The retroactive release of all Special Investigations Unit directors’ reports — including censored details related to the death of Andrew Loku — looms as part of a new review of police oversight, Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur said Monday.
Under fire from critics outraged that only nine of 34 pages were made public from the SIU probe of Loku’s shooting by Toronto police last July, Meilleur said Monday that more information will be forthcoming.
That could include the release of the thousands of secret reports prepared by SIU directors since the civilian watchdog was created in 1990 — including the 138 fatal police shootings the agency has probed.
But critics say the release of the reports is meaningless if key information, such as evidence provided by witnesses, is kept secret.
In an interview Monday, Meilleur said her ministry has asked Justice Michael Tulloch, the judge appointed to review all Ontario police oversight bodies, to make the release of past and future SIU director’s reports among the first issues he tackles.
Tulloch will be empowered to release any SIU reports even before his final report is completed, Meilleur said.
“He will also prioritize looking at whether past SIU reports should be made public, and the form this information would take,” Meilleur said.
To the families of those killed by police, there is relief in knowing they may soon learn more about the investigation into their relative’s death.
But they will not accept heavily censored documents such as the Loku report released Friday, said Karyn Greenwood-Graham, who runs a support group for families of those killed by police.
That report, written by SIU director Tony Loparco, omitted the names of the officer who shot Loku, the names of 24 police and civilian witnesses, and all of the evidence they provided.
“We need the full report — the who, what, where, when and how,” said Greenwood-Graham, whose son Trevor was killed by Waterloo Regional Police in 2007.
Former Information and Privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian said releasing past and future SIU reports in the same restricted fashion as in the Loku case could not be considered an accomplishment for transparency and accountability.
It could in fact create the perception that important details are being concealed, she said.
“The point of releasing the reports is to enhance openness and transparency associated with what transpires in these investigations. So it just strikes me that it would defeat the purpose of releasing them by reporting information in the words of the SIU as opposed to the words of the actual witnesses,” she said.
Cavoukian supports the public release of the names of subject and witness officers, as well as the accounts of civilian witnesses without any identifying information. She recommends that the government first give consideration to releasing the actual words of the witnesses in the Loku case, and then applying the same procedure retroactively to previous reports.
When releasing the Loku report last week, the government explained that the omission of civilian accounts is due to an undertaking given to witnesses by the SIU that their identities and accounts will be kept confidential unless the case ends up in court or a coroner’s inquest.
“That’s the question that we have asked the judge (Tulloch) to give us advice on and we believe we will have an answer before March 31, 2017 (when Tulloch’s report is due),” she said.
Former SIU director and Crown attorney Howard Morton believes the government could already get a legal opinion from lawyers at the Ministry of the Attorney General on the release of the SIU reports, rather than wait for Tulloch to weigh in, which Morton said appears to be a stall tactic.
“The only issue once they decide if it’s legal to release them is whether it’s politically wise to do so, and that’s a decision they don’t need Michael Tulloch for,” he said.
The partial release of the SIU director’s report into Loku’s death — the first director’s report ever released since the watchdog’s creation — also drew criticism in the legislature Monday.
NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh accused the Liberal government of dragging its heels on Loku’s death.
“First, the attorney general took 30 days to read a report that only she could read. Then, while the Premier (Kathleen Wynne) made some promising remarks about perhaps releasing this report, the attorney general said ‘no’ four times in response to media questions about the release of this report,” Singh told the legislature.
“Now, finally, when the government releases the report, they release it late on a Friday. They release only ten out of 34 pages — and one of those ten pages is blank. The pages that are released are heavily redacted,” he said.
Singh, who praised Friday’s appointment of Tulloch to review SIU, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, said the public shouldn’t have to wait for additional answers.
“While New Democrats welcome this commission and welcome the appointment of Justice Tulloch, that doesn’t answer the question of transparency,” he said.
Loku, a 45-year-old father of five from South Sudan, was shot dead when officers were called to an apartment building — leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association to tenants with mental health challenges — at 502 Gilbert Ave. last July, after reports he was threatening a woman inside with a hammer.
Loparco’s report said Loku was advancing on the officers with a hammer raised above his head and the unnamed shooter fired in self-defence, to thwart an imminent hammer attack.
As revealed in the report, Loku had a blood-alcohol level was 247 mg/100 mL of blood, three times the legal driving limit.
The SIU director concluded it was likely Loku’s intoxication, not his mental illness, that caused him to be aggressive toward police, though it’s not clear how he made that determination.
The report also revealed Loparco criticized the conduct of one Toronto officer immediately after Loku’s death. That unnamed officer, who did not arrive on scene until after the shooting, “improperly” attempted to review and download surveillance video of the shooting.
Loparco said that contravenes the Police Services Act, which clearly states the SIU is the lead investigator.
“This case is another example in which the post-incident conduct of some officers threatened to publicly compromise the credibility of the SIU’s investigation,” Loparco wrote.
But in a statement Monday Toronto police chief Mark Saunders said his officers have the “legal onus,” also set out in the Police Act, to fulfil the responsibility to secure the scene before the SIU investigators arrive and take charge.
“My officers attempted to locate and secure the video. Due to technical difficulties, they were unable to do so. They did not review the video, nor did they download the video. An officer was posted to secure the scene until technical assistance could be contacted. The SIU, in fact, downloaded the video at a later time. The SIU’s forensic examination states that no tampering took place,” Saunders said.
Saunders added that at no point did SIU investigators on scene “question, contradict or prevent my officers from carrying out this responsibility.”
Wendy Gillis can be reached at
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