by N. Zahra
Basics #11 (November 2008)
On September, 30th, 2008 the Ombudsman of Ontario, André Marin, released a special report that slammed the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) for its “culture of complacency” and a lack of rigour in ensuring police follow the rules. The SIU, a so-called “civilian agency”, was formed in 1990 by the Ontario provincial government after the long struggle of community-based mass campaigns against the long history of police shootings and murders throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Since the SIU’s inception, there have been several reports calling for its reform because so far it has been ineffective in carrying out its mandate of police accountability. In his detailed report, Marin summarizes these reports and claims that although more resources were thrown into the SIU and its regulatory requirements were more clearly defined, the SIU still fails to carry out its mandate because of the influence of “powerful police interests.’”
Marin, the Director of the SIU from September 1996 to June 1998, has more than a passing familiarity with the difficulties the SIU has in fulfilling its mandate. Marin identifies “aggressive resistance from the police community” as one of the primary factors inhibiting change. He notes that amongst families of victims, lawyers and community members, the SIU lacks any credibility because of its shameless links with the police community. He points to the continuing police links of former police officials within the SIU as well as the fact that the SIU is steeped in police culture to the point that it tolerates the blatant display of police insignia and affiliation.
Another major problem Marin identifies is the SIU’s complacency when dealing with police officials’ failure to comply with SIU investigations. The SIU treats police witnesses different than civilians. Delays in police providing notice of incidents, disclosing their investigation notes and submitting interviews are all endemic. The SIU does not keep a record of incidences of police failure to comply and Marin says that the SIU takes a “conciliatory” approach when dealing with what they treat as isolated incidents of police failures to comply. Interviews with police are rarely held within the regulatory time frame, sometimes taking place months after the incidents. The SIU will not interview police when they are off duty and it makes every attempt to cover up police non-cooperation so that it does not come into the public eye.
Perhaps even more alarming, Marin points out a fact that critics are all too aware of, which is that much of the SIU investigation remains hidden from the public eye. Director’s reports are not accessible to the public.
Despite Marin’s identification of the shortfalls of the previous recommendations made for SIU reform in previous reviews, his very own recommendations are quite vague and do not go any further than calling for legislative reform in regards to the agency. His recommendations include the following: the SIU using any means available to diversify its workforce; that the director’s reports are made completely public; and that the province should amend legislation to make it an offense for police forces not to co-operate with the SIU.
Although Marin’s report is an important document that summarizes the many problems with the SIU, it does not go far enough. In order for police to be held truly accountable for their murders of innocent civilians – such as Otto Vass, Jeffrey Reodica, Alwy Al-Nadhir, and Byron Debassige, in the last five years – mere legislative changes and reforms will not cut it. The people need to hold police accountable for their actions by mobilizing to create a truly civilian-run force that is independent of police interests and pro-cop government interferences. Let’s organize for justice now!