Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of answers to address many frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the SIU’s mandate, jurisdiction and investigative process. For convenience the list is organized into the following categories:

General Information

Why does the SIU exist?

Prior to the establishment of the SIU, police services investigated their own officers in Ontario, or in some instances, another police service was assigned to conduct the investigation. Over time, public concern grew about the integrity of the process in which police officers investigated other police officers, particularly in incidents of police shootings where a member of the public had been wounded or killed. Simply put, there came to be a lack of public confidence in a system where police investigated themselves.

As a result, the SIU was formed in 1990 under a new Ontario Police Services Act, which established the SIU as an independent, arm’s length agency of the government, led by a Director and composed of civilian investigators.

The mandate of the Special Investigations Unit is to maintain confidence in Ontario's police services by assuring the public that police actions resulting in serious injury, sexual assault or death are subjected to rigorous, independent investigations.

What does the SIU investigate?

The SIU has a limited jurisdiction.  The Unit conducts investigations into police activity where someone has been seriously injured, alleges sexual assault or has died.  The jurisdiction captures cases where the police conduct in question causes serious injury or death to another police officer.  In addition, it includes incidents of serious injury or death connected to the conduct of a police officer at the time of the incident, regardless of the fact that the individual may no longer be a police officer at the time of the Unit’s investigation.

Complaints involving police conduct, services and policies that do not meet these criteria must be referred to other complaint processes. 

What are "serious injuries"?

The SIU continues to use the definition of “serious injury” that was created by the SIU’s first Director, the Honourable John Osler.  The Osler definition reads:

“Serious injuries” shall include those that are likely to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim and are more than merely transient or trifling in nature and will include serious injury resulting from sexual assault. “Serious Injury” shall initially be presumed when the victim is admitted to hospital, suffers a fracture to a limb, rib or vertebrae or to the skull, suffers burns to a major portion of the body or loses any portion of the body or suffers loss of vision or hearing, or alleges sexual assault. Where a prolonged delay is likely before the seriousness of the injury can be assessed, the Unit should be notified so that it can monitor the situation and decide on the extent of its involvement.

The key aspect of the Osler definition is the impact the injury has on the individual’s life, health and ability to carry on in a normal fashion.

While the Osler definition was adopted with the agreement of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) when it was first published in the early 1990s, the OACP, which represents every police service in the province, unilaterally issued a significantly narrower definition of “serious injury” in 1999.  As a result, some Ontario police services presently use the Osler definition when gauging their reporting obligations to the SIU while others employ different definitions. 

In his report, recognizing that this is a public policy issue and not a legal nor a medical one, the Honourable George Adams wrote, "It is not practical for a police service to attempt to determine the SIU's jurisdiction in a strict legal sense before notification is effected because of the inherent uncertainty of many incidents. The issue of notification must be treated more like that of calling an ambulance - when in doubt call."

Who are SIU investigators?

The SIU’s investigative complement consists of personnel who are stationed at the Unit’s office in Mississauga and investigators who are strategically located throughout the province.  This blend allows the head office to oversee and manage investigations, while retaining the flexibility to respond quickly to incident scenes across the province with investigators who reside closer to the scenes. 

All SIU investigators are civilians.  They come to the SIU from a variety of backgrounds ranging from policing, workplace health and safety, national security and intelligence, immigration, corrections and the legal profession.  By the end of 2009-10, of the Unit’s investigators stationed at the Head Office, eight were of non-policing background while six investigators had a policing background.

The Unit’s investigative team has extensive experience investigating serious incidents, such as deaths, sexual assault allegations, serious assaults, shootings and motor vehicle collisions. The average investigative experience among the Unit’s investigators and forensic investigators is approximately 26 and 32 years, respectively.

Is there a time limit in relation to when incidents can be reported to the SIU?

There is no time limit. Incidents can be reported to the SIU days, weeks, months and even years after they have occurred. The SIU often undertakes investigations of historical complaints against police officers. However, the later an incident is reported, the more difficult it may be to uncover the physical and witness evidence relevant to the complaint.

