What we do know is that Provincial Constable Sean Coughlan was charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) with respect to an alleged collision between his police cruiser and an ATV operated by Edward Labadie and the incident occurred on June 22, 2016. We also know that the same Constable was charged with perjury with respect to his response to the same incident. But that may be as far as anyone can go with any degree of confidence. Yes, there was one additional known fact: Constable Coughlan was found not guilty in a jury trial that was completed near the end of May, 2018.
Despite the fact that a lone reporter was available to cover and report on the trial in Sarnia, we know nothing about where the incident occurred other than that it occurred on a rural Lambton County Road. We know nothing about what kind of ATV was involved. We know nothing about what type of police cruiser was involved.
Experts from the SIU and from the OPP both testified at trial. It would appear that the primary objective evidence was with respect to an imprint near the front bumper of the police cruiser that was astoundingly similar to the match of a wheel of the ATV; or so the SIU expert believed. But another expert defending the police Constable indicated that there was no such match since the evidence should have looked different than it did. The SIU were never able to examine the police cruiser until several weeks after the incident. And the OPP police supervisor who examined the incident used a professional “BS smell test” to determine whether the evidence sounded “smelly” and then did not ensure that any photographs of the police cruiser were taken so objective evidence could be made available after the fact.
In all, whether the Constable was truly innocent of any mischief will be irrelevant. The actions of those surrounding the incident, whether from the SIU or from the OPP, were so inappropriate, or reported so, that no one reading the news media reports of the trial could feel confident that anything resembling the truth was resolved. If members of the public wanted to review the actual transcripts of the trial they would have to pay hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to the transcribers – a private business that must make money from such transactions. But no one would consider that such transparency is an important component of our democracy and should be made available.
No one can be realistically comfortable when the SIU cannot examine evidence until several weeks after an occurrence. No one can be reasonably comfortable when the SIU expert giving testimony has not been publically identified in any manner as to his expertise in such matters. But this is typical of the secrecy behind the operations and staffing of the SIU.
Still, no one can be comfortable when an explanation has not been provided why the OPP did not take photographs of the police cruiser when the Supervisor knew that the SIU was likely to be involved. No one can be comfortable when there was no explanation why witnesses who testified that the police cruiser was directly behind the ATV and that this information was passed onto the OPP Supervisor but nothing was indicated as to what the Supervisor did with that information.
In all, the proceedings demonstrate the lack of professionalism, truthfulness and discipline that the public should expect but do not receive. The old adage that “justice must be seen to be done…” is not just a cute little saying, but then again, maybe it is.