Three Toronto Police Officers Suspended Following Sexual Assault Complaint by Parking Officer

Three officers have been suspended following a parking enforcement officer's allegation of sexual assault, but so far, the force is conducting an internal investigation with no external oversight.

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Feb 9 2015, 5:19pm

Toronto police cruiser. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Three Toronto police officers have been suspended following the alleged sexual assault of a female colleague during an "after-work party" last month, CityNews reported.

Their suspension came after the alleged victim, a parking enforcement officer, lodged a complaint that triggered an internal investigation into the matter.

VICE spoke with the Toronto Police Service's Director of Corporate Communications Mark Pugash, who said that because of a blanket provision in the Police Services Act, he is legally prohibited from talking about this case, or whether or not an internal investigation is underway.

He did, however, say that if police officers were "theoretically" suspended following a complaint, the outcome of an internal investigation can "go one of three ways."

"The first is the possibility of having criminal charges and if there are charges laid we will notify the public with a press release," said Pugash. So far, charges have not been laid in this case.

"There is also the possibility of disciplinary charges and public hearings by virtue of the Police Services Act. The third possibility is that there is insufficient evidence for either a criminal investigation or internal disciplinary measures. Any internal investigation falls within one of these three categories."

Pugash would not comment on which category the current case fell into.

He added that unless there is an extreme circumstance like incarceration, "officers are almost always suspended with pay."

According to the initial report, the three suspended officers are male and work at the 51 Division on Parliament and Front St. We contacted the 51 Division but they refused to comment citing that it was "an ongoing investigation."

VICE spoke with Toronto lawyer Barry Swadron, who began his career as a criminal defense attorney in 1963 and served as a government advisor helping provinces draft legislation on a wide range of policy issues. Swadron has appeared before a number of parliamentary committees as an expert witness on matters of policing and security. His legal practice currently revolves mostly around civil lawsuits against police forces.

"We have more civil actions against the police than any other firm that I know of in Canada," he said. "Many of our clients are actually police officers who are suing the police force or making human rights complaints against them."

Swadron says there is definitely an uncomfortable trend that emerges when police use internal investigations to police themselves.

"My experience is that if it's an internal investigation by the same force, you would almost have to climb to highest mountain to get justice," said Swadron. "It's the 'blue wall.' And in most cases they'll just say that the case and the charges are unsubstantiated. But I've never found that it's a fair process."

The Special Investigations Unit is an Ontario civilian oversight group that conducts criminal investigations into incidents involving civilians and on-duty police officers. If SIU is sufficiently convinced that a police officer has committed a sexual assault, or caused serious injury or death in the line of duty, they can press criminal charges which the Crown will have to prosecute.

The problem in this case is that the SIU's jurisdiction extends only to cases of police abuses committed while officers are on duty.

SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon says that the SIU does not conduct investigations into off-duty police officer conduct "unless police property or equipment is involved, or if the officer has used his police status during an incident, which is not the case here."

Hudon told VICE that the SIU is "monitoring what is happening and if it became appropriate we would step in. But at this point we're not investigating because the alleged incident happened while the officers were off-duty."

Barry Swadron told us that this isn't enough. He says that the SIU should look into any serious allegation—like sexual assault—because the very purpose of the SIU was to give the public the comfort that police officers would not be investigating themselves in cases involving serious police misconduct.

"There should be absolutely no difference in the integrity of a police officer whether he's on duty or not."

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