The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) has received nearly 760 complaints against the province’s police officers since it was launched five months ago.
The majority of the grievances have been filed against officers from Toronto Police Service (TPS) and Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) which are the largest law enforcement forces in the province.
The OIPRD was created in response to an exhaustive review conducted by former Superior Court Justice Patrick LeSage who recommended a new independent body to deal with public complaints against police.
For more than a decade, police services in the province were themselves responsible for reviewing police complaints and internal investigators had the power to dismiss grievances without publicly revealing the results of their investigations.
Systemic changes to come up with a transparent system that inspires public confidence were made to the flawed procedure.
Bill 103 – an Act to establish an independent police review director and create a new public complaints process by amending the Police Services Act – was introduced at Queen’s Park in April 2006 and enacted 13 months later. Queen’s University Law graduate Gerry McNeilly was appointed the OIPRD director in June 2008.
“My job was to take the piece of legislation and make it operational,” McNeilly told Share. “We consulted widely with the community and police groups throughout the province and we created policies, procedures and a process for Bill 103 to function. We created rules and timelines and we got feedback from both the public and the police in regards to our functions and how we are going to operate the policies and procedures.
“The implementation team and I worked hard and the legislation was proclaimed on October 19, 2009 and that is when our office became operational. All complaints that were made prior to October 19 to police services now shift to the OIPRD. All public complaints regarding the police must now come through our office with regards to conduct, policy and service matters.”
McNeilly said it was not difficult getting the police on board.
“Obviously, they had their own particular concerns and issues about a civilian organization becoming involved in the public complaints system,” he said. “I have been carrying out my job and I will continue to do so in an extremely collaborative and consultative manner with both the police and the public.
“In my role, I am independent of government, the police and the public, so I don’t advocate for any of them. My role is to create fairness, transparency and accountability, so I have to remain neutral. I consulted with the police, I engaged them and I let them know how I was going to proceed to deal with the matter. I had good reception and good cooperation from all the stakeholders.”
There are approximately 50 people on staff at the agency. They include registration, intake, case management and case coordinators that process the complaints to determine their validity. There is also communications and educational outreach staff and 10 investigators, four of whom are former police officers.
“The reason we have investigators is because the legislation indicates that after we process the complaints and determine they are valid and not frivolous or vexatious, the next decision we have to make is who will do the investigation,” McNeilly, who has also served as a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Judge, said. “It could be this office, the police service the complaint came from or another police service.
“I can tell you that the majority of the complaints are going to go back to the service that they came from primarily because they have the resources and the capacity to do it. The difference now is that this organization is overseeing it and is involved at different stages of the process.”
Complaints can be filed in either English or French with the OIPRD on its website at www.oiprd.on.ca, by fax or dropped off at the agency’s office located at 655 Bay St. 10th floor. Completed OIPRD forms can also be completed and filed at any municipal, regional or provincial police station. The police service will record the complaint and forward it to the OIPRD.
“Once a police station receives a complaint, they are obligated by policies, procedures and the rules to get it to us in three business days,” said McNeilly. “Once we receive the complaint, my intake staff will process it and check to ensure that it’s on the complaint form we developed. Once we authenticate that complaint and there is validity to go forward for investigation, we then make a decision as to who is going to investigate the complaint.
“After the matter is investigated, the police service is obligated to provide that investigation report to the complainant, the respondent officer and to my office. We get to look at it and then it goes into the procedure. It may be substantiated or not, it may or may not be serious and it may ultimately go into a disciplinary procedure.”
The OIPRD will allocate numbers to respondent officers and complainants so they can check the status of their cases by logging on to the agency’s website.
McNeilly stressed that his organization is committed to ongoing communication with its stakeholders and to building a flexible system.
“We have to be flexible because complaints are not similar, so we have to look at every matter on a case by case basis,” he added. “We also need flexibility because this is a big province with close to 27,000 police officers, 68 police services and 165 OPP detachments.”
A former executive director of Legal Aid Manitoba and chair of the Board of Inquiry for the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, McNeilly said he was enticed to the post by the challenge of helping to build a new police review system.
“I viewed this as an opportunity to be on the ground floor to try to create and help set up an organization that would deal with public complaints in an open way,” he said. “It was a challenge because it is a new organization and we are taking a complaint system that for the prior 10 years or so had been handled by police services. It was also a huge challenge to try to work with police services and the community and maintain my independence and neutrality.
“I wanted to be part of what Bill 103 set out to do in regards of the OIPRD and something that members of the public could look at and say, you know what, this system is fair, I was heard regardless of the outcome and I have trust and confidence in the office of the Independent Police Review Director.”