Responding to Changes to the Police Services Act

Comments by Acting Chair Councillor Chin Lee
Toronto Police Services Board
Responding to Changes to the Police Services Act

The Toronto Police Services Board welcomes the introduction of the Safer Ontario Act, 2017, a comprehensive public safety legislative package today, the first change to the Police Services Act in over 25 years.  These amendments are based on comprehensive input from a variety of stakeholders, including police services boards.  Our Board has participated in the consultation process, both independently, and through the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards (OAPSB).

The Bill represents a shift to a collaborative approach to community safety and well-being planning. The Bill focuses on local community well-being and safety plans to respond to local issues, and emphasizes crime prevention and collaborative planning.  Our Board is very much in support of such an approach, working in partnership with our communities to build and strengthen our neighbourhoods.

The Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Services Board are in the process of a significant modernization and transformation of our police service.  We believe this modernized legislation will complement and strengthen our efforts and we are hopeful that it provides us with increased flexibility to deliver service more efficiently and more effectively.

In particular, we are pleased to see changes to modernize the special constable program and make it clearer and more consistent.  In addition, the new legislation clearly defines the roles that can be performed by sworn police officers, which will be invaluable in our modernization work, as we look to share responsibilities with other community partners who should more appropriately perform some of the duties currently being carried out by police officers, freeing up more police officers to do priority community safety work.

Maintaining and restoring public trust in our police service is extremely important.  Accountability and transparency are the hallmarks of good policing.  We welcome language that more clearly defines the role of oversight bodies, particularly police services boards.  The new Bill implements many of the recommendations made by The Honourable Michael H. Tulloch in his significant Report of the Independent Police Oversight Review.  The Board supports changes that will result in police oversight bodies being more accountable, and their processes more transparent, to the public. We believe that the legislation will strengthen all aspects of police oversight in Ontario.

In particular, we are pleased that the legislation will provide chiefs of police with some discretion to suspend officers without pay in defined circumstances, a change our Board has requested repeatedly over the years.   In addition, the Board is pleased to see clarification related to the mandate of the Special Investigations Unit (now called the Ontario Special Investigations Unit) which will now be able to investigate former police officers, off-duty police officers in certain circumstances, and volunteer police officers. 

We applaud efforts to ensure that police services boards are more representative of the populations that they serve and welcome provisions that require mandatory training for Board members, including in the important areas of human rights and cultural competency.

The Board is pleased to see the establishment of a Public Safety Institute, which will represent a centre of excellence in policing, supporting evidence-based decision making and providing advice on policing standards. 

The proposed new legislation amends almost all aspects of the Police Services Act.  Alongside our Ontario Association of Police Services Boards colleagues, we will study those changes over the coming weeks and look forward to sharing our comments with government and the public.  Once legislation is amended, we will ensure that our policies, as well as related procedures and other governance, conform with the changes.