A-G ‘buckling to police lobby,’
Kormos says

Lawyers removed from police shooting inquiry

Shannon Kari, National Post, May 14, 2010

John Minty, left, his mother Evelyn Minty, centre, and sister Diane Minty
attend hearings in Toronto yesterday into the shooting
of Douglas Minty by the OPP.
Photo: Peter J. Thompson, National Post.

The Attorney-General of Ontario says he removed government lawyers from assisting the provincial Special Investigations Unit (SIU) on the eve of a landmark court hearing on the use of police officers’ notes, to make the case go more smoothly.

“Our primary concern is always to safeguard court proceedings,” said Chris Bentley in a statement issued yesterday.

The explanation is not sitting well with the opposition or the families of two men with mental health issues who were fatally shot by Ontario Provincial Police officers last year.

No officers were charged in either incident by the SIU, which investigates any incident involving serious injury or death as a result of police force. But its director, Ian Scott, was critical of the note-taking practices of the officers and delays in notifying his agency, which he said impeded its investigations.

“The impression any observer has, is that the Attorney-General is buckling under a very powerful police lobby,” said Peter Kormos, justice critic for the Ontario NDP. “The SIU is an arm’s-length agency of the Attorney-General. You would expect its lawyers to act on behalf of Attorney-General agencies. The SIU has been hung out to dry,” said Mr. Kormos.

John Minty, whose brother Douglas was fatally shot in an incident with police last June in a town northwest of Barrie, also suggested there was police pressure. “I can’t see this being anything else,” said Mr. Minty.

An emotional Evelyn Minty spoke outside court about the loss of her 59-year-old son Douglas. “I want answers. I miss my son,” she said.

The SIU is supporting the families of Mr. Minty and Levi Schaeffer in asking Superior Court Justice Wailan Low to review certain police practices when officers are being investigated.

Mr. Bentley did not explain why the lawyers for the SIU were removed just hours before the hearing was scheduled to start. There was no formal complaint made to Judge Low about SIU receiving legal advice from government counsel. When the hearing began yesterday, the family had its lawyers in court, but the SIU was unrepresented.

On the other side were lawyers acting for the OPP officers, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, the Police Association of Ontario and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. Several senior police union representatives were in the public gallery.

The court heard that it is common for “witness officers” to consult lawyers before writing their official notes, which must be turned over to the SIU in an investigation.

As well, it is normal practice for several officers, both ones who are witnesses and colleagues potentially facing criminal charges, to retain the same lawyer.

The families are seeking a legal “direction” from Judge Low about whether these practices violate the Police Services Act.

Julian Falconer, lawyer for the families, said it is not practical to expect them to sue the police.

“In the province of Ontario, it would take four to six years to get to trial, if they are not already financially wiped out. They have nowhere else to turn.”