White ex-of­fi­cers pre­vail in police over­sight

Ad­vo­cate says civil­ians should be trained to work as in­ves­ti­ga­tors


The ma­jor­ity of in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tors delv­ing into al­leged police mis­con­duct in Canada are white men who are for­mer police of­fi­cers.

Seven pro­vin­cial in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion units cur­rently look into in­ci­dents in­volv­ing police.

The Cana­dian Press has found that of the 167 mem­bers in­volved in these units, 111 are for­mer of­fi­cers or have had a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with police, and 118 of them are men.

Ev­ery prov­ince but Bri­tish Columbia also pro­vided the num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tors in their units who iden­tify as a vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity or per­son of colour. There are 20.

“It’s very, very bi­ased,” says Ghis­lain Pi­card, re­gional chief for the Assem­bly of First Na­tions in Que­bec and Labrador. “How can you ex­pect any trust from those cul­tural mi­nori­ties and In­dige­nous Peo­ples?

“The in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the in­de­pen­dent bureau and our com­mu­ni­ties it’s prac­ti­cally non-ex­is­tent.”

In­dige­nous peo­ple don’t have hope for jus­tice when police in­ves­ti­gate them­selves, Pi­card adds, es­pe­cially af­ter what hap­pened in Val d’or, Que., more than 500 kilo­me­tres north of Mon­treal.

In 2015, there were 38 cases in­volv­ing com­plaints by mul­ti­ple women there against Sûreté du Québec of­fi­cers. Some women claimed they were drugged and sex­u­ally as­saulted. Mon­treal police in­ves­ti­gated.

In the end, two re­tired police of­fi­cers were charged. Both died be­fore their cases fin­ished in court.

At the time, some 2,500 police of­fi­cers wore red bands while on duty to sup­port their ac­cused col­leagues. First Na­tions mem­bers who tes­ti­fied dur­ing a com­mis­sion said it was clearly an in­tim­i­da­tion tac­tic.

In the wake of the scan­dal, Que­bec’s Bureau of In­de­pen­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tions was cre­ated. Pi­card says cre­ation of a largely white in­ves­tiga­tive unit made up of for­mer of­fi­cers has done noth­ing to re­pair the re­la­tion­ship.

More than half the unit’s 44 in­ves­ti­ga­tors had pre­vi­ous police em­ploy­ment.

Four are peo­ple of colour but none are In­dige­nous. It does have an In­dige­nous li­ai­son.

“It’s again the police in­ves­ti­gat­ing their own,” Pi­card says. “That’s to­tally un­ac­cept­able for many peo­ple. There is no faith, no trust com­ing from women.”

The agency de­clined to com­ment on Pi­card’s re­marks.

The unit was re­cently tasked with in­ves­ti­gat­ing two re­cent police shoot­ings of In­dige­nous peo­ple in New Brunswick, which doesn’t have its own in­de­pen­dent in­ves­tiga­tive unit.

Saskatchew­an, Prince Ed­ward Is­land, Yukon, North­west Ter­ri­to­ries and Nu­navut also don’t have in­de­pen­dent units and out­side forces are gen­er­ally called in to in­ves­ti­gate cases there.

In­de­pen­dent units in Nova Sco­tia and New­found­land and Labrador have no peo­ple of colour work­ing as in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Man­i­toba has three of 11. On­tario has the most, with 9 of its 52 in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Ak­wasi Owusu-be­m­pah, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Toronto, says be­cause in­ves­tiga­tive units are com­prised largely of for­mer of­fi­cers, there is the per­cep­tion of an al­le­giance to the polic­ing world.

Of­fi­cers also can bring systemic bi­ases or racism that ex­ist in law en­force­ment, he says.

The Al­berta Se­ri­ous In­ci­dent Re­sponse Team has per­ma­nent in­ves­ti­ga­tors, as well as sec­onded mem­bers from police forces. All 25 mem­bers are for­mer law en­force­ment.

Su­san Hugh­son, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said in an email “that ex­pe­ri­ence is in­valu­able.”

But Owusu-be­m­pah ques­tions what in­de­pen­dence there can be when ac­tive police of­fi­cers are sec­onded to a unit. He says civil­ians should in­stead be ed­u­cated and trained to work in these units.

“We’ve got is­sues re­lated to trust and con­fi­dence in law en­force­ment in this coun­try, es­pe­cially amongst marginal­ized pop­u­la­tions,” he says.

Civil rights groups and fam­i­lies have also crit­i­cized a lack of charges, and even less con­vic­tions, stem­ming from in­ves­ti­ga­tions by in­de­pen­dent units.

In Man­i­toba, there have been a hand­ful of con­vic­tions against on-duty police of­fi­cers since its unit be­gan in 2015. The In­de­pen­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Unit of Man­i­toba was cre­ated af­ter crit­i­cism of a probe into an off-duty of­fi­cer who drove into an­other ve­hi­cle af­ter a night of par­ty­ing, and killed a mother be­hind the wheel.

Chris­tian Le­uprecht, a pro­fes­sor at Queen’s Univer­sity and a mem­ber of the Kingston Police board, says he would cau­tion against peo­ple as­sum­ing more women, Black or In­dige­nous peo­ple in these units would lead to dif­fer­ent out­comes.

And in many cases, he says for­mer of­fi­cers have the best skills to in­ves­ti­gate.

It’s again the police in­ves­ti­gat­ing their own. That’s to­tally un­ac­cept­able for many peo­ple. There is no faith, no trust.

“I think we have yet to see a case where some­body chal­lenged the find­ings of an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion unit on the grounds that the find­ings were bi­ased.”

Black Lives Mat­ter demon­stra­tions have helped peo­ple see that the pub­lic has a role in de­cid­ing how police are funded and held ac­count­able, Le­uprecht adds. That in­cludes in­de­pen­dent in­ves­tiga­tive units.

“In a democ­racy, it’s ul­ti­mately up to us to make de­ci­sions,” he says.

“And if we don’t like what’s hap­pen­ing, it shouldn’t be up to police to de­cide how to run things. It should be up to the pub­lic.”

The Cana­dian Press


Ghis­lain Pi­card, re­gional chief for the Assem­bly of First Na­tions in Que­bec and Labrador, says the cur­rent makeup of police over­sight bodies is ‘very, very bi­ased.’

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