SIU probe into death after police administered anti-overdose drug ‘completely unfair’: union – Toronto

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The union representing Peel Regional Police officers is objecting to an investigation by Ontario’s police watchdog into the death of a Brampton man after officers administered the anti-opioid drug naloxone.

The Special Investigations Unit opened the probe Monday after police were called to a home in the McLaughlin Road and Queen Street West area for medical assistance. Officers began CPR on the man and administered naloxone, before the 36-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.

Const. Adrian Woolley, president of the Peel Regional Police Association, said the Special Investigations Unit’s probe is unnecessary and causes undue stress on officers “acting in good faith.” The association acts as a bargaining agent for 2,900 members.

“I feel that, when front line officers anywhere in the province of Ontario try to administer life-saving medication and then they get investigated by the SIU simply for trying to save someone’s life, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, I believe,” Woolley said on Tuesday.

Peel police officers have been carrying naloxone in nasal spray form since June 2017.

Five SIU investigators are working on the case, which is the first watchdog probe into a death involving the police administration of naloxone in Ontario.

‘We’re just trying to save the person’s life’

The SIU investigates all reports involving police where there is death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. 

Naloxone

Peel Regional Police officers administered naloxone to a Brampton man, 36, on Monday but the man was pronounced dead at the scene. (Sam Colbert/CBC)

After the investigation was announced, the police association expressed frustration on social media, calling on Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi to clarify the SIU’s mandate. 

Woolley declined to comment on the incident specifically, but speaking generally, he said SIU investigations into such cases are unwarranted.

“It’s not a result of any actions that the officers have done. We’re just trying to save the person’s life. Being investigated in attempts to save someone’s life from an opiate overdose is completely unfair,” he said.

Woolley said the SIU should follow the lead of B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office, which decided in December 2016 that it will not investigate medical incidents involving serious harm, death and police in B.C. where officers provided medical care, including naloxone or CPR, and attempted to save lives.

B.C. police services are still required to inform the agency if force was used, the person was in custody and if the person suffered serious harm or death due to a motor vehicle incident involving police or a police chase.

Opioid overdose

Peel police officers have been carrying naloxone in nasal spray form since June 2017 to help overdose victims. (CBC)

Woolley said he understands that deaths must be investigated to determine causes.

“We’re not saying there shouldn’t be an investigation with regards to why the party died. But I think if you are investigating an officer for administering life-saving medication, that doesn’t make sense,” Woolley said.

Up to police watchdog to decide if investigation warranted

For its part, the SIU said it made its position clear in a Feb. 15 letter from SIU Director Tony Loparco to Bryan Larkin, Waterloo Regional Police Chief and president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.  

“Incidents involving the administration, attempted administration or non-administration of naloxone by police officers in the course of interactions with persons who sustain serious injury or death could reasonably be captured by the SIU’s investigative jurisdiction,” Loparco writes.

Therefore, chiefs of police must “immediately notify the SIU of these incidents.”

Loparco adds: “Some notifications will result in the investigation being discontinued at an early stage, some may entail full investigations, and others may result in no file being opened at all.”

But he said it is up to the oversight agency to decide how it proceeds. 

Zoe Dodd

Zoe Dodd, a harm reduction worker, says the SIU investigation may shed light on whether police need more training to save lives using naloxone or perhaps more medication. (CBC)

Loparo said the SIU is “regularly” notified of cases where police provide emergency medical treatment and serious injuries and deaths occur.

“I see no reason to carve out an exception for naloxone cases,” he says.

In the letter, Loparco also takes exception to the notion that officers might be discouraged from attempting to save lives with naloxone, knowing the SIU might be called.

“The SIU rejects the contention that the vast majority of police officers might do anything less than act swiftly in the discharge of their foremost duty, namely, the preservation of life, for fear that their conduct will be subject to a fair and independent investigation.”

‘People will possibly need multiple doses’

Toronto harm reduction worker Zoe Dodd, meanwhile, welcomes the SIU investigation, saying it could help to determine if police officers are fully trained or have enough medication on hand to revive overdose victims.

“I’d be interested to know if the police have extra doses on hand and if they understand that this drug supply is so toxic that we are in a situation where people will possibly need multiple doses when you are responding. The two doses that you may have might not be enough,” she said.

Dodd said people who use drugs, their family members and friends have had to respond to the opioid crisis, while it has taken a long time for police to be equipped with naloxone.

“If police are going to be at the scene, they should know how to respond.”

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