Brandon Marchant was reportedly found unresponsive in his jail cell at the London-Middlesex Detention Centre, on July 3, 2021. Two days earlier he was reported to be driving a stolen vehicle that crashed into a lamp standard in the exit ramp of the Hwy 401 OnRoute service centre near Woodstock, Ontario. Neither photos or any details about the crash were initially made available. But the SIU eventually noted “…a stolen vehicle entered the off-ramp to the service centre and lost control striking a light standard splitting the vehicle in half”. Marchant was reportedly taken to hospital and then released the next day to the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre. The following morning he was found unresponsive and was taken off life support on July 6, 2021.
Randy Richmond, a long-time reporter for the London Free Press wrote an article indicating that Marchant had been assaulted by correctional officers at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre on the evening before he was found unresponsive. This was based on the testimony of two inmates who were in the same jail unit as Marchant. The quotes from the inmates were detailed in describing the beating and its circumstances.
Upon completing their investigation a brief statement was released by the Director of the SIU, Joseph Martino, indicating:
“…there was patently nothing to investigate in relation to the potential criminal liability of any police officer in connection to the death”.
Whatever the details of the investigation, which were strangely not provided, the notion that there was “nothing to investigate” is clearly wrong. There was an article published by a reputable reporter of a well-known newspaper that quoted the comments of two witnesses. Even if those witness reports were incorrect or outright lies, they still required investigation, and there was clearly something to investigate. Just as strange is that the cause of Marchant’s death, which was investigated via autopsy, is not being made public.
In over 40 years of collision reconstructions we have had the opportunity to study the patterns of injury and death in hundreds of serious motor vehicle collisions. We have examined the details of numerous autopsies. We have had full access to photos of those injuries. We have also conducted detailed studies of injury patterns as part of our work with the University of Western Ontario Multi-Disciplinary Accident Research Team, a group that was funded by Transport Canada explicitly to conduct examinations of how and why persons sustained their injuries. While we may not be alone in our experience we could evaluate the injury data from Mr. Marchant’s autopsy and be in a position to comment on its accuracy, if that information was made public. And many other independent observers with similar background could also make such observations. So why has the cause of death not been made public?
The old adage “justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done”, is highly important in maintaining the public’s confidence in organizations such as Ontario’s SIU. Problems with the SIU date back decades. In 2016 there was great hoopla when Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch was appointed by the Ontario Liberal government to examine its functioning. In early 2017 Tulloch set down a number of recommendations that led to the Province’s “Safer Ontario Act”, generally strengthening the SIU’s mandate and its transparency. But once Doug Ford’s Conservative party came into power the Safer Ontario Act was axed in early 2019.
In the words of Justice Tulloch in his 2016 report:
“…oversight bodies must not only be independent, but they must appear to be independent. Appearances matter. Police oversight depends on people being willing to engage with the oversight bodies. So the public must be confident that the oversight bodies are independent of the police.”
Even Toronto’s Mayor, John Tory, weighed in on the need for additional transparency in the functioning of the SIU. In an April 2016 article published by the Toronto Star he was quoted as saying:
“When people can’t see what’s going on, no matter what the result is they tend to have less faith in the process that lies behind it. There’s not enough transparency now and I think as a result people misunderstand what goes or what they think goes on”.
Yet, since the actions of Ontario’s Conservative government to trash the Safety Ontario Act, neither John Tory, nor anyone else in public office has publicized the lack of accountability that has resulted.
Black Lives Matter movements following the murder of George Floyd had the attention of news media and the public for a few short months but they too have grown quiet even though no substantial changes have occurred with police and SIU transparency.
Transparency, preventing secrecy and ensuring accountability, are the methods by which corrupt persons in the justice system are exposed and removed. Those who perform their duties correctly are hampered when corrupt individuals wear the same badge, wear the same robe, or are given the same title as them because the corruption envelopes the reputation of all under the same umbrella. Unnecessary secrecy means that the efficiency of the justice system suffers as gossip underneath official channels of communication spreads regardless of what is stated officially and publicly. As noted by Justice Tulloch in his 2016 report:
“The SIU is different from other law enforcement agencies in Ontario. Like other law enforcement agencies, one of its core functions is to effectively investigate possible crimes. But unlike other law enforcement agencies, it has an equally important public accountability function.
In reality, what seems to have happened is that investigations have been prioritized to the neglect of public accountability”.
The posting of SIU Director’s reports that consist of verbal descriptions and conclusions but lack objective evidence such as photos and mappings of that evidence is not consistent with the spirit of any intended transparency and accountability. In the Marchant matter no photos were provided in the Director’s report showing the collision scene or the damaged vehicle. Reports that the vehicle became “split in half” as a result of the impact cannot be verified because no objective evidence has been provided. The injuries involved should match the described collision yet this cannot be done by any independent agency without the basic objective evidence visible on at the collision scene and on the damaged vehicle. The reports that Mr. Marchant was released from a medical facility and then subsequently died a short time later have not been explained in the SIU Director’s report.
The type of minimal response by the SIU’s director into the death of Brandon Marchand, with no explanation of his conclusions, is precisely the worst response, both for the SIU’s reputation and a large segment of the public’s trust in the justice system.