Timeline for creation of N.B. police oversight agency unclear

·6 min read
The New Brunswick government says creating an independent police oversight agency is still in its plans, but the timeline is unclear. (motortion - stock.adobe.com - image credit)
The New Brunswick government says creating an independent police oversight agency is still in its plans, but the timeline is unclear. (motortion - stock.adobe.com - image credit)

An independent police oversight agency is still part of the New Brunswick government's plans, but officials won't say when the public can expect to see the creation of the long-promised investigative body.

Last year, the Nova Scotia government was considering a proposal from New Brunswick that would see the two neighbouring provinces collaborate on a serious incident response team, commonly called a SIRT.

That was weeks after police officers in the province shot and killed 26-year-old Chantel Moore, a Nuu-chah-nulth woman of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in B.C., and 48-year-old Rodney Levi of Metepenagiag First Nation, only a few days apart.

Since New Brunswick doesn't have its own serious incident response team, both shootings were investigated separately by Quebec's Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, or BEI, an agency that has come under fire for its lack of Indigenous investigators.

CBC
CBC

Following those investigations, New Brunswick's Public Prosecutions Services said in January it would not lay criminal charges against the Sunny Corner RCMP officer who shot and killed Levi, and in June, said it would also not lay charges against the Edmundston Police Force officer who fatally shot Moore during a wellness check.

The director of Nova Scotia's SIRT, Felix Cacchione, told CBC News last year that the deaths of Moore and Levi, which also prompted calls for a provincial public inquiry into systemic racism, had led to "renewed conversation" about collaborating on such an agency.

But a year later, Cacchione said, he's "heard nothing further on this matter" and referred questions to the Nova Scotia government.

Discussions, but no decision

Heather Fairbairn, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia's Department of Justice, confirmed there have been discussions on the idea of collaboration, but no decision has been made.

No one from the department was made available for an interview and when asked to elaborate on what might be holding up such a decision, Fairbairn said the department has no further comment.

Amendments to the province's Police Act were introduced in May, but they don't include the creation of a SIRT.

Earlier this year, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs seemed to rule out the idea of the province creating its own standalone agency, opting for a regional approach instead.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Public Safety, which didn't provide an interview for this story, said work continues on the initiative.

"The creation of a SIRT Team for New Brunswick is supported by police chiefs, municipalities, frontline police officers and the New Brunswick Police Commission," Coreen Enos wrote in an email.

"A regional agency serving more than one province is one of the various options being considered."

N.B. Mi'kmaw communities called for independent agency

Representatives from the nine Mi'kmaw communities in New Brunswick have had "preliminary discussions" with the province about the creation of a policing oversight agency, according to Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Incorporated, a non-profit organization created by the nine communities.

"Last summer, when the Province of NB asked for recommendations on how to improve the justice system, [Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Incorporated] expressed concerns specifically with BEI and recommended the Province create their own independent investigative body for police misconduct," a statement from Metepenagiag First Nation Chief Bill Ward said.

Ward said another meeting is planned with the Department of Justice and Public Safety next month, and the communities hope it will be productive.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

Police chiefs in the province also support the idea of an independent agency, according to Edmundston Police Chief Alain Lang, who is the president of the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police.

Lang said the creation of such an agency was in the works already last summer, but the deaths of Moore and Levi "accelerated it a little bit more faster."

"Police investigating police officers, that's always been a hot topic, even though we're professional, and we do what we need, but transparency needs to be there," Lang said in an interview.

"Also, we don't like to be the ones that investigate that, and then the public thinks we're not doing a right job. This way, it'll be more transparent, we'll gain pubalic trust that way, and if charges need to be approved, they will be approved by the provincial Crown."

Finding independent investigators a challenge, police chief says

Kennebecasis Regional police Chief Wayne Gallant has been advocating an independent police oversight agency dating back to when he was a senior leader in the New Brunswick RCMP.

He said the Kennebecasis force hasn't had a large number of incidents that required independent investigation, "but the fact is that when you need that capacity, you really need it."

"Police Forces continue to face challenges in finding truly independent investigators of matters that require such independence," Gallant wrote in an email.

Matthew Bingley/CBC
Matthew Bingley/CBC

Robert Bruce, the new chief of police with the Saint John Police Force, spent his career with the Ontario Provincial Police before starting his job in Saint John on July 1.

He would also like to see an independent agency to investigate incidents involving police in New Brunswick and was surprised to see the province doesn't have one.

"I think it just adds a level of transparency, it adds another level of accountability," Bruce said in an interview.

"It also takes the pressure off individual police forces to kind of investigate their own as well. There's a lot of pressure, resources and such that go into that."

If the province does create an oversight body, he would like to see it be transparent with the public, including timely release of information about investigations.

Bruce said that's been one issue with Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which is tasked with investigating incidents involving police and peace officers "where there is a serious injury, death, allegation of sexual assault or discharge of a firearm by an official at a person."

N.B. RCMP requested outside reviews for 2 incidents in last month

In the last month, the New Brunswick RCMP has requested outside reviews of two separate incidents involving officers.

In early July, Quebec's BEI was called in after a video appeared to show an RCMP officer striking a Campbellton man during an arrest.

Last week, the New Brunswick RCMP asked an investigator with the Prince Edward Island RCMP to conduct a review, after an arrest in the Tracadie-Sheila area on July 26.

Shane Magee/CBC file photo
Shane Magee/CBC file photo

Ouellette declined to say how many cases, dating back to 2018, were referred to outside agencies that could have been investigated by SIRT, if New Brunswick had one.

"It would be inappropriate to speculate on what the RCMP would have submitted to SIRT if we had one, as there is no independent review agency or criteria for referral currently in New Brunswick," Ouellette said.

He said the police force works closely with the Department of Justice and Public Safety on policing, "including their intent to set up a serious incident review team for New Brunswick."

"In the interim, the RCMP will continue to be diligent in requesting external reviews of critical incidents involving our police officers," Ouellette said.

"We are committed to understanding the ways we could have done things differently to improve outcomes for everyone involved."

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