Premier rules out standalone New Brunswick police watchdog agency

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Premier Blaine Higgs, shown in a file photo, says New Brunswick hopes to be part of a regional police watchdog agency instead of forming one of its own.  (Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick - image credit)
Premier Blaine Higgs, shown in a file photo, says New Brunswick hopes to be part of a regional police watchdog agency instead of forming one of its own. (Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick - image credit)

New Brunswick's premier appeared to rule out the idea of creating a provincial police watchdog agency, instead hoping to partner with other Atlantic provinces.

"We're focused on a regional approach," Blaine Higgs said Thursday in response to a question about whether New Brunswick would create its own agency.

For years, New Brunswick police forces have turned to outside watchdog agencies to investigate the actions of officers who have injured or killed a person while on duty.

A 2019 report on civilian oversight of police in the province recommended the province create its own agency to avoid logistical and jurisdictional issues that arise from relying on outside agencies.

The idea of a regional approach isn't new. Last year, CBC News reported New Brunswick had sent a proposal to Nova Scotia to collaborate.

Higgs said he brought the idea up with the other three Atlantic premiers as recently as several weeks ago.

"They all expressed interest to engage in an Atlantic-wide response team," Higgs said. "I was encouraged with that."

They said officials with each province would talk to each other about what a joint response team would entail.

He said he believes using investigators from other provinces as part of a regional agency would offer greater independence.

"If we use people from Nova Scotia or Newfoundland or P.E.I. to investigate a situation we had and vice versa, I think that provides more independence than it would otherwise," Higgs said.

I'd have to see the details of it, but I think it would be the right approach. - Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson

CBC News requested comment from the other Atlantic provinces regarding Higgs's comments, but only Nova Scotia responded.

Nova Scotia Department of Justice spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said that discussions have taken place, though no decisions have been made.

"Our first priority in any discussion of this nature would be ensuring the best interests of Nova Scotians are met," Fairbairn said.

"The Province of Nova Scotia is always open to exploring ways to collaborate with our Atlantic province partners, and we would communicate any decisions arising from these collaborations appropriately."

Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson told reporters that he'd be in favour of a regional approach.

"I'd have to see the details of it, but I think it would be the right approach," Melanson said.

RCMP have turned to Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team, Quebec's Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes and the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba to investigate shootings by officers in recent years.
RCMP have turned to Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team, Quebec's Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes and the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba to investigate shootings by officers in recent years. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Police chiefs in New Brunswick support creation of an independent agency.

"The association is all for police not investigating police," Alain Lang, president of the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police, said in an interview this week. "The association is all for clarity and transparency to the public."

Lang also chief of the Edmundston Police Force, said it was his understanding the province was still looking into the idea.

Without a New Brunswick agency, RCMP and other municipal forces have turned to agencies in other provinces like Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team, known as SIRT, or Quebec's Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, known as the BEI.

The goal is to have a team of investigators who can probe police actions and are independent of the police force and government in order to maintain public confidence in the police force.

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