Communication with the media is important in ensuring that the SIU remains responsive, transparent and accountable to the public it serves. The SIU has developed a comprehensive Communications program that aims to foster effective communications with the media while also respecting the integrity of SIU’s investigations, witness confidentiality and the important privacy interests of those involved.
Here are some of the ways the SIU communicates information about its cases:
- Status of SIU Cases chart - In an effort to keep the public up-to-date on the progress of SIU investigations, the Unit provides updates on each investigation via this chart which can be found at https://www.siu.on.ca/en/case_status.php .
- News releases – News releases are issued in the beginning stages of a case when a firearm has been discharged, someone dies, there has been a major collision or a case has garnered a great deal of media interest. If no news release is issued for a case, members of the media can contact the Communications Coordinator for more information. Once an investigation has concluded, a news release is issued.
- Director’s Reports - At the conclusion of an SIU investigation, if the evidence does not satisfy the Director that there are reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges, a Director’s Report is produced and posted to the SIU’s website. Each time a report is published, the SIU notifies the public of the report by issuing a news release.
- Social Media - The SIU Twitter account and YouTube channel
The SIU’s Communications Coordinator is the Unit’s primary spokesperson.
Balancing Transparency with the Investigation
The tension between the need for an agency such as the SIU to share information with the public and the obligation to keep certain information confidential because of legal and policy restrictions presents a constant challenge. This requires a balancing act, as the needs and sensitivities of the media, complainants, the community, law enforcement and the SIU all have to be considered within a legislative framework. It is imperative to ensure that the information released is fair, does not prejudice the investigation and does not violate the privacy rights of those involved.
In all cases the SIU attempts to strike a proper balance between disclosing as much information as possible to the public while keeping in mind the need to protect witness confidentiality and to guard the rights to privacy that are protected by law.
There are a number of investigative protocols and legislative restraints the SIU must keep in mind when considering the release of information about a case:
- Special Investigations Unit Act, 2019
- Sensitivity of evidentiary information
- Balancing fair trial interests
- Confidentiality assurances given to civilian witnesses
- Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
- Youth Criminal Justice Act
Allegations of Sexual Assault
In cases involving allegations of sexual assault, the SIU, as a general matter, will not release details to the public which could potentially identify the individual alleging a sexual assault or the official who is the subject of the allegation. This is so because the release of information related to investigations of sexual assault allegations is associated with a risk of further deterring what is already an under-reported crime and undermining the heightened privacy interests of the involved parties, most emphatically, the complainants. The SIU hopes that by not releasing identifying information in these cases, potential complainants will be encouraged to come forward. As with other types of cases, once a sexual assault investigation is underway, it is denoted on the Status of SIU Cases chart.