Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Families of Men Shot Dead by Police Hail Top Court Ruling on Officer Notes

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Families of Men Shot Dead by Police Hail Top Court Ruling on Officer Notes

Article excerpt

Families win huge note battle against police

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TORONTO - Families of two mentally-challenged men shot dead by police hailed a powerful Supreme Court of Canada decision Thursday that forbids police officers involved in such incidents from having lawyers vet their field notes.

The involvement of lawyers is "anathema" to transparency and public trust in the note-taking process, the court ruled in rejecting police arguments that they should be able to talk to counsel before writing in their memo books.

"Permitting consultation with counsel before notes are prepared 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," Justice Michael Moldaver wrote for the majority.

"This shift would not be in accordance with the officer's duty."

In separate incidents in June 2009, Ontario Provincial Police shot dead Doug Minty, 59, and Levi Schaeffer, 30. The families spent the past four years arguing against lawyer-approved notes.

Minutes after the decision, Evelyn Minty, 86, fought back tears as she said the battle had been a long, hard struggle but worth it.

"It has helped other families and made police more accountable for what they do," Minty said. "That is what we wanted."

Schaeffer's mother Ruth said the ruling was a necessary step toward ensuring accountability from public servants who wield extraordinary powers.

"I did not do this for my son. My son is dead. There is nothing I can do for my son. I did this because I have grandchildren and other people have grandchildren," Schaeffer said.

"If a police officer cannot even write his notes without consulting a lawyer, then my grandchildren and nobody else's grandchildren are safe."

The 6-3 high court ruling clarifies regulations that govern Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, the independent agency which investigates death or serious injuries involving police.

In dissenting, three justices argued everyone should have the right to consult a lawyer. …

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