How effective is the SIU?

Community News & Features Feb 1, 2005 at 3:58 pm

By Jerry Villanueva

As a result of hearings at the Task Force on Race Relations and Policing in 1988, the Special Investigations Unit was formed as an independent arms-length agency of the provincial government to investigate incidents that involve death or injury in the hands of the Police Force. Prior to this, Police Forces in Ontario investigated themselves. In some cases, other police forces conduct investigations in incidents where death or injury occurs. To many, internal investigations lack the credibility in the eyes of the public.

In response to many concerns, including the integrity of the process in which the police investigate themselves, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was created as an independent agency.

Based on their investigation, the SIU can either recommend that a charge be laid against the officer involved, or decide that the action(s) by the officer that resulted in the said death or injury is justified.
For a 10 year period from 1994 to 2004, a total of 1,716 cases were investigated by the Special Investigations Unit, of which, 36 charges were laid, for a mere 2% rate. This translates to 2 charges laid for every 100 cases investigated by the agency. Out of all cases investigated in this 10 year span, 1,027 were as a result of death or injury, either with firearms or while in police custody.

In the 4 year period before that (from 1990 to 1994), 404 cases were investigated and resulted in 24 charges laid for a 6% rate.

In the last five years ending March 31st, 2004, there were a total of 53 death or injuries due to firearm incidents, but only one (1) charge was laid. While at the same period, 498 “custody” death/injuries were investigated that led to 8 charges being laid.

In the last reporting year from April 1st, 2003 to March 31st 2004, a total of 192 cases were investigated by the SIU. 126 of those incidents were as a result of firearm or custody death/injury. Only 2 investigations resulted in charges laid against the police in this 12 month period. In both cases, the charges were sexual assault in nature.

Incidents from April 1st, 2003 to March 31st, 2004

Firearm Deaths -  2
Firearm Injuries -  8
Custody Deaths -  26
Custody Injuries  -  90
Vehicle Deaths  -  9
Vehicle Injuries - 41
Sexual Assaults - 16

Total  - 192

No. of cases where Charges laid - 2

Response time vary depending on the regions the incident took place; between a little over 1 hour to just under 6 hours. During this time, the police force involved is responsible for securing the scene, the witnesses and all relevant evidence.

Decisions made by the SIU are final without any avenue of appeal. Details of all investigations are strictly confidential with only the summary of the report made available to the immediate family of the victims. Bits and pieces of information are released to the public through press releases. Unlike in the court of law, evidence is not subject to scrutiny by the victims; witnesses, during questioning, are not under oath. Legal representative of the victims have no opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, or even the subject officer.

Although considered as a civilian unit, investigators from the SIU are made up of mostly former police officers.

Mired by controversies since its inception, the Special Investigations Unit has had history of quick turnover in its leadership. There have been three directors or interim director in the last four years alone; from Peter Tinsley, to John Sutherland, to the current interim director, James Cornish. For the year ending March 31st, 2004, the SIU had a total annual expenditure of $5.1 million dollars.

Statistics are courtesy of the SIU website