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 which 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 - 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.
- The SIU Twitter account and YouTube channel
- Video Series –To supplement the Unit’s current communications and outreach efforts to enhance public understanding of the SIU, the SIU produced a series of short videos to provide Ontarians with quick, informative answers to frequently asked questions about the Unit’s mandate, jurisdiction and investigative process.
Because the SIU takes on cases at all hours of the day and night across the province, SIU Communications has made it a priority to respond to media 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The SIU’s Communications Coordinator is the Unit’s primary spokesperson.
Balancing Transparency with the Investigation
The tension between the need for a government 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 is a constant challenge. This requires a balancing act, as the needs and sensitivities of the media, complainants, the community, police 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 on a case:
- Sensitivity of evidentiary information
- Balancing fair trial interests
- Regulation 267/10
- Confidentiality Assurances
- Freedom of Information & Protection of Privacy Act
- Youth Criminal Justice Act
During the course of an investigation, there are two sections of Ontario Regulation 267/10 which govern the role of police and the SIU in releasing case information. These are:
Section 12: Police force may disclose to any person the fact that the SIU Director has been notified of an incident, and is conducting an investigation into it.
Except as permitted by this regulation, the police force and members of the police force shall not, during the course of any investigation by the SIU, disclose to any person information with respect to the incident or the investigation
Section 13: The SIU shall not, during the course of an investigation by the SIU, make any public statement about the investigation unless such statement is aimed at preserving the integrity of the investigation.
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 occurred or the officer 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.