Canada’s top court refused on Thursday to hear a case involving the limits of police oversight, prompting a renewed call for a misconduct hearing against a police officer a Black family accused of brutality.
At issue in the case was whether Ontario’s police watchdog had the power to review and reverse its own decision to refer a complaint to a disciplinary hearing.
The case involved allegations of excessive force by Toronto police after 19 officers smashed in the front door of the Stanley family home in 2014. The officers were acting on a tip about a firearm but none was found and no one was charged.
In March 2015, the Office of the Independent Review Director found evidence of “serious misconduct” against Const. Chris Howes for excessive force. Then-director Gerry McNeilly referred the matter to Toronto’s police chief for a disciplinary hearing.
However, a senior police officer complained that investigators had made a serious error in transcribing Howes’ statement. As a result, McNeilly reopened his office’s investigation without telling the family about the conversations with the officer before dismissing all allegations against Howes.
In its look at the case, Divisional Court rapped the watchdog for the secretive, back-channel chats with police. The court ordered a fresh investigation of the complaint, prompting the director to appeal.
In April last year, the Court of Appeal ruled McNeilly, who had resigned as director a year earlier, had no power to reconsider his initial referral. The Appeal Court also said Howes should face a disciplinary hearing but said the director had new powers to reconsider the referral.
The OIPRD had no immediate comment Thursday as to its next steps.
However, Selwyn Pieters, the family’s lawyer, called on the agency to “do the right thing” and order a misconduct hearing.
“I’m really disappointed in the posture that the OIPRD took in this case by compromising its independence and impartiality, and then running this thing up all the way to the Supreme Court,” Pieters said. “They fought them tooth and nail and lost.”
While the director now has the power to decide against a hearing, Pieters said the family will fight on if the agency makes that decision.
“If they do that, there’s going to be another judicial review,” Pieters said.
The case sparked controversy in Hong Kong in 2019 after McNeilly was appointed to advise the territory’s Independent Police Complaints Council. McNeilly later admitted he had not told the council about the controversy over his handling of the Stanley complaint.
He and others later resigned from the commission on the grounds it was toothless.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
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