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POLICE IMPUNITY CASE IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA

Supreme Court hears arguments from police groups and families of two men killed by police regarding practice of lawyer note vetting when police are under investigation

by Lillian Boctor

POLICE IMPUNITY CASE IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA

The Schaeffer and Minty families were brought to the Supreme Court of Canada on April 19, 2013 by police groups, in another chapter in the families' arduous and long legal battle against police impunity. The Ontario provincial police shot and killed Levi Schaeffer and Robert Minty, both living with mental illness, in two separate and unresolved incidences in June 2009.

After Levi Schaeffer was killed by police in a remote area in Northern Ontario, where the only other witness was another police officer, the civilian law enforcement agency, the Special Investigations Unit, discovered that both police officers had been instructed to delay writing their notes or make statements until consulting police lawyers. The Special Investigations Unit was not able to make a decision regarding the officer’s guilt due to this note vetting, a widespread practice in Canada.

In November 2011, the Schaeffer and Minty families won a unanimous landmark decision in the Ontario Superior Court, the province’s highest Court. The decision stated that even though police officers did have a constitutional right to seek council, this could not impede the officer's duty to produce independent and contemporaneous notes, and police officers could not hold off on writing their notes or engage in lawyer note vetting.

Police interests then appealed, taking the two families to Supreme Court to defend the long standing practice of note vetting and other legal maneuvering, such as maintaining the same lawyer for subject and witness in investigations into police conduct, practices which the Special Investigations Unit says obstructs justice in determining police responsibility in cases of death and harm by officers, which especially affects marginalized and racialized communities.

Rachelle Sauvé, a member of the Justice for Levi Coalition and a close friend of Levi and the Schaeffer family, was also at the Supreme Court heairng on April 19th, 2013 and hopes that the highest court in Canada will uphold the firm decision of police accountability to the public made by the Ontario Superior Court and send a message to all Canadian police bodies that they uphold the highest level of the law, saying “It’s absolutely ridiculous that with all the mechanisms provided by the State to allow for accountability, over the years there’s been dozens of reports put out by different courts and different levels of government, and yet its been left to two families who lost their sons and didn’t understand what happened to push this.”  Freelance journalist Lillian Boctor spoke to Rachelle Sauve by phone the night before the Supreme Court case.

As part of their long legal battle to bring justice in their family members' deaths, the Schaeffer and Minty families have had to sell their possessions, among other sacrifices, to pay for legal fees and related costs. To donate to the families' legal fees and struggle for justice, go to their indigogo site: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/let-s-stop-police-impunity-in-canada

 

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