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28 LawNow [90] (2003-2004)
Keepers of the Gate Don't Decide Your Fate: Chiefs of Police and Public Complaints

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Keepers of the Gate

Don't Decide Your Fate:

Chiefs of Police and Public Complaints

   Police pledge to serve and protect. Independent Boards protect us from police
misconduct. However, Chiefs of Police stand between us and these Boards. In
Ontario, Chiefs review each complaint, to determine whether or not it deserves a
hearing. At a hearing, the affected person and police officers can plead their case,
and the Board may find serious misconduct. Complaints must pass these two
stages before that finding occurs.
   Under the Ontario Police Services Act (the Act), the Chief is supposed to close
the gate on complaints that have no reasonable chance of succeeding.
Complaints which may have a valid basis are supposed to get full hearing.
   To draw a Biblical analogy, the Chief can no more decide the fate of a com-
plaint than Saint Peter can keep you out of Paradise. If you have a reasonable
chance of getting into Heaven, you should be allowed to plead your case before
the Almighty. Curiously, though, no one gets to this second stage in most jokes
about the Pearly Gates. Saint Peter acts as judge, jury, and executioner all in one.
   In Ontario, a Commission can review the Chief, and a judge can review the
Commission. Exceptionally, judges can overrule the Commission's authority and
order the Board to hear a complaint. The Ontario Court of Appeal took this
extraordinary step in Canadian Civil Liberties Association (the CCLA) v. Ontario
Civilian Commission on Police Services (October 3, 2002).
   This case involved police treatment of political protestors. It clarifies the law
for those to whom we give the privilege to regulate themselves, such as lawyers,
doctors, soldiers, or politicians. It answers where the Chief's powers begin and
end and what standards apply to the Commission.
   In 1997, protest followed the Harris government's attempt to reduce public
spending on education. When the Minister of Education attended a hotel in
Guelph to speak at a fundraiser, nine women were arrested for protesting outside.
The women were never charged with a crime; they were arrested under s. 31 of
the Criminal Code, which gives police authority to detain people found in breach
of the peace. What followed led them to complain to the Guelph Chief of
   The Guelph police station had cells for sixteen prisoners. Only three were
designated for women. Three others were designated for youth. Before the
demonstration, police had decided they would send any overflow of prisoners to

                                FEBRUARY/MARCH 2004

        This article is copyright 0 2004 by LawNow, Legal Studies Program, Faculty of Extension,
      University of Alberta. Permission to reproduce material from LawNow may be granted on request.

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