N.S. justice minister urges 4 municipalities to implement police oversight boards
The province has committed to reviewing how police oversight boards work in Nova Scotia, but one expert says the system has a long way to go because some municipalities have been allowed to break provincial law for years.
Under Nova Scotia's Police Act, all municipalities must have either a board of police commissioners if they use a municipal force — like New Glasgow, Truro or Halifax — or an advisory board if they contract RCMP.
The boards are made up of councillors, a community member appointed by the province and citizens, so the public can have a say in its policing.
But many boards don't produce public minutes of their meetings, or get together at least every three months as required, and four municipalities don't have them at all.
The final report of the Mass Casualty Commission said it's important to "revitalize police boards" in the province by providing them enough funding to function properly, and training their members and police liaisons to understand their responsibilities.
"These boards were operating in obscurity. They were a little too casual, a little too relaxed and comfortable. They didn't do their work before meetings," said Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University.
"If they did meet at all, it was just to have the police chief talk about how everything is happening perfectly."
Councils used for police oversight
The Town of Lunenburg, the Region of Queens Municipality, and the municipalities of the District of Guysborough and District of St. Mary's don't have advisory boards, but rather use their elected councils for RCMP oversight.
Warden Greg Wier of St. Mary's, a rural municipality on the Eastern Shore with a population of about 2,200 people, said he was under the impression they "had approval" to do so.
"What we're doing is working well for us, but until someone tells us we have to do something differently, then I think we will probably continue the way we are," Wier said.
A municipality can be exempt from having a board under the Police Act, but only if they have a body that's "equal to or better than" board governance. The province said it is not aware of any such exemptions.
The wardens and mayors for the other three municipalities either declined, or did not respond to CBC's interview requests.
Justice Minister Brad Johns said last week his department was drafting a letter to send to all municipalities to "remind them" they should establish boards if they don't have them.
There is also a long-standing issue of securing a provincially appointed community member. By CBC's analysis, 19 of the 24 RCMP advisory boards that exist in Nova Scotia are missing that representative, and the province said two of 10 commissions have those seats vacant.
Provincial NDP Leader Claudia Chender said municipalities are a product of the province, so any consequences for Police Act violations should fall to the Justice Department.
Chender said although many municipalities have been vocal about struggling with finances and needing more support, that has fallen on "deaf ears" from the province.
"This is yet another example," Chender said.
The MCC report also said municipalities must better fund their boards for things like research or legal advice and compensating citizen members, and the province should support boards in setting up independent websites.
Minister Johns said an examination of the oversight boards will be "part and parcel" of the overall policing review, which Premier Tim Houston committed to in March.
The MCC has set a deadline of late September for a council to be set up to lead that review.
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