Suspended police officers paid $3.4M from northwestern Ontar

If the drift of Canada towards a police state has not yet affected you directly, you would do well to recall the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, writing in Germany before his arrest in the 1930s: "The Nazis came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I was a Protestant, so I didn't speak that time there was nobody left to speak up for anyone."

Suspended police officers paid $3.4M from northwestern Ontar

Postby Thomas » Tue Apr 23, 2024 1:02 pm

Suspended police officers paid $3.4M from northwestern Ontario forces since 2013, part of $134M provincewide

Police, experts say the system is failing forces, victims and accused officers

Police forces in northwestern Ontario have paid an estimated total of at least $3.4 million to 15 suspended officers since 2013, according to information revealed as part of a CBC News analysis of police services across the province.

The Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) alone spent an estimated $1.2 million on six officers suspended between 2016 to present, including two chiefs and a deputy chief, while Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachments in Thunder Bay, Kenora and Greenstone spent about $2.2 million on nine officers suspended during that period.

The vast majority of these officers were on paid suspension for over 90 days. Two-thirds were suspended with pay for over a year, according to the exclusive database compiled by CBC News that surveyed reports on hundreds of officers sent home with an estimated $134 million in pay after being accused of misconduct or breaking the law.

These long and expensive suspensions are a sign the system has been failing the public, police forces and the accused officers, said Colin Woods, president of the Thunder Bay Police Association, which represents officers.

"They get dragged on, and on and on," Woods said. "I don't think it's fair for anybody.

"Most officers, we don't like bad cops," he said. "When we see these stories in the paper and then the news of certain officers engaging in criminal misconduct, it makes the profession look bad. It makes it harder to do our job at times."

The majority of suspensions in northwestern Ontario related to criminal charges.

The charges include sexual abuse of children, sexual assault, obtaining sexual services for consideration, assault, fraud, theft, breach of trust and obstructing justice. The minority of suspensions only linked to charges under the Police Services Act included misconduct and discreditable conduct.

Less than a third of the officers pleaded guilty or were found guilty in a court of law.

Court backlogs impact pay for suspended officers

"Everybody has their rights to a fair process and these processes take a long time to play out through the court system," Woods said.

He said the main factor keeping suspended officers on the payroll for long periods of time is court backlogs. Many courts in Canada are struggling to keep up with caseloads as staffing shortages and other problems are leading to major delays.

"It could probably raise some eyebrows or questions like: 'Why do these things take so long?' But it's kind of at the will of the courts," Woods said. "We know how busy it is, especially in Thunder Bay, and how backlogged they are."

While the high dollar values on paid suspensions may draw public concern, he said paid suspensions are a necessary measure in certain circumstances.

"Just because somebody is accused of something doesn't mean they did it and to take their livelihood away in some scenarios would be unfair.

"[Paid suspension] is not a vacation for them by any means," Woods said. "It is stressful because it's their careers, it's their reputation.

"Everything's on the line in this situation until they get their day in court."

The estimated costs of paying salaries to suspended northwestern Ontario police in 2024 so far is at least $174,375.

Data on police suspensions not readily made public

The CBC News investigation compiled the exclusive database using publicly available information about officers across 44 police departments.

The database is unique in that information on police suspensions isn't readily made public.

"These data confirm just what a huge problem and expense ongoing pay of officers who have been suspended for extended periods of time, many of which have been on sort of egregious accusations, [is] in the province of Ontario," said Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa.

Kempa said this lack of transparency is a missed opportunity for police services to build trust and accountability with the communities they serve. He recommends that Ontario's Office of the Inspector General publish an annual report that could include the numbers of suspended officers by police force.

Changes to Policing Act long awaited

Ontario police chiefs have long been advocating for the ability to suspend officers without pay when the situation warrants it. Chiefs will now be allowed to do so thanks to amendments to the Community Safety and Policing Act, which came into effect on April 1. A chief's decision to suspend officers without pay would have to be approved by an adjudicator.

Under the previous Police Services Act, officers could only be placed on unpaid suspension if they were both convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment. This meant officers who were convicted but didn't do jail time or those who received conditional discharges would still be eligible for paid suspension.

