Sask. justice minister unable to say when police oversight body, due last year, will be operational

·2 min read
Saskatchewan's new team for investigating deaths and other serious police-involved incidents was supposed to launch last fall, but the team still isn't operational.  (CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan's new team for investigating deaths and other serious police-involved incidents was supposed to launch last fall, but the team still isn't operational. (CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's justice minister says the launch of an independent, civilian-led police oversight team remains a priority for the government, even though it's been more than half a year since it was supposed to be up and running.

The Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) will be tasked with investigating any death or serious injury that involves police, including on and off-duty municipal and RCMP officers.

The government had said SIRT would be operational in the fall of 2021. In November, when it still wasn't up and running, the former justice minister said it would be operational by the end of 2021, but it didn't launch.

"There have been some staffing challenges. We want to make sure we get it absolutely right, and everything is still a go, just with a slight delay," said Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre, adding COVID-19 created workplace challenges in several sectors.

"There's nothing to read into that beyond a bit of an extended timeline for what will still be carried out. It's still a priority, absolutely."

The delay means police officers are still investigating other police officers in situations that involved harm, or death, to another person.

For example, a police officer killed a 26-year-old man on Sunday near Belle Plaine, Sask., following a six-hour long standoff. RCMP said the man had pointed a firearm at them and did not respond to orders, but did not release any evidence showing what happened.

Saskatoon police officers will investigate the incident, with SIRT acting as an observer, according to a government spokesperson. The police are not required to release a public report about their findings.

Saskatchewan's model has been criticized in the past for the perceived absence of impartiality and transparency. 

Saskatchewan is the only province in Western Canada that doesn't have an independent police oversight agency.

Eyre said the government is working to get the program launched, although she wasn't able to answer when SIRT would be operational or how many roles still needed to be filled

"As soon as as we have everything in place that we need in light of of staffing and other challenges, and getting the right people for what will be a very important role for that person and others involved in SIRT, we will go ahead as planned."

A government spokesperson said in an email that the team is "engaging with police agencies to take on an oversight role in serious incidents" and that SIRT is currently recruiting investigators and "developing its operational capacity."

If it becomes operational, SIRT will be responsible for investigating alleged cases of sexual assault, serious injury, death or interpersonal violence arising from the actions of on- and off-duty police officers.

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