Supreme Court rules against Ontario police on notes issue

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Supreme Court rules against Ontario police on notes issue

Postby Thomas » Fri Dec 20, 2013 9:22 am

OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled against allowing police officers under investigation by watchdogs to consult with lawyers before preparing their notes, a decision which referenced two cases involving Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

The high court ruling, by a margin of 6-3, pitted officers against the families of two men shot dead by Ontario’s provincial police in separate incidents in 2009.

The ruling offers clarity to the regulations that govern the SIU, which investigates violent incidents involving police officers.

“First, consultation with counsel at the note-making stage is antithetical to the dominant purpose of the legislative scheme because it risks eroding the public confidence that the SIU process was meant to foster,” wrote Justice Michael Moldaver for the majority.

“A reasonable member of the public would naturally question whether counsel’s assistance at the note-making stage is sought by officers to help them fulfil their duties as police officers, or if it is instead sought, in their self-interest, to protect themselves and their colleagues from the potential liability of an adverse SIU investigation.”

Lawyer Julian Falconer represented the families of Doug Minty, 59, and Levi Schaeffer, 30, who were shot and killed by Ontario Provincial Police officers in separate incidents in June 2009. He said the ruling is a victory for the families, but the cycle of police using guns on emotionally disturbed people must be broken.

“There is a recognition, a historical recognition, that the police use of lethal force, when they take the lives of mentally disabled men such as in this case, when they take the steps they do, it has a profound impact on our social fabric,” Falconer said after the ruling was issued.

“For that their price, their responsibility, is to be undeniably and absolutely accountable and it is sad that these families had to bear the burden, the task, of getting this job done. It shouldn’t have fallen to them.”

The “indispensable foundation” for the significant authority entrusted to police is public trust, and that trust can be tested when a member of the community is killed at the hands of a police officer, Moldaver wrote.

“The SIU is charged with the delicate task of determining independently and transparently what happened and why, in the hope of providing the community with answers,” he wrote.

“Permitting police officers to consult with counsel before their notes are prepared is an anathema to the very transparency that the legislative scheme aims to promote.”

The families spent the past four years arguing that having a lawyer approve the notes that end up in police memo books is unacceptable. Ruth Schaeffer said she spent her life savings on the case.

“It’s a significant and necessary step on the way to ensuring accountability from the public servants in Ontario who have the most extraordinary powers,” she said.

Evelyn Minty said it has been a long, hard road, but she and her family did it for Doug and for “future families who need honest reports wrote up by the police.” There isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t think of her son, she said.

“I must admit I’ve had help from my family,” Minty said, choking up. “I’ve had help from my friends and when the going gets bad, I cry. Nobody knows. Sometimes at night in the dark of night.”

Police argued they have the right to talk to a lawyer of their choosing before finalizing their notes.

Three Supreme Court justices dissented, arguing that everyone has the right to consult with a lawyer.

“This freedom reflects the importance of the societal role of lawyers in a country governed by the rule of law and it should not be eliminated in the absence of clear legislative intent,” they wrote.

http://globalnews.ca/news/1040327/supre ... tes-issue/
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Re: Supreme Court rules against Ontario police on notes issu

Postby Thomas » Fri Dec 20, 2013 9:24 am

Top court rules against police practice of having lawyers help cops prep notes

OTTAWA -- Allowing police officers under investigation by watchdogs to consult with lawyers before preparing their notes is an "anathema" to transparency and public trust in that process, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday.

The high court ruling, by a margin of 6-3, pitted officers against the families of two men shot dead by Ontario's provincial police in separate incidents in 2009.

The ruling offers clarity to the regulations that govern the Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, which investigates violent incidents involving police officers.

"First, consultation with counsel at the note-making stage is antithetical to the dominant purpose of the legislative scheme because it risks eroding the public confidence that the SIU process was meant to foster," wrote Justice Michael Moldaver for the majority.

"A reasonable member of the public would naturally question whether counsel's assistance at the note-making stage is sought by officers to help them fulfil their duties as police officers, or if it is instead sought, in their self-interest, to protect themselves and their colleagues from the potential liability of an adverse SIU investigation."

Lawyer Julian Falconer represented the families of Doug Minty, 59, and Levi Schaeffer, 30, who were shot and killed by Ontario Provincial Police officers in separate incidents in June 2009. He said the ruling is a victory for the families, but the cycle of police using guns on emotionally disturbed people must be broken.

"There is a recognition, a historical recognition, that the police use of lethal force, when they take the lives of mentally disabled men such as in this case, when they take the steps they do, it has a profound impact on our social fabric," Falconer said after the ruling was issued.

