Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reflections on Scadding Court Summit on Bill 103

In May of 2007, the Liberal government passed Bill 103: An Act to establish an Independent Police Review Director and create a new public complaints process by amending the Police Services Act. This introduced a much-needed overhaul of the complaints system that was previously instituted in 1997. It came on the heels of a report by former Chief Justice Patrick LeSage on the complaints process in Ontario.Very little is known about the new police complaints process and when exactly it is expected to be in effect. We do know that the system will be headed by Independent Police Review Director, Gerry McNeilly. On February 5, 2009, Mr. McNeilly attended Windsor Law to launch LEAP. The IPRD has wide-ranging decision making powers to develop regulations, policy, and procedural aspects of the system as well as the discretion to refuse complaints. Mr. McNeilly was also present at the summit.

In response to Bill 103, Scadding Court Community Centre and CEAPC, extended invitations to the three pillars to engage in constructive discussion focused on critically analyzing the new legislation. I attended as note-taker on behalf of LEAP for the sessions on accessibility, transparency, accountability, public education and support. The different pillars were integrated into small working groups to discuss their perspectives and make recommendations to improve the proposed system. An executive summary of the report is available here.

I was also given the opportunity to participate in the discussions taking place. Given my experiences, including as a member of Students Against Anti-Black Racism at the University of Windsor, I entered the conference with cynical views of the current state of our criminal justice system and the seemingly widening power imbalances between systemic powers and ordinary citizens. SAABR has been struggling vigorously to seek redress for several Black students implicated in incidents of alleged police brutality and racism at an on-campus party in mid-January 2008. The footage of one student’s arrest, Bright Kyereme, is available on You Tube. None of the individuals chose to file complaints with the police because there is little faith, trust, and confidence in the current police complaints system. Professor Tanovich discussed this lack of faith in a commentary in the Windsor Star. This fact was a consistently recurring theme at the summit in Toronto.

Community members from all over Ontario came together to share their narratives and experiences. Many expressed their frustrations with the government’s delay in overhauling the system and criticized the lack of civilian oversight with enforcing police accountability. Their concerns also voiced the risks that racialized communities face at the hands of the police. I feel that their perspective was the one that I benefited from most from. As the least developed and often ignored pillar, communities at risk for police misconduct are an essential component that require much consideration and attention in implementing a successful police complaints process. In essence, their suggestions on how to improve police-community relations and community policing activities and how to ensure community safety remain critical factors to maintain communities’ participation and interaction with the new system. What made the Summit so important was that these voices were heard by lawyers, government members, police officers, human rights agencies, and community leaders who have the capabilities and resources to take these views into consideration and implement some real change. And unless this actualizes, it remains easy to be cynical of the new system that’s on its way in.

This event was a remarkable learning experience. It truly demonstrated the importance of bringing together the three pillars of government, police, and communities to share meaningful dialogue on Ontario’s new police complaints system.

Posted by Lily Tekle, Student Director

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