Violent arrest of Campbellton man highlights need for N.B.'s own police watchdog agency, experts say

·4 min read
A man who's since been identified as Andre Mercier was seen in a video being punched by an RCMP officer during his arrest in the northern New Brunswick city of Campbellton last Friday. (Facebook - image credit)
A man who's since been identified as Andre Mercier was seen in a video being punched by an RCMP officer during his arrest in the northern New Brunswick city of Campbellton last Friday. (Facebook - image credit)

A video showing the violent arrest of a man in Campbellton highlights the need for New Brunswick to have its own police watchdog agency, says policing experts.

"It is due time for New Brunswick to have its own outfit to investigate those incidents and to be able to also issue recommendations and guidelines as to what is acceptable and unacceptable in society today for police officers to do who are confronting individuals who are not the most cooperative," said Jean Sauvageu, a professor of criminology at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.

A video that was made last Friday and posted on social media later in the day showed an RCMP officer attempt to restrain a man, who has since been identified as André Mercier.

After a brief struggle, the officer can be seen striking Mercier several times in the head, upper arm and chest area.

The officer then appears to straddle Mercier while another unidentified individual appears to restrain his legs.

In response, the New Brunswick RCMP asked Quebec's Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, or BEI, to conduct an independent investigation into the incident.

New Brunswick doesn't have its own police watchdog agency, so whenever a civilian is killed or seriously injured by a police officer, the police force must typically call on the BEI or Nova Scotia's serious incident response team, known as SIRT.

The BEI describes itself as a specialized police force made up of an equal mix of civilian investigators and former police officers who investigate when someone other than an on-duty police officer dies, suffers a serious injury or is injured by a firearm used by a police officer.

The Nova Scotia SIRT describes itself as a team of civilian investigators and seconded police officers who investigate "all matters that involve death, serious injury, sexual assault and domestic violence or other matters of significant public interest that may have arisen from the actions of any police officer in Nova Scotia."

Sauvageau said his opinion that New Brunswick needs its own agency isn't meant as a "slight" against the agencies in Quebec or Nova Scotia.

"It's a slight by New Brunswick, who just cannot come to terms with the fact that it needs its own investigation outfit, which is properly funded, with the proper number of personnel to conduct the needed investigation, so that the province takes on its full responsibility when it comes to policing," he said.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

In an email to CBC News, Department of Justice and Public Safety spokesperson Coreen Enos said the department is looking at options for the creation of a serious incident response team for New Brunswick.

In May, however, Premier Blaine Higgs appeared to rule out the possibility New Brunswick would create its own provincial police watchdog, instead saying his government was "focused on a regional approach" with other Atlantic provinces.

Recent examples of New Brunswick police forces having to turn to outside watchdog agencies include the deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, two Indigenous people, who were shot and killed by officers in separate incidents last June.

In both the Moore and Levi cases last year, the BEI investigated the actions of the officers involved, and in both, the Crown decided not to pursue charges against the officers after reviewing the watchdog agency's reports.

Trust in police, BEI possibly compromised, expert says

Those incidents likely eroded public trust in the police among some communities, and the latest video showing the violent arrest in Campbellton could add to those sentiments, said Erick Laming, PhD candidate in criminology at the University of Toronto focusing on police use of force.

Furthermore, he said, it doesn't help that New Brunswick doesn't have its own police watchdog agency, adding he thinks every province and territory should have its own.

"There've been a lot of problems that have come out in the last few years of [the BEI]," Laming said. "So I don't know if that really helps the situation either."

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submitted

Since its creation in 2016, the BEI has completed 175 investigations into police operations that led to serious injury or death of a civilian. It wasn't until last month that one such investigation resulted in charges against an officer.

And last month, a Quebec judge ruled the BEI was neither impartial nor transparent in its communications with the public about the case of a man who died during a police operation.

Laming said police watchdog agencies in provinces including Alberta, Ontario and Quebec are mandated to investigate whenever a police officer is involved in the death or serious injury of a civilian.

In provinces like New Brunswick and P.E.I. though, police forces have to request an investigation by an outside watchdog agency.

In the case of the arrest in Campbellton, Laming said, it's good the RCMP requested the investigation from the BEI as quickly as it did, although given the public nature of the incident, the RCMP had little choice.

"So I think the RCMP had to do this. They had to be kind of open about this and request an outside investigator."

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