On Tuesday, April 13, the Honourable Gloria Epstein released findings and recommendations following a three-year review into Toronto Police Service missing persons investigations.
Members of the Toronto Police Service and the public and many stakeholders were interviewed for this report.
Missing and Missed: Report of the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations focused on the Toronto Police Service’s approach in missing persons investigations, particularly in relation to LGBTQ2S+ and marginalized and vulnerable communities and provide recommendations to the Service.
Chief James Ramer and Toronto Police Services Board Chair Jim Hart spoke after the release of the report. Their statements and the media conference are below:
TPSB Chair Jim Hart's statement:
Today, we received the Report by the Honourable Gloria J. Epstein, Head of the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations. This extremely comprehensive Report, a culmination of almost three years of diligent and dedicated research, detailed analysis, as well as consultation with Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ and other communities, is forthright and powerful.
In June 2018, the Board approved Terms of Reference for the Review and, subsequently, appointed retired Judge Gloria Epstein, formerly a justice of the Court of Appeal of Ontario, to lead the Review. She did so with her Review Team, including lead counsel, Mark Sandler. The Board established this Review on the basis of Terms of Reference that were compiled by a diverse, community-based working group. Its creation was prompted, in large part, by the tragic deaths of members of Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ communities and by questions concerning how the Toronto Police Service conducted its investigations into their disappearances.
The Review was asked to evaluate how the Service has conducted, and is conducting, missing persons investigations, particularly in relation to LGBTQ2S+ and vulnerable or marginalized communities, and to make recommendations to promote efficient, effective and bias-free investigations and better police relations with affected communities. The purpose of the Review was to not only examine how both the Board and Service can improve our policies, procedures, training and culture, but also to restore public confidence in our police service, and to continue to build bridges with members of all the communities we serve.
We want to thank Judge Epstein and her team for their hard work and diligence and their sincere commitment to bringing the community together in looking for answers and seeking a transformative approach as we forge a path forward.
It is difficult for us to see the many ways in which the Board and Service did not meet the standards that residents of Toronto can and do expect of us. But, it is vital for us to see what went wrong, and importantly, the ways in which we can and must be better.
We fell short of certain policing requirements and of our responsibilities to effectively engage the communities we serve. This occurred at a particularly challenging time, when they feared for their safety, and for the safety of their loved ones. With these significant shortcomings, we did not inspire the public trust and confidence that is essential to democratic policing. We cannot let that happen again.
We accept all of the Review’s findings and commit to implementing all of the recommendations. Of course, this report deserves, and requires, a thoughtful and deep review. We must assess each of the recommendations, not in isolation, but as part of a larger and broader context of police reform that is now underway.
The Review has made recommendations that are concrete and significant. Without a doubt, when implemented, they will improve our ability to investigate missing persons in our city, they will improve policing generally, and community relations upon which good policing must, always, be based.
As Judge Epstein was clear to emphasize: the cost of not acting is not a cost our communities or our members can bear.
This Review, and its conclusions, are, and must be viewed as an ongoing and dynamic work in progress, where we constantly reassess, where we check in, develop expectations in partnership with the public, acknowledging gaps, working to fill them, together, building on successes, as we move forward.
I speak for the entire Board when I say that we welcome Judge Epstein’s findings, including those that relate to further enhancing the important role that the Board is responsible for discharging. The work to modernize the Board’s civilian governance and oversight function has been occurring during the almost three years of the Review’s work. Chief Ramer has been ensuring the Board receives relevant information about the Service’s anticipated and ongoing operations so that the Board is in a position to ask questions and better engage in its governance and oversight functions. Of course, the additional recommendations in the Report will only serve to enhance and institutionalize the improvements that have already been made.
Today, we acknowledge the past that this report documents, and commit to not just a better way of moving forward, but a renewed approach to working with communities, and acknowledging and working to address systemic discrimination in its many manifestations. We must see the public as a valued partner, with information, perspectives, knowledge and insight that the police may not always have, combining this with our professional expertise so that we can do our best to serve and protect the public, every single member of the public. Those who speak out, those who have networks, those who can access systems, but also, those who cannot, who are disenfranchised, marginalized, voiceless.
This Report is not simply a document filled with facts and recommendations. It represents the voices of the missed, the voices of the missing, and the aspirations of the people of this great city for what they expect in their police service. It is a call to action we will work together with our communities to answer, to rebuild that vital trust so essential to our collective community safety.
Chief James Ramer's statement:
I have been a police officer for more than 40 years. I serve this city
alongside the thousands of dedicated police officers and civilians of the Toronto Police Service. As Chief, I see many good things at work that I am proud of every day.
I can also say, that even after 40 years of policing, I can still learn. And, indeed, I have learned a lot from this Report. Many chapters were difficult to read, and certainly humbling.
