Toronto lawyers Julian Falconer and Sunil Mathai are representing two families of men shot in separate incidents by police. On June 24, 2009, Levi Schaeffer was fatally shot during an attempted arrest by Pickle Lake O.P.P. Constable Kris Wood while investigating a stolen boat. Douglas Minty was shot five times outside his mother’s home in Elmvale Ontario by OPP Constable Graham Seguin. The same police lawyer involved in both cases, Andrew MacKay counseled all the officers involved in each incident.
Falconer and Mathai sought a declaratory judgment that police officers involved in the shooting deaths violated the Police Services Act which states, “a police officer involved in the incident shall not communicate with any other police officer involved in the incident concerning their involvement in the incident until after the SIU has completed its interviews”.
Initially the Schaeffer and Minty application for declaratory judgment against the OPP was rejected by a lower court on the grounds that the actions of the police officers were moot and that the applicant families had “no practical interest and no legal interest” in the matter. In what Julian Falconer argues was an act of “police intimidation” the Ontario Police Association and former O.P.P. Comissioner Julian Fantino then sought $92,000 in legal costs from the families of Schaeffer and Minty.
The Schaeffer and Minty families appealed and on Nov. 15, 2011, the Ontario Court of Appeal the O.P.P. officers in question did not have the right to have their lawyer corroborate their stories and counsel them on writing notes. This allowed the officers to align their versions of the event before submitting the reports to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). The Ontario Police are now appealing the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Justice for Levi is a coalition seeking to connect these cases “with the hundreds and thousands of others that relate to police impunity, brutality, profiling, intimidation, corruption and the people’s struggle to ensure accountability to those who are policed”.
The Appeal Court found that “the use of legal counsel to advise or assist in preparation of notes would be inconsistent with the purpose of police notices and with the duty imposed on police officers to prepare them”.
Both Levi Schaeffer and Douglas Minty lived with mental health challenges, and in both cases police involved claim the men attempted to attack the officers with a knife.
On Jan. 31 at the Peterborough Public Library, Justice for Levi hosted a public screening of a newly produced 15-minute video that details the events in the legal proceedings against police.
According to a Justice for Levi spokesperson, Kenny Hone “the 3000 person strong OPP with millions of dollars at their disposal are trying to crush poor families who are only seeking justice.”
Rachelle Sauve, an organizer with Justice for Levi who spoke at the event, suggested that “not knowing what the heck happened” adds to the grief suffered by the families of those killed by police in Ontario. “Families, after losing someone because police are involved, are nearly criminalized themselves, or to say the least not given the finer touches of victim services.”
“The police killed my son and then treated me with the most incredible cruelty,” said Levi’s mother, Ruth Schaeffer, to the gathering of about 50 people.
Schaeffer remained calm and composed as she recounted how she “wasn’t allowed to get his body back until he was decomposing.”
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin released a report in December entitled Oversight, Undermined which names the Levi case as just one example of a systemic police disregard for the rights and interests of the public. Marin found that of 658 cases investigated by the SIU over three years that police did not fully cooperate in 227 of those. Marin argued, “the time is long overdue for the SIU to have its own constituting legislation providing it with the authority it requires to operate independently and effectively.” According to Marin both the Ministry of the Attorney General and the OPP treated the SIU as a “toothless tiger” that was “impotent” in its capacity to investigate civilian deaths involving police.
Ruth recalled “they sent me his last meal packed in a box with his clothing, so by the time I opened it, it was crawling, I still don’t have his I.D. back” adding, “as his mother I can’t bear the idea of anything he owned still in their possession.”