Balancing TransparencyIn 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
The SIU has an established policy when responding to requests for information from third parties. In the case of complainants and the families of deceased persons and/or their representatives, the SIU makes every effort to provide information regarding the SIU and what it does, and the path of the investigative process is shared on an ongoing basis. The objective is to provide a realistic expectation of the investigation, while helping individuals deal with the distress caused by an incident. At the conclusion of a case, an investigator will give notice of the Director’s decision and if requested provide a debriefing of the investigation.
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:
- 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
- A police officer appointed under the Interprovincial Policing Act, 2009 may disclose the information to his or her extra-provincial commander during the course of the investigation; or
- That the chief of police of the police force of which a police officer appointed under the Interprovincial Policing Act, 2009 is deemed to be a member may disclose the information during the course of the investigation to,
- (i) the extra-provincial commander of the officer, or
- (ii) an appointing official as defined in that Act if the chief of police is not such an official and the investigation relates to the officer. O. Reg. 267/10, s. 12 (2).
- 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.
Until the investigation has been completed, preserving the integrity of the investigation is paramount and limits communication of information regarding the progress of the investigation. Where a charge has been laid against an officer, the SIU must limit the information it discloses in the interest of ensuring fairness of trial proceedings.
The Unit’s Communications Coordinator also attempts to provide informative news releases at the conclusion of investigations, making key facts and outcomes public.
Disclosure of Director’s Reports
Pursuant to section 113 of the Police Services Act, the Director shall report the results of investigations to the Attorney General. These reports are confidential documents that are only shared with the Attorney General
The Director’s Report contains the following information:
- documents and information such as witness statements,
- statements of the complainant
- sensitive and personal information about officers and witnesses
- scene photographs and videos
Disclosure of SIU’s investigative file is limited to protect::
- the fairness of related investigations and/or proceedings such as parallel criminal investigations, Coroner’s investigations, civil lawsuits and inquests
- the privacy of potential witnesses; the SIU assures both police and civilian witnesses that their statements will only be used as part of the SIU investigation and will not be disclosed to third parties without consent. Any breach of privacy inherent in the disclosure of witness statements may threaten SIU investigations and any prospective public cooperation with the SIU. Witnesses are sometimes reluctant to cooperate with an agency engaged in investigations of possible criminal conduct on the part of police officers. Information being essential to an investigative agency, this reluctance can pose real obstacles in the investigative process. It is with a view to securing the confidence, trust and cooperation of witnesses that the SIU has a long standing policy of assuring its witnesses of confidentiality.
All criminal investigative agencies are concerned about the potential impact of the release of information on the integrity of their investigations. The recollections of honest witnesses may be compromised, while other witnesses may be tempted to colour their evidence having regard to what they have heard.