Nunavut legislation would create civilian police oversight with cultural adviser

·3 min read

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut is not closing the door on having its own police oversight body and new legislation would allow it to start hiring civilian investigative groups, says the territory's deputy justice minister.

A bill that passed second reading in the legislature last week aims to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Agreement Act to add provisions about independent investigations into serious actions involving police officers.

Nunavut currently has agreements with police forces in Ottawa and Calgary to do such reviews in the territory.

Stephen Mansell, Nunavut's deputy minister of justice, says the bill is an important step away from "police investigating police" in the territory.

"Over the last couple years, we've heard from Nunavummiut that while it is positive (that) it's not the RCMP investigating the RCMP, in general there's a movement in Canada away from police investigating police," Mansell told The Canadian Press.

The bill "gives us the power to go forward and create new agreements with civilian-based investigative bodies."

If passed, the legislation would allow the government to contract a civilian body to investigate serious circumstances involving police officers.

For now, Mansell says, those civilian investigators would be based in southern Canada.

"We're not closing the door on a made-in-Nunavut solution," he said. "But we would intend to contract a civilian body from another jurisdiction to start, and then look forward to the long term."

The proposed law wouldn't rule out contracting a police force. The government would make a choice based on the circumstances, says the bill.

If a police force were contracted to lead an investigation, a civilian monitor could be appointed "to assess the impartiality of the investigation."

"The civilian monitor may inform the contracted police force of their concerns and may make any recommendations to the contracted police force that they consider appropriate to address the concerns," says the bill.

It also proposes a "cultural adviser" position be created to help a contracted body or police force.

Mansell said the adviser would ensure investigators, who likely wouldn't be based full-time in the territory, would have "cultural understanding of the communities they're working in."

"This would be an advisory role that would work hand in hand with whatever body is conducting the investigation to ensure that it is culturally relevant and provides the necessary cultural competency to these investigators when they come to Nunavut."

Since Jan. 1, there have been six serious actions involving police, including two deaths, for which Ottawa police have been called in to investigate.

In February, Attachie Ashoona was shot and killed by an officer in Ashoona's home in Kinngait. Ottawa police found there were no groundsfor criminal charges against the officer.

In June, a video surfaced on social media showing what appeared to be a Mountie using an RCMP truck door to run down an intoxicated man in Kinngait during an arrest. The man was later severely beaten by a fellow inmate in his cell. That investigation continues.

Mansell could not comment on whether results of investigations done by civilian bodies would be made public, but said the Justice Department is "definitely in favour of sharing the results of the investigations of serious incidents."

"As we haven't entered into any (agreements) with civilian investigators, I can't say for certain how much we would be able to guarantee that this information would be shared."

He said the department hopes the bill will pass this session.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press