Windsor law students help file complaints against police
By Chris Thompson, The Windsor Star (April 23, 2010)
WINDSOR, Ont. -- In the past, many people who felt they had been wronged or mistreated by police found the process of lodging a complaint less than inviting, even intimidating, and often confusing.
University of Windsor law professor David Tanovich is hoping a recently introduced program through Community Legal Aid along with a new provincially mandated police complaints process will change all that.
"That's been a constant complaint, sort of the idea that accessibility, of knowing where to go and sort of feeling safe, is one of the impetuses of the new system," said Tanovich.
The Law Enforcement Accountability Project, along with Community Legal Aid, are now open for business with U of W law students to assist people with filing a police complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
"It's really about providing students a way to learn about these issues and to provide meaningful sources of research and policy development," said Tanovich.
Under the program, law students who underwent a training program last month will be available at the legal aid office at 2475 University Ave. W. to assist people seeking to lodge a complaint.
"We need to get the word out to the community that there is this new complaints process," said Tanovich. "And the availability of community legal aid to provide a safe space and a law student to file a complaint."
The OIPRD has been in operation since October and was instituted in response to a report by Patrick LeSage, who recommended a new independent civilian body to administer public complaints about police in Ontario.
Thus far there has been only one person who has taken advantage of the service, and Tanovich would not divulge details, citing confidentiality.
Across the province there have been 1,200 complaints lodged since the opening of OIPRD, an increase over the norm for that period prior to the office's existence.
Windsor police Staff Sgt. Rick Facciolo, the head of the professional standards branch, said the new system is working well, but adds an extra step in having to send case information to Toronto. He said the number of complaints is roughly the same since the new system came in.
Complaints can now be filed directly online, and will be handled by civilians.
Tanovich plans to hold community outreach meetings to get the word out about the service.
"We believe police complaints are under-reported," said Tanovich. "There's a lack of knowledge about the process, a fear of the process."
Tanovich said he hopes the local service is a success and spreads to other communities across the province.
"I think it's a good idea for other legal aid clinics across the province to provide similar support," said Tanovich.
"Hopefully we'll serve as a model in terms of our training, which is really critical in terms of students being able to do this effectively. There are often underlying issues in terms of the trauma individuals have experienced, that have been victimized by the police."
More information is available at www.oiprd.on.ca and www.uwindsor.ca/law/policing-the-police.
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