Society

“Total transparency” needed in police watchdog groups

Following the release of a much-anticipated report on police watchdogs, and amid controversy surrounding the trial of an officer accused of killing Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi, the local Black community is paying close attention to changes that will affect the relationship between cops and they people they serve.

The report, which was written by Justice Michael Tulloch after public consultations with over 1,500 people, makes over 100 recommendations to improve transparency and accountability in Ontario’s police oversight bodies such as the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). It was made public on Thursday, April 6; Attorney General Yasir Naqvi was quick to promise swift action on the recommendations.

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Justice Michael Tulloch, left, addresses an audience at the Wabano Centre in October 2016. Ewart Walters, right, attended the public consultation. While generally pleased with Tulloch’s recommendations, Walters said more transparency is needed.

Ewart Walters, a leader in Ottawa’s Black community who has covered the issue of racial profiling by police for years as editor of The Spectrum, said overall he is pleased with the report. But, he insists, there remains a lack of transparency. Walters argues that Tulloch has not made a strong case against releasing the names of officers under investigation.

“Total transparency is of primary concern,” Walters said after reviewing the report.

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A still image from the public consultation at the Wabano Centre this past October, which was held to gather input for Justice Tulloch’s report on police review bodies.

“Justice Tulloch has produced an excellent report, and he deserves the plaudits of the Black citizens of Ontario and the entire population of the province as a whole. His recommendations, if implemented, will certainly improve our lives.”

The recommendations include investigating any incident that sees an officer firing a weapon at someone; the collection of demographic data such as race and religion; the release of past reports that have cleared officers of wrongdoing; and the recruitment of civilian investigators to watchdog bodies such as the Special Investigations Unit.

But when it comes to releasing the names the officers — when they are investigated but not charged — Tulloch held back.

While Tulloch says releasing such information would not serve the public interest, but rather is a by-product of trust issues, which can be solved by making watchdog groups more transparent, Walters disagrees. He sees it as a case of police protecting themselves and “circling the wagons.”

“If the report can be faulted it is regarding the matter of the release of police names. He has underlined the need for public trust and says justice must be seen to be done. In many instances, the public has been left to feel that police wool has been drawn over their eyes. There have been a number of cases where the police officer has been involved in a previous misdemeanor; transparency and public trust demand that the names be made known.”

Walters attended the Ottawa consultation, which was held at the Wabano Centre this past October. He called the gathering a “tour de force” and said he was happy the people of Ottawa expressed themselves so well on this important topic.