Questions from Complainants and/or Witnesses

I think I may have witnessed an SIU incident. What do I do?

If you believe you may have been witness to an incident which is under investigation by the SIU you may complete an appeal for witness form online or contact the SIU at 416-622-0748 or 1-800-787-8529.

Will the information I provide be kept confidential?

As a key step in the investigative process with witnesses, including police witnesses, the SIU issues a Confidentiality Assurance. This Assurance provides that the individual’s privacy and confidentiality rights are protected to the extent possible.

I would like to know the status of an investigation pertaining to myself or a family member. Who do I contact?

Case status is only provided to complainants or family members of a deceased complainant. Status updates are provided by the SIU lead investigator on the case. If you are a complainant and have been contacted by an SIU lead investigator, please contact the investigator directly. Alternatively you can call the SIU head office at 416-622-0748 or 1-800-787-8529 and request to speak with an Investigative Supervisor.

I have suffered a serious injury resulting from an interaction with police. How do I make a complaint?

If you have suffered a serious injury in an interaction with a member(s) of an Ontario police service, please call the SIU head office at 416-622-0748 or 1-800-787-8529 and request to speak with an Investigative Supervisor.

How do I get access to information pertaining to a specific case?

The integrity of an ongoing investigation is key to the SIU’s investigative process. The Unit must maintain a balance between disclosing as much information as possible to the public and the need to protect the confidentiality of our investigative work product.

Through the SIU news releases the Unit attempts to provide as much information as possible in the interests of transparency and accountability to those we serve, while protecting the independence of the Unit and the interests of witnesses who have provided information with the assurance of confidentiality.

How do I get a copy of the Director’s Report?

Under Section 113 (8) of the Police Services Act, the Director shall report the results of the investigation to the Attorney General. The report is a confidential document that is only shared with the Attorney General.

It is the SIU’s practice to meet with complainants, their legal counsel or, in death cases, with the complainant’s family, to present a briefing of the investigation and the rationale for the Director’s final decision. 

Investigative Process

How does the SIU receive notice of incidents?

The SIU is mandated to investigate any interaction involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.  All Ontario police services are under a legal obligation to immediately notify the SIU of incidents of serious injury, allegations of sexual assault, or death involving their officers.

The SIU is also notified of incidents by complainants themselves or their families, members of the media, lawyers, coroners and those in the medical profession. In fact, any member of the public can notify the SIU of an incident by calling the SIU directly at 1-800-787-8529 or 416-622-0748.

How long do SIU investigations take?

Since every investigation is different, it is difficult to determine a fixed timeline for an investigation.  Due to their complexity or circumstances such as evidence analysis, interviews and external reports from the Coroner or the Centre of Forensic Sciences, some investigations require more time to complete. 

The SIU recognizes it is important to resolve cases in a timely manner and has set targets for expeditious investigations.  It is important to note that the thoroughness of an investigation takes precedence over the length of time it takes to close an investigation.  No case is presented to the Director for decision until the investigation is complete.

Must officers cooperate with the SIU?

Yes.  Section 113(9) of the Police Services Act requires that all members of police services shall cooperate with the SIU in the conduct of investigations.

Ontario Regulation 673/98, enacted under the Police Services Act, sets out further duties of police officers during SIU investigations.

Who is a “Subject Officer”?

The subject officer is defined as a police officer whose conduct, in the Director’s opinion, may have caused the death or serious injury under investigation. 

Subject officers are invited, but not compelled to present themselves for an interview with the SIU and they do not have to submit their notes to the SIU.  Once he/she becomes the focus of an investigation and therefore under criminal jeopardy, the subject officer is granted the same rights as any citizen under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect himself/herself from self-incrimination.

Who is a “Witness Officer”?

A witness officer is a police officer who, in the opinion of the SIU Director, is involved in the incident under investigation but is not a subject officer.

Witness officers have a duty under Ontario Regulation 267/10 of the Police Services Act, to submit to interviews with SIU investigators at the earliest opportunity.  The SIU is also entitled to a copy of their notes from the police service.

Are civilian member of police services required to cooperate with the SIU?