"For that their price, their responsibility, is to be undeniably and absolutely accountable and it is sad that these families had to bear the burden, the task, of getting this job done. It shouldn't have fallen to them."

The "indispensable foundation" for the significant authority entrusted to police is public trust, and that trust can be tested when a member of the community is killed at the hands of a police officer, Moldaver wrote.

"The SIU is charged with the delicate task of determining independently and transparently what happened and why, in the hope of providing the community with answers," he wrote.

"Permitting police officers to consult with counsel before their notes are prepared is an anathema to the very transparency that the legislative scheme aims to promote."

The families spent the past four years arguing that having a lawyer approve the notes that end up in police memo books is unacceptable. Ruth Schaeffer said she spent her life savings on the case.

"It's a significant and necessary step on the way to ensuring accountability from the public servants in Ontario who have the most extraordinary powers," she said.

Evelyn Minty said it has been a long, hard road, but she and her family did it for Doug and for "future families who need honest reports wrote up by the police." There isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't think of her son, she said.

"I must admit I've had help from my family," Minty said, choking up. "I've had help from my friends and when the going gets bad, I cry. Nobody knows. Sometimes at night in the dark of night."
Police argued they have the right to talk to a lawyer of their choosing before finalizing their notes.

Three Supreme Court justices dissented, arguing that everyone has the right to consult with a lawyer.

"This freedom reflects the importance of the societal role of lawyers in a country governed by the rule of law and it should not be eliminated in the absence of clear legislative intent," they wrote.

http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/top-court- ... orm-467202
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Re: Supreme Court rules against Ontario police on notes issu

Postby Thomas » Fri Dec 20, 2013 9:25 am

Families win huge note battle against police

TORONTO - Families of two mentally-challenged men shot dead by police hailed a powerful Supreme Court of Canada decision Thursday that forbids police officers involved in such incidents from having lawyers vet their field notes.

The involvement of lawyers is "anathema" to transparency and public trust in the note-taking process, the court ruled in rejecting police arguments that they should be able to talk to counsel before writing in their memo books.

"Permitting consultation with counsel before notes are prepared runs the risk that the focus of the notes will shift away from the officer's public duty toward his or her private interest in justifying what has taken place," Justice Michael Moldaver wrote for the majority.

"This shift would not be in accordance with the officer's duty."

In separate incidents in June 2009, Ontario Provincial Police shot dead Doug Minty, 59, and Levi Schaeffer, 30. The families spent the past four years arguing against lawyer-approved notes.

Minutes after the decision, Evelyn Minty, 86, fought back tears as she said the battle had been a long, hard struggle but worth it.

"It has helped other families and made police more accountable for what they do," Minty said. "That is what we wanted."

Schaeffer's mother Ruth said the ruling was a necessary step toward ensuring accountability from public servants who wield extraordinary powers.

"I did not do this for my son. My son is dead. There is nothing I can do for my son. I did this because I have grandchildren and other people have grandchildren," Schaeffer said.

"If a police officer cannot even write his notes without consulting a lawyer, then my grandchildren and nobody else's grandchildren are safe."

The 6-3 high court ruling clarifies regulations that govern Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, the independent agency which investigates death or serious injuries involving police.

In dissenting, three justices argued everyone should have the right to consult a lawyer.

Ian Scott, the former SIU director, sparked the battle when he took the unusual step of publicly denouncing the practice of having lawyers vet officers' notes, saying it rendered them unreliable.

The Supreme Court ruling will bolster public trust in police watchdogs and their ability to carry out their mandate, Scott told The Canadian Press.

"It's a huge step forward, an important step forward," Scott said.

"The next step I'd like to see is that the witness officers give their statements to the SIU investigators without a lawyer present."

Julian Falconer, who represented the families, said the cycle of police using guns on emotionally disturbed people must be broken.

"There is a historical recognition that the police use of lethal force...has a profound impact on our social fabric," Falconer said.

"For that, their price (and) their responsibility is to be undeniably and absolutely accountable, and it is sad that these families had to bear the burden, the task, of getting this job done."

Dan Axford, president of the Police Association of Ontario, called the ruling disappointing.

"It differentiates our rights to access counsel from that of all other citizens in Canada," Axford said.

In the decision, Moldaver wrote the "indispensable foundation" for the significant authority entrusted to police is public trust, which can be sorely tested when an officer kills someone.

"Permitting police officers to consult with counsel before their notes are prepared is an anathema to the very transparency that the legislative scheme aims to promote," Moldaver wrote.

In a statement, current SIU director Tony Loparco said the court's clarification of the contentious issue would benefit everyone involved.

"The decision will better assist the SIU in conducting investigations in an independent and transparent fashion," Loparco said.

By Colin Perkel and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/42 ... otes-case/
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