Chief Justice of Ontario Reflects on Policing and Public Trust

Faculty of Law - Common Law Section
Social justice

By Common Law

Communication, Faculty of Law

Chief Justice of Ontario, Michael Tulloch, stands at the podium to give the Thomas Feeney memorial lecture
The Common Law Section was thrilled to host the Honourable Michael Tulloch, Chief Justice of Ontario and President of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, for the 2023 Thomas Feeney Annual Memorial Lecture.
A group of people stand in a semi-circle, looking at the camera
This year’s Lecture attracted some notable guests. L-R: Justice Lorne Sossin, Deputy Minister Shalene Curtis-Micallef, Dean Marie-Eve Sylvestre, Justice Jamal, Justice Karakatsanis, Chief Justice Tulloch, Justice Côté, Dean Kristen Boon,Provost Jill Scott

Chief Justice Tulloch delivered a thought-provoking and engaging address entitled "The Lessons I Learned on my Independent Commissions on Policing in Ontario." The event, organized in partnership with Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC), also marked the culmination of this year’s 1834 Fellowship Program, an important initiative supporting high-potential Black youth and increasing their capacity for civic leadership roles.

Named in honour of the year that slavery was abolished in Canada, the 1834 Fellowship will seek out 20 high-potential Black youth every year who wish to increase their capacity for civic leadership roles and support them in their skills and career development.

Kristen Boon, the Susan & Perry Dellelce Dean of the Common Law Section, emphasized the significance of the program "The 1834 Fellowship project represents an aspiration we share at the Faculty of Law, which is to build a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable society. We recognize that a strong legal community is nourished by inclusion, by diverse experiences and voices

“As a law school, our mission is to offer our students a multitude of experiential opportunities with unlimited possibilities, while empowering them to become champions of justice, fairness, and equality."

a room full of people listen to the lecture by Chief Justice Tulloch

Chief Justice Tulloch who had been appointed by the Ontario government to conduct two independent reviews on policing in 2017 and 2018, began his lecture by highlighting one of the central themes he learned through his work – the importance of fostering and maintaining public trust in law enforcement.

He stressed that the “erosion of public trust in our public institutions will lead to widespread disorder and ultimate disintegration of these institutions.”

The two commissions the Chief Justice completed were the Independent Police Oversight Review and the Independent Street Checks Review. He explained the latter: “Street checks, in colloquial terms, is the practice of…the police randomly stopping and collecting the personal identifying information of citizens.” He went on the explain the necessity of this commission: “Unfortunately, because of the nature of our society, what started as a seemingly valuable investigative tool devolved into a very discriminatory practice that lost its purpose and value.”

In addition to discussing the significance of trust, Chief Justice Tulloch delved into the complexities of policing in modern society. He pointed out that the history of injustice and brutality at the hands of the police continues to have a profound impact with marginalized and racialized communities today. Recognizing these legacies is crucial in shaping effective policing practices that prioritize accountability, legitimacy and equity.

Chief Justice Tulloch also shed light on some of the challenges faced by police officers in the line of duty, saying that “throughout the process of these investigations [he] gained a renewed appreciation for the role and functioning of police within our society.” He noted that law enforcement personnel risk their lives and well-being daily to protect and serve their communities, and pointed out the impact that social media and the media can have on spreading (sometimes mis-)information . “In spite of the headlines and news media we do live in one of the safest countries in the world, and we have some of the best police services and police officers in the world.”

Following his lecture, Timi Roberts, one of the graduating 1834 Fellows, thanked the Chief Justice for his  lecture. The exuberant 3rd-year law student at University of Windsor was in Ottawa, along with her peers in the 4th cohort of 1834 Fellows, presenting their research projects and policy solutions to Ministers as a final step in their 8-month fellowship program. Drawing from the Chief Justice Tulloch’s speech as well as the time she and her peers have been spending with MPs and even the Prime Minister, Timi highlighted the importance of “taking the time to talk to politicians to find common ground” on issues that matter. She also remarked a key takeaway from the lecture: “[citizens] have a responsibility to learn more about how to address the problem and become part of the solution.”

Timi Roberts speaking at the podium
Timi Roberts, 3rd-year law student at University of Windsor and one of the graduating 1834 Fellows, thanked the Chief Justice for his  lecture.

Thomas G. Feeney, in whose name a fund is established and whom this annual lecture honours, was the founding Dean of the Common Law Section. His name is indelibly attached to the study of common law at the University of Ottawa. Dean Feeney strove to build a law school whose graduates would have a solid foundation for the practice of law and would be of service to the public and to their profession in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada.