The Institution of Policing is Self-Harming Itself

Policing is far too important and far too complicated to give credence to any idea that suggests that we get rid of the police or make it harder for the police to do their job.  Law and order are the two things that allow for Canada to be Canada: the Canada that the world knows and loves.  With that said, it is also important to understand the history behind policing, both police successes and failures, because the institution of policing is cracking from within, and it is entirely self-inflicted.

Today’s version of policing has structures around the institution to ensure a just system, where everyone is equal under the law, unlike the earliest forms of policing which date back to ancient Egypt, Rome, China, or even the medieval Middle East.  Compared to today’s version of policing, those places were lawless, barbaric, and the concept of criminal justice was completely absent.  Instead, the idea behind today’s policing is that it is comparable to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all people are the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.  Despite that seemingly perfect starting point, the structures that prop up the institution of policing seem to be the ones that are contributing to the expanding cracks in the system, maybe even amplifying them.

While activist groups and their slogans have been blamed for the unfavorable perception of police personnel across North America, specifically the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, that explanation seems a cop out.  The social movements and protests that arose out of “Black Lives Matter” all needed a spark to ignite them.  That spark came by way of the structures of policing not living up to their potential or intended purposes, causing issues ranging from legislation to oversight bodies and the courts.

The unintended consequences of legislative change.

While watching a recent local news segment, I learned of a story about a legal dispute between community organizers and the police services board, where community organizers were arguing that changes made to them being able to address the board were viewed as and unconstitutional infringement that hampered the ability for community members to adequately have their issues heard by the board.  Reducing the talking time by 40 percent made it quite difficult for delegations to provide substantive talking points and to potentially raise intersecting issues, but also limiting a person’s ability to publicly address an oversight body, simply due to the fact that they were signing up every month to do so, was being viewed as an infringement on democratic ideals.

Should our courts rule that the changes do not constitute an infringement, which I expect they likely will because of the grey area nature of the legal language and how it seems the legal standard for infringement is not being met, public opinion on this outcome should be that it is wrong.  Although court decisions like this one are legal, the courts have demonstrated that the standard for legal and illegal is not the same as the standard for right and wrong or moral and immoral.  However minor that these changes may appear to be, I believe they are an infringement on democratic ideals. And on every historical occasion where there were attacks on democratic liberties, however small, it resulted in unexpected and negative outcomes.  In this instance, it is likely to help spread cracks throughout the already fragile institution of policing, even though it is unlikely to be the desired outcome by those with decision-making powers.

The unwillingness to address legislative deficiencies.

Some of the most important structures of the institution of policing are provincial oversight agencies, since policing is largely a provincial matter, and there are similarities between provinces regarding the oversight roles that such structures play within their own province.  These provincial bodies are worth getting to know for anyone that wants to get better informed on what it takes to improve the status quo and create the conditions for a healthier society, because these bodies are not impervious to getting things wrong.  I experienced it firsthand.

The Ontario Civilian Policing Commission (OCPC) is one of three civilian police oversight agencies in Ontario, with the other two being the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), but the OCPC has the broadest powers out of the three.  The OCPC is a quasi-judicial agency that receives its powers and duties from the Police Services Act, and their main responsibilities include conducting investigations and resolving disputes regarding the oversight and provision of policing services.  In layman’s terms, they are the “fixers” when a municipal police service starts to veer off track from their mandate and responsibilities.

If the OCPC is to commence an investigation into police matters it can do so in one of two ways: (1) in response to requests from one of the prescribed entities, or (2) on its own motion.  Regarding the first manner, “prescribed entities” refers to the Solicitor General, the Independent Police Review Director, a municipal council, or a municipal police services board.  With regard to the second, the OCPC will consider information on its own motion and on a discretionary basis.  Although this sounds great in theory and reads great in writing, the execution of these policies can result in the deviation from what is expected to what actually occurs, thus harming the integrity of the institution of policing.

My “deficient” experience with the OCPC

Earlier in the year, I wrote about the controversial slogan, “Defund the police”, and I used that discussion to segue into providing insights on the structures around policing from my own experiences with interacting with those structures.  I also shared related takeaways from my time spent as a public policy learner at Harvard Kennedy School’s executive education program.  During that period, my educational background proved instrumental in helping me navigate the explanations I would receive as to why certain things could not be done – distinguishing between perceived limitations and real limitations.  What I could not imagine was that I would wake up one year later to a response from the OCPC regarding the complaint I had submitted the year prior, but it happened.  The OCPC were now requesting to reconnect with me regarding those same matters, after a year had passed and after they had advised me that they had no jurisdiction to further investigate the matter.

