TORONTO – Ontario is the only province paying suspended police officers millions of dollars every year but, despite acknowledging widespread concern, none of the main party leaders is pledging to change the law if they win the June 12 election.
In fact, Premier Kathleen Wynne refused point blank to take a stand on the issue, saying a campaign is not the time to talk about it.
“I’m not going to weigh in on that at this point,” Wynne said. “I’m not going to develop policy here in the middle of an election.”
Ontario mandates full pay for suspended officers — in some cases even post-conviction — despite years of protests from police chiefs. Other provinces grant the chiefs partial or complete discretion to suspend an officer without pay.
Both the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats say they recognize voter unhappiness with the status quo.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she’s aware of concerns in communities across the province.
“I know this is something that is frustrating,” Horwath said. “It seems unfair to folks in many ways.”
Tory Leader Tim Hudak agreed.
“It’s a very good issue,” Hudak said. “We want to make sure that we have faith in our police services.”
Pay only stops in Ontario if an officer is imprisoned or fired — pending any appeals.
“We see situations where these cases drag on and on for years and then an officer will retire,” Horwath said.
“By that time, the officer will have been paid for a great deal of time and this frustrates the public.”
However, Horwath and Hudak would only offer to sit down with the parties to discuss the issue if they’re elected.
“I look forward to talking to police chiefs and the associations on how to resolve this,” Hudak said.
Wynne said “broader discussions” would be needed. Horwath said municipalities would have to be involved.
“We have a history here in Ontario that needs to be respected,” Horwath said.
“The solution to this problem lies in sitting down with the parties and hammering out a new way of doing things.”
A partial survey by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police found 52 officers on suspension in 2008 earned a total of about $4.8 million a year.
The president of the association, Chief Paul Cook, has heard ongoing complaints from residents.
“We’re paying these individuals to show up either at a police building or a courthouse, sign in and in many cases that’s all they have to do,” Cook told The Canadian Press last summer.
“That’s it for their 80-some thousand dollars. In this day and age how do we justify that?”
The Police Association of Ontario has said it’s important to recognize the presumption of innocence while the association of police services boards has proposed stopping pay when officers are dismissed, even if they appeal.