The new director of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit says he will lead an internal team created to implement recommendations from a report in which the province’s ombudsman called the police oversight body a “toothless tiger.”
SIU director Ian Scott tells Law Times in an interview at the unit’s Mississauga headquarters that the “ombudsman report response team” will lead the charge in responding to André Marin’s scathing 121-page report, titled “Oversight Unseen,” within six months.
“It won’t be like the world has completely turned at that particular point,” says Scott. “But my objective and my goal is to have a response to every recommendation, and some may be more a kind of . . . clip in time as opposed to necessarily the end point.”
Scott’s appointment was announced Sept. 23; Marin’s report was released Sept. 30. At that time Marin told Law Times the SIU is “fearful and frightened, timid and intimidated.” His probe found that the unit doesn’t work fast enough, fails to fully investigate allegations, is unable to force police co-operation, and employs too many ex-cops.
The new director held off on responding publicly to the report until he took the helm from outgoing director James Cornish on Oct. 16, saying through an SIU spokesman it would be inappropriate to do so.
Scott says he views Marin’s report as “a template for improvement” during his five-year term.
But in the short term, Scott is busy preparing to meet the ombudsman’s request for a written implementation report within six months of his report’s release. The response team, which Scott says met for the first time last week, will play a key role.
He says the response team will be made up of SIU staff including himself, executive officer Paul Cormier, an investigative supervisor, an administrative manager, and a legal counsel. The team will help Scott decide which of the ombudsman’s recommendations require input from other SIU personnel, and “sub-teams” may be created to deal with specific issues, he says.
“Some are actually relatively easy to address. Some are going to require more long-term operational change, and it may be that at the end of the six months some of the reporting on particular recommendations will be a work-in-progress,” says Scott.
The unit has been investigated seven times since its creation in 1990, with major probes conducted almost every five years since 1998, the year of George Adams’ first report on the SIU, which he followed up on in 2003.
Scott says the SIU has been subject to a high level of public scrutiny for a pair of reasons.
The unit was the first of its kind in Canada, he notes, with Alberta only recently creating its Serious Incident Response Team with a comparable mandate.
“Because it was always in uncharted water for years, and still is to some degree, it’s gone through a series of growing pains,” says Scott.
The fact that legislation forces the SIU director to essentially choose a winner in each file it deals with between police and citizens means it will always be fending off criticism from one side, he suggests.
“The SIU is always going to be a flashpoint. You’re dealing with some of the most difficult societal issues a society can grapple with, those being use of force, fatality, and serious injury of our citizens caused by the
police or agents of the state,” he says.
While Scott is at the helm of the SIU at a contentious moment in its history, he says he is motivated by an affinity for the type of work the unit does.
For 15 of his nearly 25 years in law, Scott has been involved in justice prosecutions - cases in which police officers, Crown lawyers, and defence lawyers are accused of offences. He’s also worked on several SIU cases as a prosecutor.
The Mississauga native was called to the bar in 1983 after receiving his law degree from the University of Western Ontario, and worked as a law clerk at the then-Ontario High Court of Justice from 1983-84.
He moved on to Stikeman Elliott LLP for half a year before joining the Crown Law Office in hopes of getting more litigation experience. He worked as anassistant Crown attorney in Toronto from 1985 to 1990.
Scott’s next stop was a secondment to the Office of the Director of Criminal Prosecutions - now called the Justice Prosecutions Unit. There he worked on cases in which local Crowns were in a conflict, meaning most matters involved charges against police officers, defence lawyers, Crown attorneys, and judges.
He became head of that unit before leaving the Crown’s office to open his own practice in the late 1990s. But in 2001 he returned to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s office after four years out on his own, and again worked largely on justice prosecutions.
Some of the prominent cases involving members of the justice community that Scott worked on include the prosecutions of OPP officer Ken Deane for the shooting of Dudley George at Ipperwash Provincial Park; Ken Murray for the suppression of the Paul Bernardo tapes; and former Thunder Bay assistant Crown attorney Agnew Johnston for having sex with underage prostitutes.
“I think the work they do here is important,” says Scott of the SIU. “It helps maintain public confidence in policing and civilian oversight of policing.”
Throughout his interview with Law Times Scott demonstrated his desire to implement the ombudsman’s recommendations, but sought to address “an issue that was in the press about the unit having a pro-police bias.”
He quoted a section of the report that read, “In fact, during our investigation we were unable to find any objective evidence that any individual case has been tainted by improper motives.”
Marin’s report did note that “the presence of so many former officers in the SIU presents significant challenges to maintaining the perception of independence.”
Scott says he is heartened by the fact that the ombudsman did not recommend the reopening of any SIU cases.
“I take some comfort in that in the sense it allows me as a new director to look forward and look at the recommendations, and look at the changes of the SIU prospectively,” he says. “I can look at how we’re going to make the investigations better in the future.”