SIU clears officers of wrongdoing after discharge of ‘less-lethal’ firearm in Picton

The provincial Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has concluded its investigation into the discharge of a “less-lethal” firearm during a July 2023 incident in Picton, Prince Edward County (PEC).

The incident, which involved reports of someone shooting a firearm on a property in the area of County Roads 5 and 6, occurred on Sunday, Jul. 23, 2023, however, the PEC Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) had prior dealings with the 66-year-old man alleged to have fired the shots, according to the SIU report on the investigation. SIU Director Joseph Martino noted in the report that “about a week prior to” the July 23 incident, the man in question – referred to as the complainant in the report – had “sent a letter” to the PEC OPP “indicating that if police attended his residence, he would shoot them.”

After receiving reports of the man firing rounds at his property, PEC OPP officers attended the address, where they were “confronted by the complainant armed with a long gun.” According to Martino’s report, officers employed the use of an Anti-Riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN) – a firearm that shoots less-lethal rounds of rubber bullets or beanbags. In total, five ARWEN rounds were fired, two of which struck the man, and a police dog was also deployed. The man suffered minor injuries as a result of dog bites, but his shoulder was injured during the arrest. The man was the arrested and taken to Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital for treatment.

As previously reported, the SIU was contacted the same day and enacted their mandate. The SIU is a civilian agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault and, according to the Special Investigations Unit Act, an ARWEN is considered a firearm, which is defined as “a barreled weapon from which any shot, bullet, or other projectile can be discharged and that is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to a person.”

According to Martino’s report, two SIU investigators and one SIU forensic investigator were assigned to the investigation, which involved the 66-year-old complainant being interviewed, as well as two civilian witnesses. All three were interviewed the day after the incident. The “Subject Official (SO)” – which is the official (in this case, a PEC OPP officer) whose ”conduct appears, in the opinion of the SIU Director, to have been a cause of the incident under investigation” (in this case, the discharge of an ARWEN at a civilian) – declined interview and to provide notes, as is the SO’s legal right, the report notes.

Additionally, the SIU interviewed one OPP officer who was a witness, and reviewed the notes of three other witness officers.

The report details that a person contacted the OPP at approximately 10:18 a.m. on July 23 to report that the complainant was shooting a gun. The complainant had told the person who contacted police that he would be waiting in his driveway for police to arrive.

“The caller further indicated that the complainant had mental health issues,” the report notes.

Searching their databases, the OPP found that the complainant was “flagged on police records as hating police,” whom he blamed for a family member’s death, the report states. According to police communications recordings reviewed, an officer on scene read out a mission statement (“namely, to safely contain, evacuate and negotiate the Complainant’s safe surrender with utmost regards to public safety”) at approximately 11:12 a.m. By 11:23 a.m., “it was noted that one person was in custody,” and “starting at about 11:25 a.m., it was noted that the complainant had sustained a dog bite injury,” according to the SIU.

The SIU said that investigators further reviewed the body-worn camera footage of the SO, and obtained the following records from the OPP between July 24 and November 17, 2023:

  • Record of computer-assisted dispatch
  • Communications recordings
  • Body-worn camera footage
  • OPP pictures of dog bite
  • Officer day shift logs
  • Witness statements
  • Occurrence details
  • The complainants’ letters to the OPP
  • The notes of the aforementioned witness officers

The SIU also obtained the complainant’s medical records, the report notes.

After outlining the events that occurred during the July 23 incident in detail (which can be viewed in full on the SIU website), as well as the relevant legislation (all of which was within the Criminal Code of Canada), Director Martino offered his analysis and decision.

“On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the SO committed a criminal offence in connection with the discharge of the ARWEN,” Martino wrote.

“Pursuant to section 25(1) of the Criminal Code, police officers are immune from criminal liability for force used in the course of their duties provided such force was reasonably necessary in the execution of an act that they were required or authorized to do by law.”

Noting that the officer in question and all other officers responding to the scene “had cause to believe that the complainant had fired a long gun while making a thinly-veiled threat of gun violence against the OPP when they arrived at his property,” Martino said he was “satisfied” that the complaint was subject to arrest for having possession and use of a weapon dangerous to the public peace.

“I am also satisfied that the force used by the SO in aid of the Complainant’s arrest, namely, ARWEN discharges, was legally justified. The SO and his colleagues would clearly have apprehended a real and imminent risk to their lives when the Complainant emerged on his driveway near the roadway with a rifle in hand and then turned left to walk in their direction. Moreover, the broader safety of the public was also in danger as the residents of an adjacent property were still in their home, effectively precluding a withdrawal from the scene. On this record, I am unable to reasonably conclude that the SO acted precipitously or excessively when he fired the ARWEN,” Martino continued.

“For the foregoing reasons, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges against the subject official in this case. The file is closed.”

More information on the SIU can be found on the agency’s website.

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