News media have indicated that changes to Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) will be announced this week. The Ford conservative government stopped earlier Liberal legislation that would have improved the functioning of the SIU. That earlier legislation was in response to the detailed Tulloch Report in the spring of 2017. Justice Tulloch was a member of Ontario’s Court of Appeal and his recommendations for change were deep and broad. It remains to be seen what new changes will be made by the Ford government and whether it will follow the Tulloch recommendations.
A recent visit by Gorski Consulting to the SIU website has demonstrated that a large improvement has been made with respect to its transparency. That is hardly a compliment as any change could only be better than the secretive functioning of the past. However, the major, improved difference is the public availability of the Director’s full report. Such a report contains the details of the SIU investigation such a photographs, measurements and diagrams. Previously no details of an investigation were ever made public, just a summary of the SIU’s conclusions.
The public availability of the Director’s report means that any independent party, such as Gorski Consulting, can examine the details of an investigation and a public comment or rebuttal can be made thus providing an additional input that the public can consider. While there are many aspects to the SIU investigations that are praiseworthy, it remains the continual problem that much of the conclusions are affected by the bias of the investigators. This is not to single out the SIU specifically, but bias is a continual problem that exists in all investigations that have been encountered over the four decades of our involvement in such matters.
One of the significant problems that still remain uncorrected in the SIU was never addressed in the Tulloch report. That problem relates to the transparency of the backgrounds, experience and education of its hired investigators and how that hiring took place. While the Tulloch report considered the sensitive issue of whether to allow persons with police backgrounds to become members of the SIU, it was never recommended that the backgrounds, education and experience of all members of the SIU should be made public. This continues to be a serious drawback to the SIU’s operations. Upon reading several of the Director’s reports it became clear that some conclusions were suspect and it came to the question of who made those conclusions and were the experience and training of those investigators sufficient to allow those conclusions to stand. The problem is that no one is able to examine the credentials of these investigators. Judging by some of the conclusions that were made in the reviewed Director’s reports it is our opinion that some investigators were lacking in those essential areas of training and experience. This shortcoming needs to be corrected by identifying the specific backgrounds of the investigators who were assigned to a specific investigation.
The process of how a person was hired to become a member of the SIU is also critical to the proper functioning of the SIU. It is through this knowledge of the hiring process that the public can be assured that individuals were not selected because they possessed a specific bias. Just because an individual possesses a police background, or any background, does not mean that they will necessarily operate in a biased fashion. However, given the very great importance of selecting unbiased individuals, there is a lack of focus by the SIU toward providing the essential public perception that it is doing all it can to remove any potential bias in its membership.