**UPDATE: **This morning, the Special Investigations Unit charged Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo with second degree murder in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim. Full SIU news release.
Ontario’s Ombudsman Andre Marin [is looking](http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Newsroom/Press-Release/2013/Ombudsman-to-investigate-Ontario-direction-to-poli.aspx) into provincial guidelines for police de-escalation of conflict situations issued by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Marin’s investigation follows the fatal Toronto Police shooting of Sammy Yatim that was videotaped by a nearby bystander and posted to YouTube, shocking public opinion resulting in an outcry about police use of force.
Hamilton Police and the Ombuds Investigation
Marin says his investigation needs cooperation from police services and asked for services to voluntary do so.
I asked the Hamilton Police Service and the Police Services Board:
“What is the response from the HPS and will HPS will be cooperating with this Ombudsman investigation?”
The response from Catherine Martin in the Chief’s office:
“The Hamilton Police Service works with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to ensure all Ministry guidelines and standards meet the public safety needs of our community. We look forward to working with the Ministry and all policing partners on any future changes.”
Chief De Caire followed these remarks at August’s Police Services Board meeting by stating the HPS will be working with the Ministry and is looking forward to any changes the Ministry implements.
Noticably absent from these statements, which were clarified further, any statement about direct cooperation with Marin.
No direct jurisdiction
Marin does not have direct jurisdiction over police services or police involved shootings. Police Services Board, the bodies that oversee police services, are not covered by the Ombudsman Act as part of the MUSH sector.
The closest to the Ombudsman for police services is the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
He does have jurisdiction over the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. It is the Ministry that sets police standards across Ontario and operates the Ontario Police College where all police constables receive their basic training before serving on patrol.
Marin is using this thread to stretch his jurisdiction to indirectly review the Sammy Yatim shooting.
Stretching his jurisdiction – rightly or wrongly
Marin’s decision to stretch into this case angers some who believe he is a publicity hound launching this investigation because of interest in this particular shooting.
Marin’s interest in police oversight is long-standing.
He is a former director of the Special Investigations Unit, as Ontario Ombudsman has written two reports about the shortcomings of SIU oversight 2008’s Oversight Unseen and 2011’s followup Oversight Undermined. His G20 report was a scathing indictment of police behaviour and poor government oversight of the police response in the largest single mass arrest incident in Canadian history.
He frequently speaks about the problems with current SIU oversight.
This investigation is not on a whim. It’s on, as we say in my trade, a news peg.
A “news peg” is a journalism-trade term for columns published during peaked public interest in a subject, but the column itself was conceived, planned, and outlined by the columnist long before the public interest.
Being a publicity hound and stretching his mandate are two traits that enable Mr. Marin to be effective as Ontario Ombudsman – agencies and government fear his oversight. Most importantly, for government, his oversight is respected by the general public.
Is he right or wrong to launch his latest investigation? Legally, he can, granted it is a stretch. The answer to the question is subjective and depends on your viewpoint.
Marin is trusted
Police and the SIU should welcome Marin’s stretch in this case – he is trusted by the public.
This public trust means he is capable of investigating the circumstances surrounding police use-of-force and making a ruling that goes against public opinion.
The YouTube video of the Sammy Yatim shooting is damning to the average citizen.
Marin’s report will be public
The public expects changes to how police operate in conflict situations.
If the SIU makes recommendations to change police procedures, they will be in a confidential report sent to Toronto Police. They will not be public.
Marin’s report will be public and will educate the public about police procedures, including the challenges of making split-second decisions during high-tension conflicts involving weapons.
Again, police and the SIU should welcome this public discussion.
Marin and the Hamilton Police Service
Andre Marin and the Hamilton Police Service exchanged strongly worded correspondence last year that makes the relationship between the two seem frosty.
It started when Marin stated, in his report Oversight Undermined, the Hamilton Police Service was “failing to co-operate” with and “ignoring” the SIU.
De Caire responded with a five-page letter calling Marin’s report **a “dramatic over simplification of complex issues” stating those who have “not read Overnight Undermined are uninformed, and those that have read it are misinformed.”
Marin responded with a cheeky column thanking De Caire for supporting the SIU, and calling on De Caire to support changes to the SIU:
That’s encouraging. I can only hope this means he also supports strengthening the SIU by instituting real consequences for those police services that continue to disrespect it. Actions speak louder than words.
It’s not a surprise that De Caire and the Police Service are choosing to speak about cooperation with the Ministry, but the question is why?
De Caire and “by the book”
De Caire is often described by supporters as a “by the book” “law and order” person.
When he speaks about why the police service is engaged in an activity, he cites ‘Chapter and Verse’ of the Acts that govern policing in Ontario.
He stays within those lines and often appears to see them as black-and-white.
The law does not direct De Caire and the Hamilton Police Service to cooperate directly with the Ontario Ombudsman.
With De Caire’s “by the book” ways, I’m not surprised he speaks of cooperation with the Ministry and not the Ombudsman.
HPS will follow the Ministry’s lead
De Caire’s “by the book” mentality means he’ll follow direction from the Ministry. If they direct police services to cooperate, the HPS will.
He’ll also move quickly to give the Hamilton Police Services Board analysis and options when Marin’s recommendations are released.
Marin’s recommendations – are WE ready?
We’ll we focus upon our police service, Marin’s recommendations are unlikely to be limited to policing.
Expect Marin to focus upon our inadequate mental health care system with recommendations there – then the question becomes, are we prepared to make the changes necessary to improve our mental health system or will we continue to have people seeing police officers instead of medical professionals when they are in crisis?