Message from Minister Yasir Naqvi

Ontario recently announced that it would hold public consultations to help develop the Strategy for a Safer Ontario, the province’s new blueprint for effective, sustainable and community-based policing.

The foundation of this new strategy must be safer, stronger communities because we know that when communities plan together and work together they achieve better results for their residents.

Ontario is starting from a strong foundation, as it already is one of the safest jurisdictions in North America.

We also know, however, that the issues faced by police officers and the communities they serve are more complex than ever anticipated when the current Police Services Act and policing framework were developed in 1990.

The world has changed fundamentally in the past 25 years and so has policing. More crime is now happening online, like fraud and child exploitation; technology is playing a greater role in both society and policing; and police are increasingly being called on to assist with issues that range from mental health and addiction to homelessness, marginalization and stigma.

A police officer should not, at the same time, need to be a social worker, mental health worker or youth counsellor - but these are the roles we often call on them to fill.

It is time for a new approach and a new strategy for community safety and well-being in the 21st century so we can create even stronger communities and give police the tools to build an even safer Ontario.

The Strategy for a Safer Ontario will lay out this new approach. It will be guided by the belief that the police and the residents they serve are part of the same community, and that empowering these communities and giving them the tools to proactively address issues will help create more opportunities and improve outcomes for local residents.

It will reflect the diversity and needs of our urban centres, rural areas, and First Nations communities, and will recognize that we need everyone involved to make sure we are providing the right response, at the right time, by the right personnel. And it is a strategy that knows communities are safest when there is a true partnership between them. This is a partnership that is only possible when policing is carried out in a respectful way in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

These principles must be at the very heart of the new model for community safety and well-being and must be reflected in the lived experiences of individuals in every interaction with police. Promoting public confidence, enhancing trust, and creating relationships built on respect is a key focus that will be woven through all the elements of the strategy.

I hope that you will share your views and provide feedback on the strategy’s key pillars: community safety and well-being, core policing duties, training, governance, accountability and oversight, use of technology and First Nations policing. In those consultations, we are looking for ideas that foster collaboration and cooperation and empower local communities – because we know that when communities plan together and work together, they get better results.

Our goal is to build a proactive, sustainable and effective model of policing, focused on community safety and well-being, for all police services including the Ontario Provincial Police, municipal services and in First Nations communities. This will help police officers focus on what they do best – responding to emergencies, solving crimes and building even safer communities.

I thank you in advance for your feedback and advice as we develop this Strategy for a Safer Ontario.

Yasir Naqvi signature

Yasir Naqvi,
Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services

A new vision for community safety: the Strategy for a Safer Ontario

To ensure that Ontario’s approach to policing aligns with 21st century community needs, we have launched consultations on the development of the Strategy for a Safer Ontario, which will provide a new framework to:

  • promote a collaborative approach to community safety and well-being
  • improve interactions between police and vulnerable Ontarians
  • clarify core police responsibilities and support more effective community safety delivery
  • enhance civilian police governance, accountability and oversight
  • explore the expanded use of technology to support community safety
  • update education and training requirements for police officers
  • address the sustainability of First Nations policing

The new strategy will guide the province’s decision making around changes to the way community safety services are delivered.

Community safety and well-being

The cornerstone of the new strategy will be a focus on community safety and well-being and a goal to improve collaborative partnerships between police, the public and other sectors such as education, health care and social services, to strengthen relationships between police and the citizens they serve and protect.

Under a new model that places community safety and well-being firmly at the centre, community partners, including municipal governments, local police services, social service providers and representatives from the health and education sector would work together to identify issues such as homelessness or substance abuse and then develop community safety and well-being plans.

Once in place, community safety and well-being plans will help meet the diverse needs of distinct communities and ensure that those in need of help receive the right response, at the right time, and by the right service provider.

Examples of successful, locally driven approaches that are helping keep communities safe include:

  • New Opportunities and Hope (N.O.A.H.): Started in Sudbury, N.O.A.H. is a collaborative partnership among more than 40 different community agencies. Core partners include a child welfare organization, police, a district health unit and an Aboriginal organization. Since its creation, N.O.A.H. has helped partners come together to share knowledge, meet residents with identified needs, provide accessible resources and referrals and create healthier, safer communities.
  • Connectivity: Launched in Cambridge in 2014, Connectivity brings 22 health and social service agencies together on a weekly basis to collaboratively and proactively address situations of elevated risk and help individuals access the services they need. Connectivity’s long-term goal is to reduce emergency room admissions, child protection cases, prosecutions, violent crime and youth victimization. To date Connectivity has addressed 174 situations.

