Independent police watchdog officially launched by B.C. AG

B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond unveiled the province's first ever independent police review agency at a news conference Monday morning.
Richard Rosenthal, centre, is flanked by B.C. Premier Christy Clark, left, and Justice Minister Shirley Bond, right, in 2011. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond unveiled the province’s first ever independent police review agency at a news conference Monday morning.

The much-anticipated Independent Investigations Office (IIO) will be responsible for reviewing police incidents involving fatalities or serious injury.

Bond was joined by chief civilian director Richard Rosenthal in what the attorney general called "an historic day for the province of British Columbia."

The office will oversee RCMP and municipal forces, as well as transit police forces.

"Our mandate is to provide British Columbians with fair, thorough, competent investigation, conducted in a timely manner with a spirit of transparency and openness," said Rosenthal.

He says the goal is to restore public confidence and ensure police are treated the same way civilians are.

"It used to be that officer witnesses were not interviewed for hours, if not days or weeks," he said. "The expectation now is they will be interviewed before the end of their shift or within 24 hours."

B.C. 4th province to launch independent watchdog

The civilian-led oversight agency was set up after complaints about police investigating themselves in cases of civilian deaths or injuries, including the shooting death of Ian Bush in 2005 and the 2007 stun gun death of Robert Dziekanksi.

A similar agency in Ontario, the Special Investigations Unit, has been in place since 1990 but has fallen under public criticism for its ineffectiveness due to what some say is a conflicting relationship with police.

B.C. is the fourth province to launch such an independent investigative body and promises to provide greater civilian presence than anywhere in Canada.

The IIO will consist of roughly 36 investigators as well as dozens of support staff and legal counsel with an equal split between experienced civilian investigators and former police officers, none of whom have served in the past five years.

"We felt it was important for British Columbians to see this office as being civilian-led, while maintaining the level of experience and competence needed to conduct these sensitive investigations," said Bond.

The IIO has the ability to review incidents on a case-by-case basis and recommend charges to the Crown when warranted.

Rosenthal said his office will also publicly exonerate any officer found innocent of wrongdoing and release the details behind such a decision in the spirit of transparency.

The office expects to handle about 100 cases every year.

The IIO’s budget is set at $9.3 million for the first year, and will rise to $10.1 million in the years following.