Toronto Police torture tactics drew attention when in 2009 the Ontario Court of Appeal marked a critical judgment on “tortuous” police conduct on two suspects to obtain evidence. In the reports, Neil Singh and his alleged accomplice were “tortured” by a Toronto police officer in order to obtain a confession for a robbery. The conviction was stayed by the Court of Appeal due to the egregious police misconduct.
In recent years, media circuits have narrowed in on incidents of police brutality and related acts. Here, the two suspects were arrested several months after $350 000 worth of copper piping was stolen from a Toronto warehouse. During the interrogation, the suspects were deliberately threatened, beaten, and denied their rights to counsel by police. In the testimony of Singh and Maharaj, they describe the police brutality they suffered from having their head slammed against a wall to being repeatedly punched in their head and back. In fact, Maharaj’s assault left him suffering with a fractured rib. The police officers prolonged their intimidation tactics and assault on the suspects until a confession was coerced.
The alarming case addresses the heightened concern over police torture and intimidation tactics. What makes the decision to stay the charges even more compelling is the fact that the police did not contest or respond to the allegations. In fact, one of the police officers involved in the beating apparently thought “it’s part of (his) job”. Is assaulting suspects to secure evidence really considered part of the job?
Where do we draw the line between appropriate and beyond necessary investigative measures? In any circumstance, is the police warranted to use verbal and physical intimidation and assault? The obvious Charter implications are immediate. The sanctity of the criminal justice process relies on fairness. Intimidation, threat and blatant regard for human life defeat any such principal.
There are other crucial considerations to take into account. The appeal court acknowledges the potential human rights violations caused by such misconduct that could be characterized as “torture” under the Criminal Code. All persons are entitled to basic human rights and rights to counsel upon arrest. Given the implications of such police misconduct, what disciplinary measures are taken to hold police officers accountable? Although an internal investigation was launched during this case, no charges or further disciplinary consequences come from it.
Moreover, in the ruling of the trial judge it was expressed that while the behaviour of the police officers was unacceptable it did not impact the fairness of the trial. Singh was sentenced one less year due to the police misconduct. Is the violation of one’s right deemed acceptable to obtain necessary evidence? The Court’s decision to stay the robbery charges sends a clear message that such police behaviour will not be condoned in spite of evidence obtained during the investigation.
As a result of police intimidation and use of brutality, the potential for false confessions and involuntary statements are immediate. The courts have long recognized that such tactics have no place in eliciting appropriate evidence and testimony. In practice, the line of discretion for the purpose of interrogations and investigative work is never clear-cut. The implications of this Court of Appeal may be serious. It will be interesting to see how the decision is handled by lower courts and its effects on police practice.
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