Under the Police Services Act, civilian members of police services are required to cooperate in SIU investigations. These individuals cannot however, be designated as subject or witness officers under Regulation 267/10 because they are not police officers and therefore, do not have the same legal protections. In order to relieve this disparity during an investigation, civilian members are treated in a way that is equivalent, or “analogous”, to the treatment of subject or witness officers, as the case may be. This means that when they are fulfilling their statutory duty to cooperate they effectively have the same protections as a police officer.

Does the SIU investigate off-duty police officers?

The SIU’s statutory jurisdiction does not differentiate between on-duty and off-duty police officers.  Accordingly, the SIU’s jurisdiction captures off-duty police conduct that results in serious injury (including allegations of sexual assault) or death, and police services are under a corresponding duty to report these incidents. 

However, as a matter of practice and given the limits of available resources, the SIU will not normally investigate conduct by off-duty police officers unless police equipment or property is involved, or the off-duty officer’s status as a police officer has been implicated in the course of the incident, such as may occur if an off-duty officer identifies herself or himself as a police officer.

What does the investigation consist of?

The investigation consists of a number of tasks, including:

  • examining the scene and securing all physical evidence
  • monitoring the medical condition of anyone who has been injured
  • seeking out and securing the cooperation of witnesses
  • interviewing police witnesses
  • seizing police equipment for forensic examination
  • consulting with the coroner if there has been a death
  • notifying next of kin and keeping the family of the deceased or injured parties informed

How do you determine how many investigators should be dispatched?

The SIU supervisor who receives the initial call from the police service obtains all available information about the event that just occurred.  The supervisor then decides how many investigators and forensic investigators should respond.  

Typically, the supervisor will saturate the initial response with resources to manage the incident.  Once the lead investigator arrives, he/she determines the need for additional or fewer staff and the supervisor will re-assess the Unit’s deployment accordingly.

What happens at the end of an investigation?

Once all the evidence is in, the Director decides whether there are reasonable grounds to lay a criminal charge against a police officer. 

At the end of the process, if no charges are laid, the SIU provides an explanation of what happened to affected persons. The Attorney General of Ontario, the injured individuals or the families of deceased persons, and the chief of the involved police service or the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, are notified of the investigation’s findings and the Director’s decision. Directors have also made it a practice, upon request, to meet personally with the families of deceased persons and their representatives to discuss the results of cases. Interaction with the SIU, and especially the Affected Persons Coordinator, may also continue after a case has closed.

Where a charge is laid, the brief is transferred to Justice Prosecutions at the Crown Law Office – Criminal who take carriage of the prosecution.  In order to protect the integrity of the legal proceedings which will follow, the SIU is unable to comment on the investigation.

What happens to police officers who get charged?

Once the SIU has laid a charge against a police officer, the Unit refers the matter to Justice Prosecutions of the Criminal Law Division at the Ministry of the Attorney General, which prosecutes the charge. The SIU, as an investigative agency, is not involved in the prosecution, although it does participate by preparing the Crown brief and assisting the Crown.

While the SIU publicly announces when it has laid a charge against a police officer, the Unit releases limited information regarding the basis of that charge in order to protect the fair trial interests of that police officer and the community.

Whether or not an officer who has been charged by the SIU is subject to employment consequences by her or his employer is a matter entirely within the purview of the police service.  

Who makes the final decision in a case?

Under Section 113 (7) of the Police Services Act, the Director has the sole authority to decide whether or not charges are warranted. The Director takes into consideration all aspects of an investigation and arrives at the decision by applying established legal tests set out in the criminal law. The Director’s decision is reported to the Attorney General. The SIU may also issue a press release outlining the Director’s decision.

Does the SIU reopen cases?

In order to reopen an investigation, the Director has to be satisfied that there is new information available that could materially affect the outcome of an investigation.  The SIU has reopened cases when this criterion has been met.

Media Related

What does the SIU have to consider when releasing information to the public?

