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Police Power Curtailed in Supreme Court Decision

Ruling prevents cops from consulting with lawyers before writing notes

by Dawn Paley

Levi Shaeffer and his mother Ruth. PHOTO: Coalition Justice for Levi Shaeffer
Levi Shaeffer and his mother Ruth. PHOTO: Coalition Justice for Levi Shaeffer

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this morning that police are not allowed to have lawyers vet their notes when they witness killings or other acts of violence by fellow police officers.

"I am absolutely elated that the hardship of the last four years and the finacial stability of the Minty and Schaeffer families have resulted in a reality where families who lose their loved ones to police in the future will have some confidence that the information they get about their loved one's death is accurate, which is something the Mintys and the Shaeffers will never have, but that we hope to leave as a legacy of this work," said Rachelle Sauvé, a founding member of the Coalition Justice for Levi Schaeffer.

In the Wood v. Schaeffer ruling, six of the nine judges agreed that "Permitting police officers to consult with counsel before their notes are prepared is an anathema to the very transparency that the legislative scheme aims to promote."

The ruling continues "Permitting officers to consult with counsel before preparing their notes runs the risk that the focus of the notes will shift away from the officer’s public duty toward his or her private interest in justifying what has taken place.  This shift would not be in accord with the officer’s duty."

Though the ruling is positive for people across Canada, it is a far cry from justice. "There is no justice for my son. There is no way of me procuring any justice for my son, it's not going to happen. There there is absolutely no venue in this society to get any justice for my son," said Ruth Schaeffer, Levi's mother. "My son was shot and killed four years ago where there were no witnesses, and although I believe based on the testimony of the police officers involved at the inquest, there was absolutely no need for him to be killed, and there's nothing i can do about it."

Shaeffer gave up her right to sue in order for this case to be heard at the Supreme Court. "I'm very pleased that the Supreme Court of Canada came down with this particular ruling, it is historical, and it means that it will be the very first time in Canadian history that the citizenry of the country can have at least some degree of belief that the police are not keeping two sets of notes and they're not getting help from a lawyer to write those notes," said Schaeffer via phone from Toronto.

The grassroots campaign to hold officers to account began shortly after Ontario Provincial Police killed Levi Shaeffer on June 24th, 2009 outside of Pickle Lake, Ontario. "The only other person there and alive to witness what occurred was a second officer- the first officer’s partner," according to the Coalition Justice for Levi Shaeffer. "The Special Investigations Unit- a civilian law enforcement agency- was called in, as mandated by the Police Services Act, to investigate circumstances involving police and civilians which have resulted in death." Supervisors instructed the two officers to wait until they had consulted with a lawyer to write up their notes about what took place that day, which later resulted in no charges being laid, as the SIU head could not determine wrongdoing.

The family of Douglas Minty, who was killed by police in 2009, joined with the Shaeffer family in challenging the police on their claim that the current regulations provided for them to consult with lawyers before writing up their notes. Today's ruling confirms that in fact police must respect the regulations as they stand and may not consult with lawyers before writing their duty notes.

UPDATED December 19, 15:30.

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dawn (dawn paley)
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Journalist, co-founder VMC, ex-editor & board member with Media Co-op. Author, Drug War Capitalism.

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