Special constables in Ontario
By David Moskowitz
In 1831, the British Parliament passed “An act for amending the laws relative to the appointment of Special Constables, and for the better preservation of the Police.”
By David Moskowitz
This act created the basis for appointing special constables within our British system of government and allowed for their appointment during times of unrest, if the regular police force was too small in a particular area or required more assistance.
In Ontario, most special constable agencies were not created until the early 1900’s. The first campus constable: J.P. Christie, began work for the University of Toronto in 1904. In 1967 the special constables of the University of Guelph Campus Police were started, followed in 1988 the Government of Ontario (GO) Transit/Metrolinx Transit Special Constables, and in 2000 the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) special constables.
The Ontario Police Services Act (PSA) provides for the appointment of Special Constables. Section 53 of the Act allows for a Police Services Board (PSB) to appoint Special Constables to act for a period of time, area, and purpose that the board considers expedient. (R.S.O. 1990, c. P.15, s. 53 (1); 1997, c. 8, s. 33 (1).) Special constables are generally authorized for a period of 5 years.
Special constables are considered peace officers and are granted all or some of the authority of regular police officers depending on how their roles are defined. They typically include specific powers, territorial jurisdictions, and other responsibilities that are outlined within the terms of the individual appointment. In Ontario, special constables may be hired directly by the private sector.
They typically enforce multiple sections of the Criminal Code of Canada, and other provincial acts as administered under the Ontario Provincial Offences Act: the Mental Health Act, Trespass to Property Act, Liquor License Act, and Safe Streets Act.
Currently in Ontario the PSA does not regulate specific training requirements for special constables. The appointing PSB will stipulate the type of training required, and most agencies will conduct a basic special constable training program for a period of 50-60 days. The training consists of, but is not limited to: legislative authority, use of force, practical scenarios, mental health, internal policies and procedures, crime prevention, assistance to victims of crimes, public order maintenance, and emergency response.
Their training is usually done by current or retired police personnel who are certified to instruct at the Ontario Police College (OPC) level. They also take part in on-going training provided by their respective agency, as well as the Ontario Police Video Training Alliance, the Canadian Police Knowledge Network as well as various courses conducted by OPC.
Special constables wear a police-style uniform consisting of forage cap with badge, uniform shirts varying in colour (blue, black, red), uniform pants and coats/jackets, a duty belt, handcuffs, collapsible-baton and OC spray. Their shoulder patch and badge clearly indicate “Special Constable.”
Where Do They Work
Currently there are more than 3,000 special constables in Ontario, which are employed by: police services, the provincial and federal governments, conservation authorities, universities and colleges, and crown corporations. The main agencies are:
- Public Transit: York Region Transit, Toronto Transit Commission, GO Transit/Metrolinx, OC Transpo
- University Campuses: University of Toronto, University of Guelph
- Public Housing: Toronto Community Housing Corporation
- Court security and prisoner transportation: Ontario Provincial Police, Toronto Police Service
- Government security services: Niagara Parks Police, Parliamentary Protective Services
The transit special constables conduct patrols on foot and by car, do plain clothes investigations, intelligence gathering and emergency response and community support in various forms. Because they are peace officers they also engage in enforcement activities.
There are approximately 200 special constables employed with public transit agencies in Ontario.
The TCHC employs special constables to support the safety and security of the people living in their public housing communities. Constables are responsible for the preservation of peace and the ongoing community support by foot patrol, mobile patrol, and bicycle patrol. There are approximately 100 special constables employed by TCHC.
Universities and Colleges
There are approximately 200 special constables in Ontario employed at 9 universities and one college: Brock University, Carleton University, Guelph University, McMaster University, University of Toronto (Mississauga, St George, and Scarborough campuses), University of Waterloo, University of Windsor, Western University, Wilfrid Laurier University and Fanshawe College.
Some universities call their special constables “Campus Police.” The Constables are responsible for general policing duties on campus focusing on students and staff safety. They work in uniform and plainclothes and patrol on foot, bicycle, and car.
Similar Programs Across Canada
Across Canada there are many provinces that employ special constables for the same or similar purposes as Ontario. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick all employ special constables for court security, and prisoner transfers. In Alberta they are known as “Peace Officers” where they are employed for transit, and court security, and by conservation authorities. In British Columbia they work in court security and for conservation authorities and as various levels of government inspectors. PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador do not currently employ special constables.
Special constables will continue to be utilized by private and public agencies for years to come, working closely with local police and the public to ensure the safety of Canada. In 2017 the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services will be concluding the Strategy for a Safer Ontario. This is expected to outline the progressive format for how special constables will continue to be a well-respected and needed profession.
Ontario Special Constable Association
The Ontario Special Constable Association was created in 2008 to be a medium through which special constables can share information, impart knowledge and build on the honour of their profession.
The Ontario Special Constable Association’s vision is to build on progressive and innovative leadership and through that, strengthen our professional standing in our role in the law enforcement community. OSCA strives through progressive and effective leadership; to encourage cooperation and unity within their membership.
David Moskowitz is the President of the Ontario Special Constable Association. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.