Back when I wrote about the issue of defunding the police, I discussed how I reached out to different oversight agencies after one of my childhood friends, who is also a member of my ethnic community, ended up becoming a victim of organized crime.  One of the oversight agencies I wrote to at the time was the OCPC, and they eventually responded to me by stating that they had considered the information I provided and to advise me that they did not have the jurisdiction under the Police Services Act to further investigate the matter.  Then in 2023, an email from the OCPC arrives requesting that I share subsequent information with them.  However, there was no introduction, no explanation, nobody had signed off on the bottom of the OCPC’s PDF letter, but they were now “thanking me for bringing the issue to their attention”.  Twelve months later and after already stating that they had no jurisdiction, something seemed to have changed, or so it seemed.

The bizarreness of the situation led me to call the OCPC a few days later and I left a request to connect with someone over the phone.  The OCPC’s response was that they acknowledged my request but that the OCPC requested that individuals provide information in writing and that the fastest way to do that was over email.  Instead, they asked me to provide any questions that I had in writing and over email.  Once again, nobody had signed off on the bottom of their PDF letter.  Whatever they wanted to do now, given how much time had elapsed, something seemed off and I wanted nothing to do with a “for show” circus.

Instead, I wrote back with suggestions for the OCPC’s two appointees located in Ottawa, and I advised the OCPC that I would look over the OCPC’s policies and aim to make them aware of any systemic barriers that might be holding them back and to share my findings with those with decision-making powers, should they want to make changes to the legislative deficiencies.  Sadly, I also made it clear that I was no longer capable of assisting the OCPC with this matter and that any further correspondence from the OCPC about this case would be reviewed and filed, but that I would not be responding to any further communication about this matter.  So, I wished them well with their investigation.

It was only after my offer to do a policy review for the OCPC that I received a signed PDF letter, which requested that I “not communicate anything publicly about our communication at this time”.  Still, I responded by reiterating my stance and by wishing them well their investigation, and I obliged their request.

A month later, the OCPC decided to contact me once more, this time sharing with me a response provided by Ottawa Police Services Board’s (OPSB) response, which was quite troubling, and asked that I consider providing my own response.  At no time did I ever consider dignifying the OPSB’s response or the OCPC’s handling of my complaint with any sort of formal response other than mentioning that the investigation was twelve months behind schedule and that there was nothing that was going to come out of it at this point and time, but there were real-life consequences when people played policing and when the lives of newcomers and early-generation Canadians were devalued.

No time for the blame game.

The manner that I had reconnected with the OCPC seemed so bizarre and unprofessional that I needed to get a better understanding of their policies and protocols.  How the heck did we go from “Sorry, we do not have jurisdiction” to “Thanks for bringing this matter to our attention”? To figure that out, it required reviewing how the OCPC went about conducting their investigations and living up to their mandate.

The million-dollar OCPC deficiency discovery came in the form of a question, “Was there the potential for the OCPC to be negatively impacted and prevented from fulfilling their mandate as a result of selective omissions of both fact and law by the way of selective statements made by police services boards and their lawyers?”  There was in fact a major deficiency that was preventing the OCPC from carrying out their investigations and living up to their mandate: there was legislation that prevented criminal defence lawyers from sitting on police services boards and the law society allowed lawyers to defend the interests of their clients by any means necessary.

The problem with that equation is that there was specific language in legislation that prevented criminal defence lawyers from sitting on police services boards, which are meant to serve as an impartial body at the municipal level.  Additionally, the Law Society of Ontario was on record saying that the only way they would be able to initiate disciplinary actions regarding a lawyer who decided to intentionally provide legal misinterpretations to prevent a police services board from taking a hard but necessary position, was if the matter was adjudicated and if the presiding judge made remarks about a lawyer’s conduct.  Thus, the legislation addressing who was ineligible to sit on a police services board seemed to have been carefully created with an understanding of the limitations of Law Societies while also blackwashing all criminal defence lawyers.

The conclusion that these realizations bring us to is ,that by having an individual whose background in criminal defence law sit on a police services board, a board’s lawyer would no longer have the privilege of being able to intentionally misinterpret the law to allow for a police services board to avoid making hard decisions.  The unfortunate in all of this is that many people are not privy to information and experiences that might allow for them to come to these realizations on their own.  If it was not for all the manipulating and deceiving that I feel has occurred over the decades, we could have been changing things decades ago and we would be in an entirely different place by now.