News  Bill to involve civilians in investigations of police

Municipal government trying to resolve “lack of trust” between police and public

Calls for reform from both the public and the Quebec government have led to a bill amending the Police Act. The bill, which is currently being presented to the Quebec National Assembly, would make civilians more involved with holding police accountable.

The proposal, known as Bill 46, was presented to the National Assembly in December by Security Minister Robert Dutil, and is currently being discussed.

The proposed Bill 46 would establish a “Bureau civil de surveillance des enquêtes indépendantes” (civilian oversight bureau), which would oversee independent investigations in every case “where a person, other than an on-duty police officer, dies, is seriously injured, or is injured by a firearm used by a police officer during a police intervention or while the person is in police custody.”

It is already mandated by Quebec law that an investigation be held if such incidents occur.

However, current investigations are designated to an outside police force – one whose officers were not involved in the incident.

The proposed bureau would work alongside this investigation, and would report back to Dutil with their findings.

Quebec Ombudsperson Raymonde Saint-Germain does not believe these proposals go far enough. In an email to The Daily, Saint-Germain’s Director of Communications Carol-Ann Huot said that, “For the most part, Bill 46 does not change the procedure in place under the current ministerial policy.”

“The fact is that Bill 46 maintains the system of police investigating police that does not provide a sufficient guarantee of impartiality,” Huot continued.

In a February 2010 report on Quebec’s investigative procedures into incidents involving police officers, Saint-Germain estimated the cost of establishing an independent investigation office at around $3 million, representing about 0.2 per cent of the Quebec police services total annual budget. She believes that this funding “can be made possible by reallocating existing resources.”

Huot spoke to a current attitude of mistrust between police and the public.

“The public interest requires a serious and credible solution to the fundamental problem of lack of trust regarding police investigations into incidents where a civilian dies, is seriously injured, or is injured by a firearm or conducted energy device used by a police officer during a police intervention or while the civilian is in police custody,” said Huot.

The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) would not comment on the story, stating that, as the bill is not yet mandated, they cannot issue a comment. Dutil’s office had also not responded to The Daily’s requests for comment at time of press.

Martine Painchaud, press secretary for Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s cabinet, said in an interview with The Daily,  “We believe in the creation of an independent unit, and we believe that the project of the government is the step in the right direction, though it is not exactly what city council asked for.”

During the summer of 2011, the Montreal City Council passed a resolution for the Quebec government to establish an independent investigation committee, following the shootings of two men by police.

“It is important that the population have a lot of confidence in a system of investigations that are impartial and independent,” continued Painchaud.

Huot reiterated that “a credible long-term solution to re-establish public trust in such investigations while respecting police officers and their rights must be put in place.”