Update: see previous post – April 27, 2012 Police Who Lie In The Courts: How Police Officers Thwart Justice with False Testimony
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says the justice system should report police officers who are found by judges to have lied, misled the court or fabricated evidence.
“If a judge perceives that an officer has not fulfilled his oath of honesty, a judge should report it to a police service. The national association would naturally support mechanisms that would ensure this happens,” said association spokesperson Timothy Smith.
The comments come after a coast-to-coast Toronto Star investigation that found more than 120 police officers have been accused by judges of courtroom deception since 2005. Many of the officers have gone unpunished.
The national chiefs spokesperson said the Star’s series caught the attention of the entire law enforcement community and “the public we serve.”
The issue raised by the Star “runs absolutely counter to why we in policing choose to make a career out of this profession. While we do not feel that this issue is at all prevalent, we recognize that even a single instance can damage the reputation of policing overall.”
Meanwhile, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, headed by Waterloo Region Chief Matt Torigian, said if the provincial government in Ontario was to consider requiring prosecutors report such conduct to police forces, the Association would participate in those discussions.
There is so little oversight of the problem that in some jurisdictions police forces did not know judges found that their officers misled the court. Internal investigations into four cases — three in Peel, one in York — were started after the Star brought the courtroom misconduct findings by a judge to the department’s attention.
British Columbia seems to be the only province with a formal reporting system in place. If a judge criticizes the truthfulness of a police witness’ evidence or testimony, the prosecutor should report it to a senior crown attorney. The prosecutor should also recommend to the police force that it investigate alleged misconduct.
The chair of the civilian oversight Toronto Police Services Board, Alok Mukherjee, told the Star he is troubled by this “serious issue” and wants something done to stop the lies from eroding the public’s trust in his police force.
There must be a formal mechanism through which the prosecutor’s office notifies the force and the police board whenever negative findings are made about an officer’s credibility, Mukherjee said.
Elaine Flis, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Attorney General John Gerretsen, says there is no plan to make it a formal policy. But Flis said “where a judge raises perjury in relation to a witness, the trial Crown will refer the matter to his or her superiors.” Flis said it is important that when prosecutors hear something they suspect to be perjury they pass it on to the police force for investigation.
Toronto defence lawyer Reid Rusonik, as well as other sources in the justice system and many Star readers, say it is an easy, sensible fix.
“The Star’s investigation has only uncovered the tip of the iceberg of the problem. . . . It shouldn’t fall on (news) reporters to sit in every courtroom every day and then make complaints when they hear a judge make an oral finding of dishonest police testimony,” said Rusonik, who in the last few years has exposed police fabrications in more than a dozen cases across the GTA, six leading to the acquittal of clients charged with possession of a handgun.
“It must be incumbent on the Crowns to report every such finding to an independent investigator. The Crowns know full well how to get perjury prosecuted. You wouldn’t believe how quickly some of them will charge a civilian witness caught lying.”
Meanwhile, at the Toronto Police Service, where spokesman Mark Pugash has been dismissive of the Star series and has said the articles ‘cannot be taken seriously,” a force member wrote on Twitter yesterday: “Thank-you for such an indepth and well balanced, two sided series. looking forward to the rest.”
The Star called Toronto Police and learned the tweet was sarcastic.