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  • Writer's pictureDave Shellnutt

How to File a Police Complaint


Police and state violence has been bravely exposed and resisted by Black, Indigenous, Queer/Trans, and many other communities for decades. Through their leadership, those who have negative interactions with law enforcement have been given a voice. We are now seeing more and more people come forward with stories of police and state violence.


If you have been profiled, harassed, harmed and/or assaulted by a police officer(s), you can file a police complaint.


In Ontario, as of April 1, 2024, the new Community Safety and Policing Act replaces the old Police Services Act and police complaints regime (OIPRD) with the Law Enforcement Complaints Agency (LECA).


Before You Start a Complaint:

Immediately after an interaction with police, and before you file a complaint, you should first seek medical attention. Document with your family doctor, an ER, walk in clinic, or your therapist, the details of the incident and any physical injuries or psychological trauma. Take pictures of your injuries.


If you have experienced psychological injury, serious and permanent physical injuries, or violations of your rights (Charter and Human Rights) you may be able to seek justice by way of a civil lawsuit as well. [If you are injured in any way, speak to a lawyer at our office before filing a complaint. Injured people should not interact with police without counsel.]


As important, if you received a ticket or were arrested, first seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer like Shane, Ashley, Mike, Gabe, Krisna or Theresa before speaking to police and/or filing a police complaint.


When to File Your Complaint:

Is there a deadline? Yes, you must file a complaint within 6 months of the incident.


However, if you were charged in relation to the incident then the time to file a complaint only starts once those charges have been dealt with (6 month clock starts at that point). In most cases, your complaint will not be accepted by the LECA until the criminal proceeding has resolved.


Who can file a complaint:

  • Those directly involved in an interaction with police;

  • This includes third parties who physically witnessed an incident and/or were in a relationship with the person affected (and suffered a loss, damage, distress, danger, etc., [s. 158(3) CSPA].

  • Any member of the public about the policies of or services provided by a police force if effected by those policies or services [s. 107 CSPA];



What Police Misconduct Constitutes Grounds for a Complaint?

There is a long list under s. 195 of the CSPA. Generally, though in our cases complaints have arisen from incidents involving excessive force, sexual assault/harassment/luring, poor driving, foul language, discourteous behaviours, police dogs, and unlawful arrests.


How to Fill Out the Complaint Form:

This can be done online or in writing. To file a Police Complaint we recommend you write out point form details of the interaction with police in a word document:

  • Describe the interaction and what the police did;

  • Identify any evidence you can submit to the investigation (photos, video, witnesses, medical records) or any evidence you think would be helpful for them to retrieve (building cameras, officer body worn cameras, TTC footage, etc.)

  • Describe how the incident impacted you or others (injuries, time off work, fear of police, etc.)


Once you have this complaint summary, and someone has reviewed it for you, paste that text into the complaint form: https://complaint.leca.ca/LECA.Efile/Complaint_en.html


The new complaint form does not have an area to note if you are being represented by a lawyer, but you are allowed to be! If you have a lawyer, they should submit this complaint on your behalf and email LECAcomplaints@ontario.ca with clear instructions to communicate with their office only. The former OIPRD was notorious for going around lawyers and speaking directly to their clients.


What happens next?

Right out of the gate your complaint may be screened out (s. 158 CPSA). If the LECA decides the complaint is vexatious, the person is not directly affected by the conduct (this is a tricky one, watch out for it), 6 months has passed, it’s “not in the public interest”, etc. the LECA may screen out your complaint. If you disagree, your only option is to appeal to Divisional Court within 30 days of the decision.


If your complaint is screened in for investigation, more likely than not the police service you complained of will be retained to investigate their own members (unless you can demonstrate that would be inappropriate *hint very difficult).


Next, the investigating service or the LECA may offer you an early resolution. This is likely a sit down, discussion and maybe an apology from the officer. We recommend politely declining early resolution and requesting the investigation proceed.


You will most likely be interviewed by a police investigator and that interview recorded. You can have a lawyer with you. They will then interview the officers and review any relevant evidence. This can take several months.


Once the investigation is complete, you’ll receive a letter and report identifying steps taken and whether your complaint investigation has resulted in conduct substantiated as against the officer(s) or unsubstantiated. If misconduct was not found and you disagree you can request a review of this decision (must be requested within 30 days of the date of the Report of Investigation). The LECA will review the investigation and report back to you. If you disagree with this second level decision, you can if warranted request a judicial review by the Divisional Court (see above).


If misconduct was substantiated, depending on the seriousness it may go to a hearing or be dealt with as a unit level penalty. If it goes to a hearing, you will likely be a witness. This process could take months or even years to conclude and rarely results in serious penalty like the officer losing their job.


Police Investigating Police...

We provide all this information with a cautionary grain of salt. Police investigating police is not the kind of accountability that delivers justice to those who’ve experienced police violence and other misconduct. Their own stats demonstrate that the vast majority of complaints are deemed unsubstantiated.


If you’re looking for justice, you may not find it at the LECA. However, it is important to continue to create data on police misconduct (by filing complaints) and try to hold them accountable. Sending a message that no matter how the scales are tipped or power imbalanced, we will not resile or relent in our demands for justice and accountability.


Please contact our office if you would like advice on what the best course of action would be in your particular case. We are always available for a free consultation. Other great options are the Black Legal Action Centre and Human Rights Legal Support Centre.


If you are injured, you should consult with a civil lawyer first before filing your police complaint. In most cases, we offer services on a contingency fee basis - meaning you do not pay upfront legal costs (read more here).


Please note, complaints related to events which occurred prior to April 1 will still fall under the former Police Services Act regulations.


*We would like to be clear that if you want to know your rights in the context of police stops and interactions please reference these helpful resources below and contact a criminal lawyer ASAP:



 

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