Discussion questions

Question 1:

How would you describe the relationship between the police and the members of your community?

Question 2:

Are there any ways in which the relationship between the police and members of your community can be improved to further enhance trust and respect and carried out in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to build even safer communities? If yes, please explain.

Question 3:

What is the most effective way to engage a broad spectrum of community representatives from diverse backgrounds and interests in the development of these plans? And how can we ensure broad engagement with community representatives who reflect the different backgrounds, interests, challenges and beliefs of their communities in the development of these plans?

Serving vulnerable individuals

Police are increasingly responding to calls for service that are often not criminal in nature. For example, the Ontario Provincial Police responded to 24,000 more calls in 2014 than in 2009. These service calls often involve vulnerable individuals with issues that range from mental health and addiction to homelessness, marginalization and stigma who may be better assisted by other community, health or social service providers.

Although the majority of people with mental health issues never come into contact with police, police officers often help individuals who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

In 2011, the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that approximately 1 in 20 police calls for service involved persons with a mental illness. Some studies have reported that roughly one quarter of people with a mental illness who come into contact with the police have had more than five police interactions.

Often the interactions between police and people with mental health issues are non-criminal in nature, and 40 per cent of encounters between the police and people with a mental illness involve non-violent, less serious criminal acts (e.g., theft, disorderly conduct, drug possession). Although police encounters involving the use of force are rare, persons with a mental illness are currently over-represented in interactions that involve police shootings and fatalities.

Homelessness in Canada has also been on the rise over the last several decades. According to The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014, issued by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, on any given night, an estimated 35,000 Canadians are homeless and 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year, and increased interactions with police.

This show that a wide range of approaches are needed to address the diverse needs of Ontario’s vulnerable population, including seniors suffering from dementia, homeless youth, those with mental health concerns and individuals with addiction issues. Ontario’s goal is to improve outcomes for Ontarians by ensuring those in crisis are connected with appropriate resources and services as soon as possible.

Discussion questions

Question 4:

What are the challenges during interactions between police and vulnerable people, especially those who may be experiencing a mental health crisis?

Question 5:

To best serve vulnerable individuals in your community, what resources, including training, should be available to police services? What additional supports might be needed to better support police in assisting vulnerable populations?

Modernizing what police do

Under Ontario’s Police Services Act, there are currently five core police services that are to be delivered by every police service in the province:

  1. Crime prevention, such as public education programs and community engagement.
  2. Law enforcement, including community patrol, traffic management and criminal investigations.
  3. Victim assistance, by considering the victims' rights and treating them and their families with courtesy, compassion and respect.
  4. Keeping the peace, including public order maintenance such as crowd management.
  5. Emergency response services, such as tactical units or hostage rescue teams.

Delivery of community safety services

While the duties of police services and their officers are outlined in the Police Services Act, the legislation does not address the increase in police officers performing non-traditional roles such as responding to animal welfare complaints, security for sporting events and removal of debris from highways.

To address the increased strain on police services as well as the rising cost of policing, the province is considering how community safety needs could be delivered by a continuum of personnel such as by-law officers and special constables (e.g., campus security, transit safety officers) to ensure the right response, at the right time, by the right personnel in a way that allows police to focus on their core responsibility of keeping communities safe.

Discussion questions

Question 6:

What roles or duties should only be performed by a trained police officer?

Question 7:

What public safety roles or duties (e.g., special event security, court security, prisoner transportation) could be done by public safety personnel (e.g., by-law officers, special constables) in your community and under what circumstances?

Question 8:
Do you see a role for social service personnel in carrying out certain public safety duties such as situations involving an individual’s health and well-being?


Technology plays a role in helping police services to keep communities safe and ensure accountability of police officers. From emergency dispatch to information management, the way police services and officers use technology is constantly evolving. Given the pace at which technology advances, it is important to consider how our legislation might facilitate better use of high-tech tools such as licence plate readers and body worn cameras to enhance public safety and help police do their jobs more efficiently.

Discussion questions

Question 9:

Are there any forms of technology that you believe would enhance community safety? If yes, please describe.

Question 10:

Do you have any concerns about privacy associated with greater use of technology by police services? If yes, please explain what your concerns are.

Education and training

Currently, the minimum education requirement for police officer applicants is grade 12. Based on responses received from the Basic Constable Intake survey, 96% of the 2014 police recruits have at least some college or university education, with 91% having completed college, university or both. Ontario is reviewing this minimum education requirement to ensure that police officers have the appropriate level of education to support the delivery of community safety services.

