The province is putting a stop to campus cops.
In a little-noticed provision of its new Comprehensive Ontario Police Services (COPS) Act, the Ford government is banning special constables and their employers from using the term “police,” a move that impacts a handful of Ontario universities including Toronto, Western, Guelph, Waterloo and Windsor.
While the change contained in Bill 68 is meant to clear up confusion, universities are already starting to push back over making changes to a description they’ve used for decades — in the case of the University of Toronto, for more than 100 years.
Universities are also concerned about the additional costs associated with the change — including new logos, uniforms, signs and repainting cars — at a time when budgets are tight.
But the Ontario Association of Police Chiefs says “this has been a long-standing issue for the police leaders in this province.”
“We love our special constables and campus security partners but the term ‘police’ applied to any other person than a police constable is problematic,” said Joe Couto, the association’s director of government relations and communications, adding the organization has been seeking such changes for more than a decade.
The 3,000-member Ontario Special Constable Association supports the law, but is urging the government to create a public education campaign on who they are and what they do.
The University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo both confirmed they are seeking exemptions to the new rules.
“We have expressed our concerns about the impacts of this legislation to the provincial government, along with other affected universities,” said Scott Mabury, U of T’s vice-president of operations.
With students from 163 countries, “we’ve used the term ‘police’ for the last 100 years or so because it is internationally recognizable,” Mabury said. “People around the world understand the role of the police in providing safety, especially in emergency situations. The term ‘special constable’ is not as clear and could be confusing.”
George Rigakos, a policing professor at Carleton University who authored an in-depth look at special constables about five years ago for post-secondary security administrators, said they provide public policing services and “they should not be banned from calling themselves campus police if they want to.”
That said, he noted there are concerns about for-profit private security services and companies possibly using the term “police.”
“I think that’s where this is going, but in the process you swallow up (campus police)”, Rigakos said. “The sledgehammer they’re using is not necessary.”
Brent Ross, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, said the COPS Act “creates a new framework for special constables in Ontario, which will clearly define their roles and responsibilities as separate and distinct from police officers.”
The act is not yet in force as detailed regulations are being worked out, Ross said.
The issue is one the previous Liberal government attempted to address. It declared in 2005 that campus safety services would be prohibited from using “police” for special constables after incidents in which they were accused of overstepping their authority, but later backtracked.
Special constables can be granted some or all of the same authority as police officers and can make arrests.
The new bill says special constables who call themselves police can be fined $5,000 for a first offence, and the penalty for employers who break the law is $10,000.
Kent Roach, a law professor at U of T, said the bill’s “approach in relying on penalties and prosecutions does seem a touch heavy-handed.”
David Moskowitz, president of the Ontario Special Constable Association, said the bill “should put some clarity as to who special constables are in Ontario,” adding that it’s currently a “mixed bag” when it comes to what terms employers use.
”The removal of the word ‘police’ is something that’s been a long time coming,” he said.
The Niagara Parks Police Service and First Nations officers are exempt from the legislation, which was passed at the end of March.
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Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy