The Saskatchewan government is funding a new team to investigate serious incidents involving police officers, though details about the team's precise mandate — and the degree to which it will allay longstanding concerns about police investigating police — are unclear.
The province is setting aside $287,000 for a Serious Incident Response Team, according to the 2021-2022 budget released on Tuesday.
"There's certainly a lot of details that need to be worked out," Justice Minister Gordon Wyant said shortly after the budget was made public. "The issue of accountability and transparency is important to me."
While borrowing its name from Alberta's Serious Incident Response Team, the Saskatchewan team does not appear to be its own agency. Instead, it will be installed under the auspices of the existing Public Complaints Commission (PCC), which has traditionally investigated minor complaints about police conduct, but more recently had its mandate expanded to include allegations of sexual harassment within Saskatchewan police forces.
The PCC also recently took over the responsibility for appointing investigation observers, the people (usually ex-police officers) who watch over investigations of serious incidents such as fatal police shootings. They were previously appointed by the government.
Under another change enacted last summer, a Saskatchewan police force will not be allowed to investigate itself.
None of those changes addressed the fundamental concern — voiced by parents of people who have been fatally injured during incidents with police and others — of police officers investigating the actions of other police officers.
Tuesday's initial announcement about the PCC's Serious Incident Response Team was short on details, merely stating that the new money would make "Saskatchewan's police oversight consistent with that of other Canadian jurisdictions."
Asked if current or retired police officers would be involved in Saskatchewan's SIRT, Wyant replied, "We want to make sure that what we have is these seasoned investigators that are involved in these.
"To make sure that we have the qualified people to do the proper investigations really requires people with a significant amount of experience," he added.
"We'll have more to say about that shortly."
Alberta's Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) is run by a civilian lawyer who oversees a "hybrid organization that includes a blend of civilian investigators [and] seconded police officers from various police agencies," according to the ASIRT website.
ASIRT is authorized to investigate police officers who may have caused serious injuries or deaths.
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