Nunavut passes bill to create civilian oversight of police in territory

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IQALUIT, Nunavut — Members of Nunavut's legislative assembly have passed a bill that will change the way police oversight works in the territory.

The bill amends the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Agreement Act to add provisions for 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.

Earlier this year, the Ottawa Police Service cleared the Nunavut RCMP of any wrongdoing in the shooting death of 31-year-old Abraham Natanine in Clyde River. The service also cleared officers who were caught on camera knocking down a man with the door of an RCMP vehicle during an arrest in Kinngait last year.

Under the new legislation, the Nunavut government can appoint civilian investigative groups, but it doesn't close the door on appointing a police force to look into actions by officers.

"A contracted investigative body and a contracted police force has the power to investigate serious incidents in Nunavut for the purpose of determining whether an offence under federal law has occurred," the bill reads.

There's also a provision for civilian monitors and cultural advisers on investigations done by other police forces. It states those roles cannot be filled by police officers.

"These appointed individuals will ensure that the investigation is completed in a manner free of bias and is appropriate to the community and culture of those involved," Justice Minister George Hickes told the standing committee on legislation Monday.

It will not be mandatory for investigative bodies to appoint civilian monitors or cultural advisers.

"When a civilian monitor is appointed for an investigation ... the contracted police force conducting the investigation shall permit the civilian monitor to assess the impartiality of the investigation," the bill reads.

Civilian monitors will be able to make recommendations to contracted police forces if they have concerns about an investigation's impartiality. Civilian monitors will have to provide a report on the impartiality of an investigation to a designated authority and to the contracted police force that did the investigation.

The bill was first introduced in December and was amended by Nunavut's standing committee on legislation.

Cathy Towtongie, member of the legislative assembly for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, said amendments included requirements for the justice minster to table an annual report and copies of agreements between the Nunavut government and independent investigative bodies.

The committee also added a requirement for written reasons to be provided and made public in circumstances where a contracted investigative body is not appointed. A cultural adviser must also advise contracted investigative bodies, that amendment states.

Towtongie said the committee received several commitments from the minister, which include formally consulting with Nunavut's privacy commissioner on agreements with independent investigative bodies.

The minister, she said, also committed "to work toward achieving a long-term goal of establishing a Nunavut-based civilian oversight body."

Hickes called it "a massive step forward for policing oversight across Nunavut."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2021.

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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