Regina Leader-Post

Sask. police make their case

Security concerns

- MARK MELNYCHUK

After a decade of recommenda­tions from the privacy commission­er’s office, why are municipal police in Saskatchew­an still not legislated under informatio­n access and privacy legislatio­n? In a new three-part series, the Leader-Post examines arguments from those who say it’s time for Saskatchew­an’s police to fall in line with forces across the country, and others who feel that would endanger both police and the public.

Putting Saskatchew­an’s municipal police under freedom of informatio­n and privacy legislatio­n would be a pricey propositio­n for the Regina Police Service, according to its chief.

It would require hiring at least another staff member, and the money is something Chief Troy Hagen says could be better spent elsewhere.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if this position certainly would be probably pushing six figures,” said Hagen.

Although Hagen hasn’t seen Saskatchew­an’s former privacy commission­er Gary Dickson’s recommenda­tions “verbatim,” he said the nature of police work doesn’t match up with the principles of the Freedom of Informatio­n and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act.

“There are obviously several aspects of our work that’s not in anyone’s interest, the public’s or anyone’s interest, that it be disclosed. And that’s pertaining to specific operations within the police service, and I think everyone acknowledg­es that fact,” said Hagen.

Some of that informatio­n includes staffing levels of investigat­ive units, or the cost to run a drug unit. These are queries Hagen said FOIP’s legal exemptions wouldn’t cover.

“There are a host of questions that I suppose that someone may ask that really would compromise, to a large extent, the integrity of the police service, and the operations and most importantl­y the independen­ce of the police service,” said Hagen.

Hagen wouldn’t comment on the fact that in many other provinces, police fall under some manner of FOIP legislatio­n.

“I’m not familiar with the other privacy legislatio­n around the country …” said Hagen.

While proponents of FOIP argue it helps keep organizati­ons accountabl­e, Saskatoon Police Service Chief Clive Weighill said police already take steps to ensure transparen­cy. Besides answering inquiries directly, both it and the RPS allow budgets and crime stats to be made public. However, he acknowledg­ed police aren’t required to share the informatio­n.

“We’re not being forced to do it, but we do it because we’re just trying to be a good community partner,” said Weighill.

He also pointed out that the Saskatchew­an Police Commission files annual public reports on the use of force by police in the province.

Like Hagen, Weighill has concerns over the resources it would take to follow FOIP legislatio­n, saying it would make the process of taking informatio­n requests very “formalized.” He’s also uneasy about requests exposing police operations, and said FOIP’s legal exemptions aren’t substantia­l enough to prevent that from happening.

While Saskatchew­an is in the minority when it comes to not covering municipal police, he said it’s not necessaril­y a bad thing.

“I don’t think because the rest of the country is doing something different means that we’re doing something wrong here in Saskatchew­an. I firmly believe we’re very transparen­t,” said Weighill.

It is public knowledge that police have protested informatio­n being made public. This was seen in 2006 when Moose Jaw Police Service members filed complaints with the privacy commission­er’s office that the City of Moose Jaw did not have the right to release police salaries, a practice the city successful­ly defended.

Despite that dispute, current Moose Jaw police Chief Rick Bourassa doesn’t see the police’s absence from the legislatio­n as a barrier to transparen­cy.

“I don’t know all the details or the nuance around that request. That was before my time, so I’m not entirely up to speed on it, but in general police salaries have been published all the time and it’s never been an issue,” said Bourassa.

Asking for Regina City Hall to provide you with a document is very different from asking the Regina Police Service for a record. And because of that difference, Neil Robertson says putting municipal police under informatio­n and privacy law might not be such a good idea.

Robertson, who previously served as legal counsel to both the City of Regina and the Regina Police Service, released his own extensive report on third-party access to police records in 2013.

As opposed to municipal government­s, which operate on the basis that all informatio­n falls within the public’s right to know, confidenti­ality is essential for police.

“Police officers not only are subject to the oath of secrecy, but in the discipline code there’s a major discipline offence for improper disclosure of informatio­n… and police officers and civilians have been, to my knowledge, dismissed or discipline­d when breaches occurred,” said Robertson.

So why were police not included in Saskatchew­an’s Local Authority Freedom of Informatio­n and Protection of Privacy (LA FOIP) act?

Robertson says the exclusion of police from the legislatio­n relates directly to a report commission­ed by the government in 1981, 12 years before Saskatchew­an’s LA FOIP act came to be.

The report, written by E. M. Culliton, made recommenda­tions on what the province’s FOIP act should look like if the government chose to create such legislatio­n. Culliton wrote that regardless of any exemptions, it would be impossible to allow access to police records while also ensuring there would be no repercussi­ons against police investigat­ions.

If the province were to enact a FOIP law, Culliton recommende­d “people who co-operate with the government or with the police forces in the discharge of their respective duties, should be assured of continued confidenti­ality.”

Although private parties may want access to police records, Robertson said the courts have made it clear those requests cannot trump the interest of the general public. In his report, Robertson cites several decisions in Saskatchew­an cases where the court refused requests to disclose police records because the informatio­n would be so detrimenta­l to the public interest.

In a 2000 judgment over a case involving sexual assault allegation­s made by a Mr. Stevenson against a Mr. Bellgarde, a judge denied Stevenson’s requests for access to Regina Police Service records of the investigat­ion into the alleged assaults.

Although the accuser thought the records may be valuable to the case, the Queen’s Bench Justice found that the records should not be released because of the damage it would cause to those who had been interviewe­d by police during the investigat­ion.

Despite issues that could come with putting police under the jurisdicti­on of LA FOIP, Robertson still says the topic is worth discussing.

The reason for police’s concern over secrecy comes down to earning the public’s trust. Robertson explains that because police rely on informatio­n collected from members of the public on the basis that it be kept confidenti­al, they want to hold up their end of the bargain.

“Police rely more on the informatio­n they get from the public than informatio­n they discover themselves, so it’s very important to promote public co-operation with police,” said Robertson.

 ??  ?? Troy Hagen
Troy Hagen
 ??  ?? Clive Weighill
Clive Weighill
 ?? LEADER-POST FILES ?? Moose Jaw Police Chief Rick Bourassa.
LEADER-POST FILES Moose Jaw Police Chief Rick Bourassa.

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