Above The Law: How Canadian Police Are Rarely Held To Account When Accused Of Misconduct
Canadian police are rarely held to account when accused of breaking the law.
Like the United States, Canada has a poor track record of prosecuting police who break the law, despite the emergence in some provinces of agencies specifically designed to investigate police.
BuzzFeed News examined court records, data from police investigatory bodies, and media accounts, and spoke with experts, former police officers, victims, lawyers, and advocates and found that Canadian police who kill, wound, assault, allegedly plant evidence, or are found to have lied in court are rarely held to account. We found many examples of officers who were reprimanded by judges for fabricating testimony, or whose unethical conduct caused charges to be dismissed, and who went on to commit similar acts — and even be promoted.
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” said André Marin, a former Ontario Ombudsman and former head of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), an agency that investigates police in Ontario when they cause injury. “When there is a [police] shooting, everybody freaks out, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,’ and nothing seems to happen.”
Alan Young, a criminal law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, agrees. “Basically when it comes to accountability for misconduct, police get a free pass,” he said. “It’s always been that way and it will probably continue that way until somebody wants to champion the issue of police accountability.”
One significant challenge in evaluating the accountability of police in Canada is that no nationwide data exists that accurately tracks how many police officers are accused or investigated for misconduct, what happens when they are investigated, how often they are prosecuted or cleared, and which offenses they are most often accused of committing. But the few statistics that do exist on police accountability paint a bleak picture.