In­tegrity counts but it’s not enough

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

The con­tro­versy over MLA ex­pense claims sheds harsh light on the be­hav­iour of some peo­ple in re­spon­si­ble po­si­tions act­ing un­der in­ad­e­quate rules. Poorly de­signed regimes in­vite bad re­sults, though bad re­sults are not in­evitable. Con­sider the 28 self-in­ves­ti­ga­tions by the RCMP that Paul Kennedy re­viewed when he was RCMP com­plaints com­mis­sioner.

When the RCMP in­ves­ti­gated se­ri­ous in­ci­dents in­volv­ing its own of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing shoot­ing deaths, two-thirds of the cases were han­dled “par­tially or en­tirely in­ap­pro­pri­ately,” Kennedy found. There were con­flicts of in­ter­est and per­sonal ac­quain­tances be­tween in­ves­ti­gat­ing and in­ves­ti­gated of­fi­cers, and in a third of cases the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer was a rank equal to or lower than the of­fi­cer be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

Yet de­spite the flaws, Kennedy con­cluded that the in­ves­ti­ga­tions them­selves were timely and un­bi­ased. As noted back in Au­gust by Se­na­tor Pamela Wallin, “the fact that Kennedy found no ac­tual in­stances of wrong­do­ing is a mar­vel­lous tes­ta­ment to the qual­ity of the men and women who serve in Canada’s na­tional po­lice force.”

A few years back, a crim­i­nol­ogy study on the han­dling of po­lice com­plaints in Nova Sco­tia found that po­lice de­part­ments tended to be harder on their own of­fi­cers than an in­de­pen­dent over­sight body would have been.

So the per­cep­tion that po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing them­selves try to ex­cuse wrong­do­ing is just that – a per­cep­tion, which ap­pears to be con­tra­dicted by ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.

But per­cep­tion is hugely im­por­tant here. In­ci­dents such as po­lice deaths in cus­tody stir strong feel­ings. When of­fi­cers are cleared it’s likely that some peo­ple will adamantly dis­agree and look for ways to dis­credit the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. In a case of po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing them­selves, it can be very dif­fi­cult to de­fend the find­ings.

In ad­di­tion, of course, if po­lice are work­ing with a flawed process, screw-ups are go­ing to oc­cur sooner or later as a re­sult. Pro­fes­sional in­tegrity is crit­i­cal in th­ese mat­ters but ul­ti­mately it’s not enough.

RCMP com­mis­sioner William El­liott has made it of­fi­cial pol­icy that the Moun­ties will de­fer to pro­vin­cial in­ves­tiga­tive units, where they ex­ist, when of­fi­cers are in­volved in se­ri­ous in­ci­dents. Else­where the Moun­ties call in other po­lice forces, and only in rare cases where there’s no prac­ti­cal al­ter­na­tive — in the Far North, for ex­am­ple — will the RCMP in­ves­ti­gate it­self.

This for­mal­izes what has been evolv­ing in prac­tice but it dove­tails with Nova Sco­tia’s an­nounced in­ten­tion to cre­ate a seven-mem­ber arm’s length in­ves­tiga­tive body to han­dle se­ri­ous po­lice in­ci­dents. The RCMP in Nova Sco­tia had al­ready en­dorsed the ap­proach, and Cape Bre­ton re­gional po­lice Chief Myles Burke has spo­ken favourably of it as well. It’s an over­due re­form.

Th­ese is­sues are not de­cided by of­fi­cers on the street but by the most se­nior of­fi­cials and by gov­ern­ments. In the case of MLA ex­penses, of course, it was not a case of MLAs hav­ing to deal with a flawed sys­tem im­posed by higher-ups; they them­selves are the higher-ups.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.