Police did not tell SIU about officer involvement in 2016 fatal crash

Hamilton Police vehicle

The SIU are investigating a crash that killed a 20-year-old man on a motorcycle in downtown Hamilton last year. Hamilton police did not report the incident. (Chris Seto/CBC)

Hamilton police broke the law when they failed to tell the provincial police watchdog about an officer’s involvement in a crash that killed a motorcyclist in Hamilton last year.

Now a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) probe is underway, but only because the victim’s family contacted the SIU, almost a month after the crash.

That’s not how it’s supposed to happen. Every police service in Ontario is legally mandated to immediately notify the SIU of any incidents of serious injury, allegations of sexual assault, or death involving their officers.

But with no oversight of that law and no consequences for breaking it, there’s currently nothing to stop this from happening over and over, said André Marin, a former Ontario ombudsman and past SIU director.

“Because there are no consequences, police can be extremely lax,” Marin told CBC News.

“They have proven themselves to be ungovernable.”

Hamilton police responded to requests for comment after this story was originally published. In an emailed statement, Const. Steve Welton said that police cannot talk about any ongoing investigations involving the SIU.

“No further comments can be made,” he said, directing any other questions to the SIU itself.

Information only surfaced because of FOI

The incident that Hamilton police didn’t report to the SIU was the death of 20-year-old Chokha Bayez, who died in September of last year after his motorcycle crashed on Main Street West near James Street.

The SIU says a Hamilton police officer was following Bayez at the time. He died after crashing into a truck.

CBC News only learned of the investigation because of a freedom of information request listing all of the SIU’s investigations into the conduct of Hamilton police officers from last year.

The investigation also does not appear to be listed on a Hamilton police report of SIU investigations presented to the police board earlier this month.

In an email, Welton maintained that the incident was included, but no vehicular death can be found listed in the report.

Former SIU director and Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin

Former SIU director and Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin says that police services are not currently held accountable when they fail to notify the SIU of an injury or death that happens with the involvement of police. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press)

So if the police service broke the law, who holds it accountable? The SIU, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the local police board are the agencies with the most direct oversight roles.

CBC asked the Ministry of the Attorney General about the issue but its answer did not address the question of consequences or accountability for failing to notify the SIU.

SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon told CBC News that because the SIU has an open investigation, the organization is “not in a position to comment on what happened regarding notification.”

“If the SIU Director is of the view that there may have been a breach of the regulation, and no charges are laid, it has been the Director’s practice to notify the Chief/Commissioner of his concerns in order that they may be reviewed,” she wrote in an email. But the chief is under no obligation to act on those concerns.

Where is the police board on this?

If charges are laid, Hudon says, it becomes a ministry problem — the same ministry which did not answer questions about it.

Then what about the local police board, which was seemingly given incorrect information about SIU investigations in an official board report earlier this month?

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, the chair of the board, responded after this story was originally published to say that he could not legally talk about the issue until the SIU has completed its investigation.

“I know what happened, I’ve been briefed on it, but I’m not permitted to talk about it,” he said.

Marin says that police services boards across the country should be pushing for oversight in cases like these.

“Police services boards should be vigilant and hold their feet to the fire — but they don’t care either,” he said.

“There is absolutely no excuse for this.”

Special Investigations Unit emblem hanging on a wall.

The Special Investigations Unit is investigating a crash that killed a motorcyclist on Main Street West back in September. (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

This news comes on the heels of a sweeping report on the SIU and other police oversight bodies, led by judge Michael Tulloch. The report contains 129 recommendations to make police watchdogs more transparent and accountable.

In the report, Tulloch touches on the notification duty that police services are bound to follow.

“In most cases, the SIU depends on the police notifying it of incidents within its mandate. Prompt, thorough police notification is the starting point for effective, efficient SIU investigations,” he wrote.

“If the police take too long to notify the SIU of an incident, or fail to do so at all, any investigation may be compromised and justice may not ever be done.”

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has committed to a handful of the recommendations in the report, including publishing the details of every police-involved fatality the SIU investigated dating back to 1990.

Marin said Naqvi needs to “wake up” and “implement these recommendations.”

“It’s required to deter this sort of behaviour.”

Source: CBC News