Friday, May 7, 1999

John Duncanson

p. B1.

Fantino calls for revamp in way SIU probes police

Law treats officers like criminals, York chief says

The law that gives the special investigations unit its power to investigate police is flawed and must be changed so officers are no longer treated like criminals, says York Region police Chief Julian Fantino.

"They (the SIU) start with the preconceived notion that the officer has somehow committed a criminal act when quite the opposite has happened," said Fantino, who is also the head of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

The powerful organization has written Attorney-General Charles Harnick asking him to consider removing part of a clause in the Police Services Act that gives the SIU its power to investigate police for possible criminal wrongdoing.

That clause — contained in Section 113 of the act — gives the SIU the power to probe an incident where a citizen has been killed or seriously injured during a police operation.

The clause ends by saying the SIU can investigate the circumstances of incidents that "may have resulted from criminal offences committed by police officers."

According to Fantino, if the government simply did away with the part referring to "criminal offences" it would end the years of bitter fighting and mistrust between the police and the civilian agency.

"That reference in the Police Services Act isn't justified," said Fantino, who argues that it leaves an impression that every incident involves criminality on the part of the police.

He said the government could remove the criminal reference in the act without affecting the SIU's power to lay charges when its members feel they are warranted.

"It would diffuse and take away from the conflict that has existed from day one," said Fantino, referring to the controversy the agency has attracted since opening its doors nine years ago.

While Fantino wants legislative changes made in how the SIU does business, he said he still supports its existence.

"We believe in police accountability," he said. "But often we feel we are being treated like criminals."

SIU director Peter Tinsley said removing the words "criminal offences" would make no sense because the agency was created solely for the purpose of investigating possible criminality.

"That clause is very helpful in defining the nature of our jurisdiction," said Tinsley, adding his agency only lays criminal charges and does not get involved with Police Services Act charges.

Fantino said he is also irked by another aspect of the SIU legislation that makes it the only agency allowed to release information during a probe.

Why can't I talk to the media, why am I being censored?" asked Fantino, who has complained about being left in the dark when the SIU charged one of his officers with second-degree murder last month in the Dec. 28 shooting death of Tony Romagnuolo, 44, of Sunderland.

Fantino and the other police chiefs are also taking on the SIU on another front, which could have widespread implications for the agency when it comes to being notified by police when an accident happens.

SIU rejects chiefs' call to amend legislation

Just recently, the chiefs came up with their own definition of what they believe constitutes a serious enough injury to require the SIU to be called in.

They decided the SIU should not be informed unless a citizen is actually hospitalized with an injury that occurred during a police operation.

For example, the SIU is routinely called in when someone is shot by police, but under the new guidelines, as set out by the police chiefs, the agency won't be called if the injured person is simply treated and released from hospital the same day, regardless of how the shooting took place.

Tinsley said he is aware of the police chiefs' position but believes the public should be consulted before police adopt new policies about when to contact the SIU.

"This is an extremely critical issue because it amounts to a substantial limitation being placed on the traditional scope of our operations," Tinsley said yesterday.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 9, 2000
Last modified: October 9, 2000
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