Friday, August 23, 1991

Andrew Duffy

Police worry complaints may leak out inquiry told

Police investigators with Metro internal affairs unit are sometimes reluctant to turn over information to the public complaints commissioner because of security concerns, an inquiry has heard.

"We have some real concerns about confidentiality," Detective Sergeant Mike Federico told an inquiry yesterday. Federico, an internal affairs investigator, said the chance of sensitive information being accidentally revealed increases with every report that's written and circulated.

"There's a resistance (to written reports) in any investigator's bones," he said. "The less I reveal, the less chance there is that the information will be disclosed. Federico, however, could not point to any investigation that had been damaged by a "leak" from the complaints commissioner.

The officer made the comments yesterday while trying to explain why the civilian commissioner is not always notified about internal police investigations of public complaints.

With a staff of 36, the commissioner, Clare Lewis, is responsible for monitoring the police investigation of public complaints.

Federico said investigations sometimes take on their own "momentum" and -- unless a citizen asks that Lewis be notified -- it's easier to simply finish the case.

"The resistance isn't intended to thwart the process or hide anything from the public complaints commissioner," he said. "I am never going to sit down and say, "the commissioner will never hear about this one."

Federico clashed earlier yesterday with a lawyer for the commissioner, Susan Watt, about the role of Lewis's office.

Watt suggested the law clearly requires the force to notify the commissioner whenever a member of the public lodges a complaint against a police officer -- regardless of whether that complaint is criminal in nature.

Federico, however, said the legislation has a vague definition of what constitutes a public complaint. Internal affairs officers have generally interpreted a "complaint" to mean an offence that is not encompassed by the Criminal Code, he said. And, in the case where a complainant requests that the matter be handled internally, the commissioner is not notified of the investigation, he added.

Watt disagreed: "There's no choice to be presented; the wishes of the complainant are irrelevant."

The police interpretation, Watt said, effectively thwarts a complainant's right to have the case reviewed by the independent commissioner.

Federico said complainants can always take their case to the public complaints commissioner if they're dissatisfied with the internal investigation.

The inquiry is examining the practices and procedures of Metro's internal affairs unit, which investigates serious allegations made against police officers.

Much of the evidence at the inquiry has focused on a controversial resignation agreement signed by former constable Gordon Junger, who ran an escort service.

As part of the inquiry, retired Supreme Court justice Richard Holland reviewed the unit's confidential files dating to 1984. According to Watt's count, he found 192 cases in which the public complaints commissioner should have been notified by internal affairs and was not.

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