Independent review of Manitoba police legislation finds dozens of ways to bolster police oversight

An independent review of Manitoba’s Police Services Act, released publicly on Thursday, has come up with 70 recommendations aimed at improving policing and police oversight in the province.

The recommendations mainly focus on police oversight, but also on police conduct, delegating responsibilities of police officers, and policing generally. One of the recommendations calls for Manitoba Justice to establish how it defines, and will measure, “adequate and effective” policing.

“The changes that will come about as a result of this report will support greater responsiveness and accountability in policing, and help to ensure Manitobans have the utmost confidence in the law enforcement agencies who serve our communities so well,” said Justice Minister Cliff Cullen in a news release.

The death of George Floyd, a black man living in Minneapolis, Minn., who died in May after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 42 seconds, sparked new life in the civil rights movement, and protests against police brutality erupted around the world.

The Manitoba government had committed to a review of the Police Services Act during its 2018 throne speech, and on May 29, 2019, the government announced it had issued public tenders to hire someone to conduct it.

The review looked at how the legislation “supports professional, transparent and effective delivery of police services,” while finding what needs changing, the 196-page document says.

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen has said for some time now that the Police Services Act review, released publicly Thursday afternoon, would improve police oversight in in Manitoba. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

To reach their conclusions, reviewers read literature about the changing landscape of policing and community safety, analyzed the Manitoba Police Services Act and similar legislation in other provinces, analyzed data and consulted stakeholders such as oversight bodies and Indigenous organizations and communities.

Police watchdog should get more bite

Among the dozens of recommendations made in the review, many focused on specifying or bolstering the powers of police oversight agencies, and keeping them independent from who they monitor.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, the civilian oversight body that investigates serious incidents involving police officers, is currently governed by Part Seven of the Police Services Act.

But the review recommends the IIU have its own legislation.

“This would give it the same status as LERA [Manitoba’s Law Enforcement Review Agency, the agency designed to investigate public complaints of police misconduct], which operates under its own legislation, while reinforcing its independence with the public,” the document says.

The legislation should require police to comply “with all reasonable requests” made by the IIU director or investigators, and give the Justice minister the power to make peace officers have to co-operate with the IIU as well, the review says.

Information about sanctions for officers who do not comply with investigations should be included too, it adds.

The report also suggests rules around the process of IIU investigators requesting interviews with officers.

The investigator can write a request to a police chief, specifying the time and location of the interview. A subject officer — the officer at the heart of the incident — is not required to be interviewed by investigators, but can voluntarily agree to an interview.

Interviews with witness officers — officers who saw the incident — must take place at the time and place the request specified. The police chief must ensure the witness officer attends the interview, the review says.

The IIU civilian director may, in writing and at the request of a police chief, choose to postpone an interview.

Non-compliance with an investigation is why the IIU and the Winnipeg Police Service were in court last summer.

Around 10:30 p.m. on July 29, 2018, first responders were dispatched near Winnipeg’s Chinatown. There, Matthew Fosseneuve, 34, was aggressive and threatened officers with a brick, police say.

An officer used a Taser on Fosseneuve, and the man later died.

The IIU cleared the officers of wrongdoing earlier this week. But the investigation was delayed because the WPS wouldn’t hand over notes belonging to the two cadets who were first to arrive on scene.

The WPS lawyers argued that cadets are civilian officers and did not fall under the IIU’s authority. They had also argued that the notes could be self-incriminating.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Candace Grammond made a precedent-setting decision in August, ordering the police to hand over the notes.

The review lists a dozen other IIU legislation-related recommendations.

Coun. Vivian Santos resigned from her position on the Winnipeg police board after failing a security check conducted by the Winnipeg Police Service. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Keeping police boards independent

Winnipeg city councillor Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) resigned from her position on the police board in July, after failing a security check that was conducted by the Winnipeg Police Service.

Santos claims she was never given a reason for the failure, despite asking for an explanation. But Global News later reported that she failed her background check because of her ties to an alleged drug trafficker and his associate, citing anonymous police sources.

The review released Thursday suggests that, before a person is appointed to a police board, the appointing authority should consider the results of a candidate’s recent security background check.

Those checks should also be conducted by an agency the police board is not overseeing, it adds.

The review also suggests that a police board become the employer of its police force. The board’s responsibility would be to provide policing in the jurisdiction, ensure adequate and effective policing and establish strategic plans for local policing.

The Police Services Act says a police board is to “act as a liaison between the community and the police service.” The review recommends striking that from the legislation.

It also says the act should be amended so two municipal appointees on the police board are replaced by two provincial appointees.

“A municipal council’s role should be restricted to appointing some of the police board’s members and to fund — as the legislated ‘tax collector’ — the police board’s budget for policing,” the document says.

“This role should not extend to ‘co-governing’ the police service or overseeing the police board.”

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