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Solicitor general says Ontario policing law should be enacted ‘as soon as possible’


TORONTO — Ontario has not yet put a four-year-old policing law overhaul into effect, which includes allowing officers to be suspended without pay more often, but the solicitor general said Monday he’s directing it be done “as soon as possible.”

Michael Kerzner was asked Monday in question period about the law that has been sitting on the books since 2019 in light of news reports about an Ontario Provincial Police officer suspended for years with pay.

The Brockville Recorder and Times reported that an OPP constable in Leeds County, Jason Redmond, has been on paid leave since 2015 stemming from a drug trafficking investigation, and was recently found guilty of sexual assault.

A judge found that he raped a woman while she was unconscious and made a video of the assault on his phone to “teach her a lesson,” the newspaper reported.

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Kerzner said he has directed the deputy minister to wrap up discussions with police services and unions “as soon as possible” in order to get the law enacted.

“No one convicted of a serious and disturbing crime like this should be receiving a taxpayer-funded salary, and we expect all those that keep our province safe to uphold the highest standard of professional ethics,” he said in the legislature.

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OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said in a statement that the police service has been trying to fire the constable since his first conviction.

“I know this is troubling for not only members of the public, but for our own members who always seek to serve the people of Ontario with pride, professionalism and honour,” he wrote.

An adjudicator ordered the constable to be dismissed from the OPP, but the officer appealed. That appeal – as well as the fact he was sentenced for the initial offence to probation and not imprisonment – means he can still collect his salary.

Sentencing for the sexual assault conviction is set for later this month. The appeal of his dismissal is set to be heard in June.

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Premier Doug Ford’s government in 2019 brought in the Community Safety and Policing Act, which allows a police chief to suspend an officer without pay if they’re charged with a serious offence, as well as introducing other changes to police standards and oversight.

Kerzner noted that it replaces the Police Services Act, which is more than 30 years old. But in 2018, the Progressive Conservative government scrapped a law the Liberal government had passed as an update to that 1990 legislation, decrying it as anti-police.

The Liberal bill would have, among other changes, strengthened police oversight, while the new law passed in 2019 by the Tories narrows the scope of the Special Investigations Unit. Both laws have sought to introduce more circumstances under which a police officer could be suspended without pay.

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Ontario is the only province in which chiefs can’t revoke the pay of suspended officers, who collect millions of dollars each year. Right now, suspended officers have to be paid even when convicted of an offence, unless they are sentenced to prison.

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police has been pushing for change for well over a decade.

“The OPP officer that has been in the news lately that has gone on for years … this isn’t the norm, it’s the exception, but it’s an exception people notice and our trust is undermined,” said OACP spokesperson Joe Couto.

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But the law, despite being passed in 2019, is not yet in force because the government has not drawn up all of the associated regulations – including defining what would constitute a “serious offence” as per the new suspension without pay rules.

The government says because the bill was so large, there are a lot of regulations that need to be written and the focus on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic delayed that work. It hopes to have the law enacted late this year or early next year.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said it doesn’t make sense that the government would take four years to consult with groups whose positions are well known.

“I think it’s fair to say that what’s happening here is wrong,” he said outside the legislature. “It was preventable if the government had actually done their homework and enacted legislation in a couple of years.”

The Police Association of Ontario, which represents members from 45 police associations, said it has been working with the government to get the law into force.

“The new act significantly modernizes policing in Ontario which was long overdue, and we will continue to work with our partners to bring it into force,” the association said in a statement.

“The PAO is looking forward to the more balanced, independent misconduct adjudication framework under the forthcoming Act.”

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press





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