In late Spring of 2009, Levi Schaeffer, a man from Peterborough, Ontario, traveled approximately 2,000 km, by bike and foot, to the depths of a Northern Ontario forest. Levi was diagnosed in his early twenties with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder and struggled through a difficult life- deeply impacted by poverty, criminalization and mental health stigmatization. For Levi, who had been taught by his mother to honour, respect and live on the land, getting away into the far woods to be alone with the land he loved was the safest and most responsible way for him to experience a security and quality of life.
Levi Schaeffer died on June 24th, 2009 at age 30. He was killed on the shore of Osnaburgh Lake near the town of Pickle Lake, Ontario when an O.P.P. officer shot him in the chest, only a few minutes after they had first encountered. The officers had approached and told Levi that they were investigating a missing boat (there was no boat at or near Levi’s campsite). Levi told the officers that he knew nothing of the boat. He identified himself and told O.P.P. officers his name, where he was from and that he knew he had a right to be on crown land. After Levi was killed, the O.P.P. found his I.D. in his tent. Somehow, Levi was sent back towards his devastated family, many days later, marked as a John Doe.
The Special Investigations Unit was called in after Levi’s death. The S.I.U. is a civilian agency, designated through the Attorney General’s Office to conduct investigations into the circumstances of serious injuries/deaths involving police officers. In the shooting death of Levi Schaeffer, S.I.U. investigators based their conclusions on the evidence presented to them: police officer’s notes. Officer’s notes are supposed to be contemporaneous and independently written so that they can be trustworthy evidence. On September 28th, 2009, S.I.U. director Ian Scott stated, “ I have no informational base I can rely upon. Because I cannot conclude what probably happened, I cannot form reasonable grounds that the subject officer in this matter committed a criminal offence.” Both the officer who killed Levi and the only other person there to know what happened- a second officer- had been instructed by their superiors to hold off on writing their notes until they have spoken to O.P.P.P.A. This practice of lawyer vetting of notes is a practice deeply defended by police, their lawyers and the commissioner of the O.P.P.. Director Scott of the S.I.U. and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino have squared off on this issue for some time. Just before his September 28th conclusions about Levi’s death were made public, Scott wrote to Fantino. “This note writing process flies in the face of the two main indicators of reliability of notes: independence and contemporaneity. In this most serious case, I have no informational base I can rely upon.” Fantino responded in a communiqué on September 30th. “I am writing to express my concern and dismay over the impact of your recent media release. If your intent was to inflame an already volatile situation for all concerned, I can now inform you that you have succeeded.” The relationship between the O.P.P. and the body empowered to investigate the actions of the O.P.P. has become strained as this conflict deepens and as the two bodies experience increasing difficulty in working together. The relationship between Scott and Ontario;s police associations has become so strained that in January the attorney general’s office appointed a mediator to defuse the situation stating, “[w]e recognize that there are bound to be tensions in any system of police oversight, but that a professional working relationship must be maintained in order to best serve the public.” With the relationship between the Ontario Provincial Police and the body designated to provide public oversight and accountability so broken- the families of those killed or badly injured by police officers in Ontario, as well as the province’s public stand in great interest to have this conflict resolved through the courts if there is to be any true justice in our system.