We try to provide as much information as possible in the interest of transparency and accountability to those we serve.  However, we must protect the independence of the Unit and must take into account issues such as:

  • Sensitivity of evidentiary information
  • Balancing fair trial interests                      
  • Regulation 267/10
  • Confidentiality Assurances to witnesses who provide information to us
  • Freedom of Information & Protection of Privacy Act
  • Youth Criminal Justice Act

What is Regulation 267/10?        

Regulation 267/10 outlines the conduct and duties of police officers respecting investigations by the SIU.  With regards to releasing information to the public, the relevant sections are Section 12 and Section 13.

Section 12 of this Regulation states:

  • A police force may disclose to any person the fact that the SIU Director has been notified of an incident, and is conducting an investigation into it.
  • Except as permitted by this regulation, the police force and members of the police force shall not, during the course of any investigation by the SIU, disclose to any person information with respect to the incident or the investigation.
Section 13 of this Regulation states:

  • The SIU shall not, during the course of an investigation by the SIU, make any public statement about the investigation unless such statement is aimed at preserving the integrity of the investigation.

Why can’t I see the final Director’s Report?

The Director’s report contains a full accounting of the evidence and the rationale for the Director’s final decision.  Only the Attorney General receives a copy of the report submitted to him by the Director. Privacy law prohibits the release of this report to anyone other than the Attorney General.  That said, those intimately involved in the incident receive a detailed briefing on the outcome of our cases.  In addition, we issue a detailed news release in many of our cases that will outline the incident, and the reasons for the Director’s decision.

Why is the SIU so limited in what it can say while an investigation is ongoing?

While the investigation is ongoing, SIU investigators are in the process of gathering and assessing all the facts surrounding the incident.  Consequently, we cannot speculate or comment on information that may jeopardize the integrity of the work that we are continuing to do.  In addition, we are restricted in what information can be released by Regulation 267/10.

Why doesn’t the SIU release autopsy reports, or any other reports during the course of an investigation?

As per our process with all SIU cases, the Unit does not release details as this could jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.  In addition, Regulation 267/10 prohibits the release of this information prior to the Director’s decision.

How do we find out if someone, other than an officer, is charged in relation to the incident?

As the SIU is not the charging authority, it would be the responsibility of the police service that would be laying the charge to release this information.

Why won’t the SIU release the identity of the subject officer?

The release of such information is prohibited by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act both before and after the case is closed.  Of course, if a charge is laid, the name is released since an information is lodged with the court and becomes part of the public record. 

While the investigation is ongoing, what is the employment status of the subject officer?

Because it is an employment issue, you would have to ask the police service for whom the subject officer works.

What happens if an officer is charged?

Once a charge is laid, it is referred to Justice Prosecutions at the Ministry of the Attorney General, which conducts the prosecution.  At the time of charge, the SIU is not at liberty to comment further in order to protect the officer’s and the public’s interest in a fair trial. 

We have a great judicial system in Canada in which each level has its own role.  After the SIU investigates and collects evidence, the Director must decide whether, based on the evidence, there are reasonable grounds to lay a charge.  If the Director lays a charge, the Crown Attorney prosecutes the charge.  The Crown Attorney must determine whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction, which is a higher test than reasonable grounds.  If the case meets this test, the case goes to court, where the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a criminal offence occurred. 

What is an inquest?

In Ontario, the Coroners Act requires an inquest when death results while the deceased is in custody of a peace officer.  The inquest is a public hearing held for the purpose of presenting evidence to a jury of five members of the community in which a person died.  It is not to determine criminality, nor is it to assign blame.

After hearing the evidence relevant to the circumstances of the death the jury must answer five questions: who was the deceased and how, where, when and by what means did the deceased die.  Based on the evidence, the jury may make recommendations that, if implemented, might avoid deaths in similar circumstances. For information regarding inquests, please visit the Office of the Chief Coroner

What is a Section 11 investigation?

Section 11 investigations are required under Section 11 of Ontario Reg. 267/10, These are administrative in nature and are conducted by the police service at the conclusion of the SIU investigation. A Section 11 investigation must be completed within 30 days of the service receiving notification that no charge was laid in an SIU investigation.  The conclusion and recommendations arising from the Section 11 investigation shall be reported to the respective Police Service Board within 30 days.