Monday, January 12, 2015

Holding Police to Account

Late last month I wrote a piece for The Paper News examining the nearly impenetrable 'blue wall' that is an ever-present barrier to justice and accountability whenever the police abuse their authority, violate the public's rights, or otherwise brutalize them. One of the cases I wrote about was the disabling beating OPP Sgt. Russell Watson administered to Tonie Farrell, a 48-year-old Orillia ‘Good Samaritan’ whose only 'crime' was to try to help a woman who had been assaulted by three thugs.

The SIU (Special Investigations Unit) did its usual 'stellar' job. It found there were no reasonable grounds to charge the offending officer.

In today's edition of The Star, readers weigh in with their usual penetrating insights. I reproduce a few of them below:

Re: Good Samaritan brutally beaten by OPP officer, Dec. 30
Officer assaults citizen, causes serious, permanent injury. Officer charges citizen with assault and obstruction. SIU investigates officer but lays no charges. Judge dismisses charges against citizen, condemns officer’s actions.

Sadly, this case is not unique; it demonstrates the double standard that exists when the citizen victim of the assault is charged while the police perpetrator suffers no legal or disciplinary consequences. By setting the bar for charging police far too high, the SIU is failing its duty to protect Ontarians from the “bad apples” who perpetuate a culture of violence in police forces across the province.

How many more victims will it take before citizens take to the streets to demand accountability?

M. Goldstein, Mississauga
I was appalled to read about OPP Sgt. Russell Watson’s life-shattering assault on Tonie Farrell, and even more appalled to hear that he will face no consequences. This is another in a long line of incidents proving that our police are a law unto themselves.

If they are particularly stupid or their acts particularly egregious, judges may scold them, but the SIU will find there’s no grounds to lay a charge, and their superiors will not even discipline, much less dismiss them. Evidently Watson’s OPP superiors consider punching and kicking women to be all in a day’s work.

When police officers lie under oath, they are not charged with perjury. When they conspire to cover for each other and subvert the course of justice, they are not charged with conspiracy. That “blue wall of silence” seems to reach around the entire justice system.

If an individual’s safety is based on happening not to cross a police officer’s path at the wrong moment (or in the “wrong” skin), we’re in serious trouble. Governments at all levels must take steps to bring police under the rule of law. We cannot trust our justice system or our police if they can break the law with impunity.

Nina Littman-Sharp, Toronto
And about that curious provision in the law that allows the police to obstruct SIU investigations by refusing to turn over to them their investigation notes:
As I read this article, I became ever more appalled as Tonie Farrell was transformed from Good Samaritan to an abused victim to an accused defendant and then the SIU finding of no wrongdoing. Truly a disgrace.

The most infuriating and confusing aspect of this sorry tale is present in the following passage from the Dec. 30th article: “The SIU conducted a month-long investigation in 2013 and interviewed Watson, but he did not provide his notes, as is his legal right.”

This is a mind-boggling situation. I have never been a police officer nor faced violent danger in my employment. Nonetheless, I have never for one second considered the notes that I took with the pen and paper or computer (supplied by the employer and used during a paid workday) to be my property or facts that I could keep secret.

I worked as a quality assurance manager, and as such I performed investigations into quality issues, and as a member of the joint health and safety committee also conducted investigations on safety incidents. I cannot imagine a circumstance where my refusal to fully co-operate with my co-workers and management supervisors would not result in disciplinary action, which would appear on my HR records and, if there were repeat infractions, result in my dismissal.

My wife and close friends with whom I discussed this issue were similarly confused at learning that the rules appear to allow police officers to withhold information and not fully and completely assist and comply with investigations.

I wish to request the Star to prepare an article to explain to readers like myself the legal logic behind the ability (or “right”) of officers to withhold their field notes. This article should include a complete review of the pros and cons of this “right.” It would be very enlightening to learn of situations where the exercising of this “right” is clearly the correct course of action as well as the flip-side, such as the Farrell vs. Watson case and others like it.

Stan Taylor, Brampton


  1. The provision to withhold information is, indeed, curious, Lorne. How can there be a thorough investigation without such information?

    1. Clearly, changes are needed here, Owen.

  2. This is so sad. This case in particular makes me wonder who these uniformed police officers are. Costumed thugs? Hand-picked sociopaths? Poorly educated people corrupted by the power? Brainwashed into believing they are superior to others? The only thing that makes me feel good about this story so far is the realization that we still have some decent, moral judges in this country.

    Unfortunately, this is by far not an isolated incident of an OPP officer engaging in abuse of authority and breaking the very law their governmental agency has been entrusted to uphold. I would encourage those who are interested in the topic to Google the ‘Ontario Provincial Police Block’ and educate themselves about a wide variety of instances of abuse of authority, infringement of Charter rights, violations of federal and provincial statutes, corruption, incompetence and unsustainable policing costs in the OPP. It is high time the citizens of our country started to wake up and stand up for their civil rights.

    1. Thanks for your comments, OPP Block. I am just checking out your site now, and it looks like a valuable resource in tracking the various rights' infringements our 'protectors' seem to blithely engage in.