Once hired by a police service, police recruits in Ontario are currently required to complete a 12-week basic constable training program. This program is designed to support and ensure the delivery of police services that meet the needs of Ontario’s diverse communities. Along with a number of courses on provincial and federal law, including training on human and civil rights, new recruits learn about the various principles of anti-racism and diversity through case studies, direct instruction of policing standards and principles, and interactive learning through practical scenarios. Basic constable training also includes courses on:

  • leadership skills
  • diversity in policing
  • evidence collection
  • defensive tactics
  • use of force
  • domestic violence
  • community policing

Further to this initial training, officers are required to go through recertification training for certain areas of their duties (e.g., use of force) annually and individual police services may offer additional training to their officers based on operational needs.

Discussion questions

Question 11:

What skills and education do you think is important for police officers to have?

Question 12:

Is there any other training you would recommend?

Governance and accountability

Oversight of police and public complaints process

Police oversight plays a vital role in supporting public trust in police services, their officers and the services they provide.

In Ontario, the Police Services Act created three bodies to provide independent and transparent oversight of police forces: the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, and the Special Investigation Unit.

These oversight bodies are responsible for overseeing different areas relating to police services, such as public complaints for officers and services, investigations relating to incidents between officers and citizens, and disciplinary processes.

These oversight bodies are considered independent civilian oversight bodies because they are not staffed by police officers and have no affiliation with any police service.

Oversight bodyResponsibility
Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD)
  • responsible for resolving complaints (e.g., misconduct complaints) made by members of the public
  • reviews local police service decisions relating to public complaints at the request of complainants
  • reviews issues of a systemic nature that give rise to complaints.
Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC)
  • conducts investigations and inquiries into the conduct of chiefs of police, police officers, special constables and members of Police Services Boards
  • hears appeals of police disciplinary penalties
  • determines adequacy of police budgets
  • approves the abolition of police forces
  • takes measures if a police force fails to comply with prescribed standards.
Special Investigation Unit (SIU)
  • conducts criminal investigations into circumstances involving police and civilians that have resulted in death or serious injury, including allegations of sexual assault.

Discussion questions

Question 13:

Are you familiar with any of the following police oversight bodies in Ontario? (Check one or more answers as they apply to you.)

  • Office of the Independent Police Review Director
  • Ontario Civilian Police Commission
  • Special Investigation Unit

Question 14:

How can the province increase public awareness of the role of police oversight bodies and accountability mechanisms in Ontario?

Question 15:

Have you ever had any encounters or experiences with any of the following oversight bodies? (Check one or more answers as they apply to you.)

  • Office of the Independent Police Review Director (go to question 17)
  • Ontario Civilian Police Commission (go to question 17)
  • Special Investigation Unit (go to question 17)
  • No experience or encounter with any of the above oversight bodies (go to question 17)
  • Don’t recall (go to question 17)
  • Prefer not to answer (go to question 17)

Please tell us in detail what worked and what did not in that experience.

Question 16:

In your opinion, are there any aspects of the police oversight process that could be enhanced? Please elaborate on your response.

Civilian police governance

Governance in policing is based on three key principles:

  • providing accountability to the public
  • promoting independence in policing
  • translating community-defined needs into effective policing.

Police services boards consist of an equal number of members appointed from both the regional or municipal council and the province, with one additional community member being appointed by the municipal council.

Civilian governance for most police services in Ontario is the responsibility of police services boards. Every municipality in Ontario that maintains a police service, or is policed by the OPP under contract, is required to have a police services board. Boards work to:

  • prescribe a framework and strategic direction under which a police service will operate and make decisions (e.g., development of a business plan)
  • ensure the delivery of effective police services in their community
  • ensure that police services operate without inappropriate political interference

Some of the key responsibilities for police services boards currently include:

  • determining objectives and priorities with respect to police services
  • selection of the Chief of Police or the Detachment Commander
  • monitoring the performance of the Chief of Police or Detachment Commander
  • reviewing the Chief of Police’s or Detachment Commander’s administration of the complaints system.

Discussion questions

Question 17:

In your view, should police services boards oversee police in every community, including those policed by the OPP, and what could the province do to ensure that police services boards better reflect the needs of the communities that they serve?

Question 18:

What type of information would you like to see police services boards provide to the public?

Question 19:

What type of skills should board members possess in order to effectively carry out their roles and responsibilities? Please check all that apply.

  • Policy development skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Facilitation skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Financial skills
  • Other, please specify______________________________
  • Prefer not to answer

Question 20:

How can we make police services boards more responsive and effective to the needs of the communities they serve?