Families of men killed by officers square off against police in court
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, May 13, 2010 5:47PM EDT
TORONTO - Families of two men shot dead by police in Ontario squared off against police groups Thursday in a court battle over how officers prepare notes of such incidents and deal with civilian investigators afterward.
Amid allegations of police-union intimidation and irresponsible media reporting, the officers involved asked Ontario Superior Court to strike the case down on technical grounds.
Outside court, emotional family members said they were simply looking to find out exactly what happened to their loved ones.
"I don't want mothers to go through what I'm going through," said Evelyn Minty, mother of Doug Minty, 59, who was shot dead in June last year.
"It's a year. I can't forget it. I can't sleep nights."
The families, through their lawyer Julian Falconer, are asking the courts for a declaration the officers violated the law around how police co-operated with the province's Special Investigations Unit after the killings.
They assert, among other things, that allowing the officer who pulled the trigger and officers who witnessed the incident to consult the same lawyer effectively amounts to collusion.
They also say the officers first provided notes to their lawyer, before turning them over to the civilian investigators.
SIU investigators expressed concern about police "tampering" with evidence, and the agency's director, Ian Scott, said he could not determine what had happened because he could not rely on the officers' notes.
"I don't know what to believe about the circumstances of my son's death," said Ruth Schaeffer, mother of Levi Schaeffer, 30, whom police killed in a separate shooting also last June.
"I am hoping this may throw some light on it or at least change the situation where the police write their notes in a timely fashion and not two days after the fact, and also that they write their notes before meeting with counsel."
Police groups and their lawyers insisted the officers simply exercised the same right to counsel as other citizens, and blasted the media for suggesting the officers prepared two sets of notes -- one for counsel, and a second approved version for the SIU.
"You've got to import some common sense into this. The media is the one who is blowing this thing out. We keep hearing 'draft sets of notes.' There were no draft sets of notes," police lawyer Andrew McKay said outside court.
Communication between the officers and lawyers is privileged and cannot be seen as a draft set of notes, McKay said.
"(They are) none of your business. It's protected in law."
The proceedings became murkier after the province's Ministry of the Attorney General, of which the SIU is part, withdrew from the hearing, leaving Scott to find his own lawyer.
Attorney General Chris Bentley's hints at some kind of conflict of interest prompted the opposition New Democrats and Minty's relatives to accuse him of succumbing to police-union bullying.
"In this most peculiar, this bizarre, this astounding turn of events, the attorney general responds to police pressure and this alleged conflict by pulling his lawyers from representing its own agency," New Democrat Peter Kormos said outside the legislature.
Scott said he could not comment while the case was pending.
Outside court, Doug Minty's sister, Diane Pinder, said it appeared the police unions had scared Bentley.
"The SIU had backed us, and now they've pulled out," Pinder said. "They're intimidated by the police union."
In court, police lawyer Ian Roland called for the families' application to be struck, saying they had no proper grounds to bring the application.
They were, Roland said, simply asking the court to offer "legal advice" that would have no practical consequences.
Falconer told Justice Wailan Low that judges and the ombudsman had previously been critical of police note-taking, but nothing changed.
"There is political paralysis on this," Falconer said.
"Police chiefs have all allowed it to happen and officers don't get segregated."
Submissions on the motion to strike were expected to conclude Friday, and Low indicated she would reserve her decision on whether the merits of the case should be heard.
Minty, of Elmvale, Ont., who was mentally challenged, was shot five times outside his home, apparently after threatening the officer with a small utility knife.
Two days later, Schaeffer, of Peterborough, Ont., who had mental-health issues, was shot dead at a remote lake in northern Ontario following an altercation with two officers.