By Dr. MUNYONZWE HAMALENGWA
When the Black Action Defense Committee, among other influences, engineered the creation of the Special investigations Unit (SIU), they envisaged a body that would have teeth to ensure that police conduct was accountable and transparent. They didn’t intend to create a body that would be held captive to police interests. Even its composition was envisaged to be truly diverse and divorced from the very body whose activities it was intended to investigate.
The SIU gets involved when police activities involve injury, death or criminality, including sexual assault, by the police.
The SIU has not lived up to expectations. But the way the police establishment fear and talk about the SIU, one would think that this institution has completely annihilated police investigative powers and modus operandi. One would mistake the SIU for an effective and independent institution. Nothing is further from the truth.
For starters, the SIU has always been headed by a former or current prosecutor from the crown law office, police force or the military. The head has always been a White male. The majority of the investigators are former White police officers or from related law enforcement agencies. The culture is almost predictable. The make-up from director to the investigator on the beat ensures that someone already predisposed to police and prosecutorial mentality heads and composes this institution thereby irrevocably retaining systemic pro-police and pro-prosecution biases.
Ask yourself this question: why hasn’t any government chosen a truly independent person from the Academy, Legal Aid clinics, community organizations, government ministries, even a former judge (not a pro-police judge) or someone with no previous experience with law enforcement (but trained in the law) to head the SIU? The answer to that question would free you from any doubts about my analysis here.
Andre Marin, the current Ombudsman who also was the former director of the Special Investigations Unit, recently catalogued the impotence of the SIU. Despite that powerful report, no reforms have been initiated to improve the SIU’s inertia and pro-police biases.
Lorrie Goldstein, the conservative columnist of the mainstream Toronto Sun newspaper, catalogued the impotence of the SIU in a column published on December 5, 1999. Fifteen years later, his analysis remains correct. The SIU is much ado about nothing.
Goldstein says that “even at its worst, the SIU could hardly be said to have been conducting witch-hunts”.
He continues: “In 1990-91, out of 96 SIU investigations of police actions – everything from firearms deaths to alleged sexual assaults – the SIU laid charges in only 12 cases. In 1992, it laid charges in only 10 out of 164.”
It gets worse: “In 1993, charges were laid in two cases out of 201; in 1994, three out of 232; in 1995 two out of 150; in 1998, two out of 168; in 1999 as of December 1999; two out of 163. As can be seen, in most cases, the SIU clears police.”
From 2000 to the present, the picture has gotten worse. In some years there have been no charges, despite increasing occurrences of police misconduct against civilians. Most years have seen at most one or very few charges.
Goldstein was troubled by the “continuing virulence is some police quarters against SIU”.
I am also troubled by the Toronto Sun’s vehement blind support of the police despite its virulent attacks on the impotent SIU. Why does the Sun also attack police critics? On the SIU’s own record, is this an institution that anyone must fear?
Despite the dismal number of charges against the police by the SIU, there have hardly been any convictions. In fact, there have been no convictions at all.
The SIU is doubly impotent: fewer charges and no convictions. Yet it gets attacked by the police. The reason? The SIU may one day make a mistake and lay a charge that may lead to a conviction. This scares the police. They better demobilize the SIU before this happens. The police want terra nullius (empty territory) space as it were, on which to roam like the old Wild West. Lawlessness breeds lawlessness.
In the United States, whenever local police forces are judged to have failed the civil rights test of action, accountability and transparency, the federal government could swing into action to vindicate the victim’s civil rights. In Canada, the words civil rights do not exist and the federal government is busy criminalizing the nation, including the victims.
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa practices criminal law and civil class action lawsuits against police misconduct, including racial profiling. His email address is email@example.com; website: hamalengwa.ca.