including setting new rules for suspension without pay for police officers accused of serious criminal wrongdoing.
  • Strengthening the police oversight system by:
  • Expanding and clarifying the mandates of the three oversight bodies
  • Establishing strong penalties for officers who do not comply with investigations
  • Setting strict timelines for investigations and public reporting
  • Releasing more information about the results of investigations and disciplinary hearings by oversight agencies.
  • Outlining police responsibilities and community safety service delivery. For the first time, duties that can only be performed by a sworn police officer will be defined in regulation. The new act would ensure police education, training, and standards are consistent across the province, and would create a Public Safety Institute as a centre of excellence to inform the delivery of police services, support evidence-based decision making, and conduct leading edge research.
  • Supporting the sustainability of First Nations policing by enabling First Nations to choose their policing service delivery mode, including the option to come under the same legislative framework as the rest of Ontario. This would ensure First Nations receive culturally responsive, sustainable, accountable, and equitable policing that has the flexibility to address specific community needs on their own terms.

The proposed legislation would also:

  • Create a new Missing Persons Act to give police new tools when responding to missing persons occurrences where there is no evidence of criminal activity. These changes would allow police to respond more quickly and effectively to missing persons investigations.
  • Change the Coroners Act to improve Ontario’s inquest system by requiring that inquests be mandatory when a police officer, special constable or other officer’s use of force is the direct cause of a death.
  • Require forensic lab accreditation by creating a provincial accreditation framework so that forensic laboratories across the province have common operational standards through a new Forensic Laboratories Act. Accreditation would ensure a system of quality management for forensic laboratories that includes proficiency testing, annual audits, performance reports, surveillance visits, management reviews and a code of conduct.
  • Supporting safe, healthy communities is part of our plan to grow our economy and help people in their everyday lives.

According to the province, the proposed legislation represents the first comprehensive review and amendment of the Police Services Act since 1990.

"Today, we are announcing the most significant changes to the police oversight system since it was first created. By expanding and clarifying the three agencies’ mandates, introducing new timelines and penalties, and increasing public reporting we are building a more accountable and transparent policing oversight system," Naqvi said in a statement. "The changes we are proposing will help ensure there is trust and respect between the police and the communities they serve."

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