"The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police advocated for services to have more authority to suspend officers without pay. This is a position that I support and I am committed to working with our partners with the Thunder Bay Police Association as we move forward," said TBPS Chief Darcy Fleury.

Karen Machado, chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, said: "Pre-dating my appointment to the board, police chiefs and boards across Ontario have long called for changes in this matter given the budget implications and concerns around public trust in the police disciplinary process."

"The board is continuing to work through the impacts of the Community Safety and Policing Act through ongoing implementation of policy changes and through the development of new policy itself, where required."

The OPP did not provide a statement by time of publication.

The previous version of the act didn't allow police chiefs to take action to issue unpaid suspensions when needed to restore public trust, said Jeff McGuire, executive director of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and a former chief in the Niagara region.

"The reason for the past 25 years why all those people could not be suspended without pay is because the law prohibited us from doing so," said McGuire. "There are a number of other cases that were 100 per cent suitable for suspension without pay."

These changes bring Ontario police closer to other Canadian forces that have more authority to suspend officers without pay. No other provinces require that all suspended officers receive full pay while off work.

McGuire said many police chiefs don't believe the new act is strong enough.

The new Ontario act doesn't apply to non-indictable offences or offences committed while the officer is on duty. McGuire said the definition of what counts as a serious offence to warrant unpaid suspension is more restrictive than chiefs had initially hoped.

"Significant, serious workplace harassment cases or serious cases of outright racism that don't cross into the Criminal Code realm don't give the chief any authority to suspend without pay," said McGuire.

"You'll still see a number of officers as time goes on, unfortunately, will be suspended with pay because that's the only alternative that the chiefs will have going forward."

There will be a "very small sliver" of new cases where chiefs will be able to suspend without pay, said McGuire.

But Kempa said it's still a welcome improvement from the previous act and will save taxpayers money. He said the change should have happened when it was first proposed in 2018.

The amount spent on suspensions, particularly on high-ranking officers is a sign that civilian governance of policing in Thunder Bay has been struggling, said Kempa.

"These boards have had an almost impossible task," he said. "They've been comprised of people with very limited training and access to legal advice [to] actually press the police and hold them to account. So that has left, in too many cases, northern Ontario police organizations almost to govern themselves."

But the new legislation also outlines changes that could greatly benefit Thunder Bay and other smaller cities, said Kempa. The updated policing act now says all police services boards will be entitled to training and receive access to legal advice.


How CBC compiled Ontario police suspension cases

This database was compiled by CBC News and represents 453 suspensions with pay that occurred between January 1, 2013, and April 9, 2024, involving 438 police officers (including some with multiple suspensions) from 44 police forces across 61 Ontario municipalities. The information was compiled and verified through multiple news sources, police/SIU releases and court/disciplinary records.

The database includes the Espanola Police Force, which was taken over by the OPP in October 2018, because it suspended one officer in 2017. Five police forces did not report any suspensions in the period examined: Aylmer Police Service, Deep River Police Service, Gananoque Police Service, Niagara Parks Police Service and Strathroy-Caradoc Police Service. Indigenous police forces, which fall under federal jurisdiction, are not included.

Several police services provided CBC with their total number of suspensions since 2013. Some of those totals were far greater than what CBC found through public reporting. By contrast, this investigation uncovered more suspension cases in Hamilton and St. Thomas than those police services reported to CBC.

To evaluate costs, CBC News calculated the difference in days between the exact start and end date of each suspension. For 69 suspensions with missing dates (15.3 per cent), the median suspension length (553 days) was applied. The salaries of officers were obtained through Ontario's Sunshine List. For 94 (20.8 per cent) of the suspended officers whose exact salaries were not on the list, a median salary of $103,035 was used in the calculation, based on labour data from Statistics Canada on police income from the same period. CBC then multiplied the number of days an officer was suspended by their estimated daily earnings.

We found 25 suspension cases in which officers weren't named publicly (5.5 per cent). In 38 cases (8.4 per cent), suspension outcomes were not disclosed. In one case, only the year in which the suspension began was provided.

Research and data compilation: Julie Ireton and Malcolm Campbell (Oct. 2023 – April 2024)

Data verification & analysis: Julie Ireton & Valerie Ouellet (Jan. – April 2024) ... -1.7168254
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