Judge Epstein has given our Service much to reflect on about who we are, and how we carry out the jobs we are entrusted to do.
Her findings of failures in how we conducted some missing persons investigations, particularly those in marginalized or vulnerable communities, are accepted - and the shortcomings she identified, are inexcusable.
I want to thank Judge Epstein for her commitment to this important work. Her Report will guide the Toronto Police Service as we pursue the fundamental change that is needed to begin the crucial process of reconciliation with those communities we have let down. As Chief, I am confirming today that we accept, and will act, on every one of her recommendations.
Judge Epstein’s Report lays bare that there were mistakes and missteps in the way that missing persons investigations were handled, and in particular, those that related to people from Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ communities and in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley area.
Although, as Judge Epstein states, the deficiencies were neither overt nor intentional, there were too many times that we did not live up to what is expected – and in some cases - required of us to keep you safe and the consequences were grave, affecting lives in the most profound ways.
Much of what Judge Epstein uncovered reflects organizational shortcomings, and has shone a light on the fact that some of our processes made it difficult for our members to achieve successful outcomes in their investigations.
As an organization, we acknowledge the mistakes made, the process failures, and the gaps. The Service accepts the responsibility for these systemic issues, including not meeting provincial standards in our use of Major Case Management tools, including Power Case.
We will work to ensure each of our members is supported and receives the right resources, supervision, training and education needed to serve all of Toronto’s communities, and to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
In her report, Judge Epstein also addresses how the Service, and its leadership, communicated about these investigations and cases to the public, as they were unfolding. The Toronto Police Service made statements that discounted the theory that a serial killer was operating in the Village, and left people with the impression that victims were not coming forward. These statements were incorrect.
We know that many in Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ communities felt and still feel that our communications deepened a sense of mistrust between us. That was not the Service’s intention and we apologize for the anger, hurt and damage that caused.
Others have said we were not hearing them, that their fears were not taken seriously, and even, that they were blamed for the victimization they experienced. None of this is acceptable. None of this should have happened.
And as we all know, tragically, lives were lost. To the family, friends and community members left behind, we apologize. I had an opportunity to speak to some of you today – you deserved better and we deeply regret the impact our actions, and inactions, had, and continue to have, on your lives.
Know that the action we will take from this day forward will seek to honour the legacies of those you lost, and the impact those losses had on you, the communities they were a part of, and our city as a whole.
We understand, however, that saying “sorry” only means something if it is followed by demonstrated and sustained action, and a commitment to the marginalized and vulnerable communities most impacted by the issues outlined in this Report. We vow to listen to you, and to act.
We appreciate that the Report acknowledges the skills and commitment of our members, both sworn and civilian. And, that there was excellent police work done by the Toronto Police Service in some of these cases. We will continue to try to do better. We must. And, the good faith and intent of our members will ground our path forward.
We have only had the Report for a few days and we will require time to assess each of the recommendations. We recognize that we will need help to do all that we need to do now. We will very carefully consider our existing resources and will work with our communities and the city to continue the public conversations about our budget.
As the Review team acknowledges, the Service has taken steps to improve the way it conducts missing persons investigations and to better serve vulnerable and marginalized communities in Toronto. The introduction of Service-wide anti-bias training and the creation of a dedicated Missing Persons Unit are examples of our members forging ahead to make progress over the last three years.
I further commit today that we will meet the Review’s deadlines for planning, implementation and public reporting as outlined in the Report.
As Chief, I am acting now to implement the following recommendations as quickly as possible:
I can say today that:
- We will double the number of investigators in the Missing Persons Unit from 4 to 8, as recommended by Judge Epstein,
- We will ensure that a Missing Persons Coordinator is assigned to cover each Division across the city
- And, we are already exploring how to integrate civilian support persons into the work of the Missing Persons Unit to provide expert social and other supports to the loved ones of those who have gone missing.
Looking forward, I am also appointing Superintendent Pauline Gray, head of our Homicide and Sex Crimes Unit, to co-lead a planning and implementation team that will include modernizing our work with communities and ensuring we consider their perspectives, insight and knowledge so that we can ensure the Toronto Police Service is serving and protecting every single member of the public.
We recognize that how we implement these recommendations will affect how successful we are in making the necessary repairs to community trust in the police.
We are committed to real partnerships with communities from the outset to work with us on the effective implementation of these recommendations. And through this process, we will work to understand and remove the barriers that exist between us. And, I am committing that this process will be public and transparent and will include updates on our implementation progress.
In closing, I want to again thank Judge Epstein and her Review team. I know that the dedicated and professional members of the Toronto Police Service will answer the Review’s call to action.
For more information, visit the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigation, missingpersonsreview.ca.