Canada's only other civilian police oversight agency has the power to lay charges without first having the cases reviewed by Crown prosecutors as they are in Alberta.

"The difference I suppose in Ontario is that it's right in the statute — the provincial statute," said Ian Scott, executive director of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit.

"That if I have reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence took place, I shall lay a charge."

si-sobieh2

ASIRT will not charge three Edmonton police officers with excessive force in the arrest of El-sayad (Sammy) Sobieh last year. Three charges faced by Sobieh were stayed by the Crown last week. (CBC)

On Monday, Clif Purvis, executive director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team or ASIRT, announced that charges of excessive force would not be laid against three Edmonton police officers in the August 2011 arrest of the owner of a Norwood meat shop — an incident caught on security video.

Purvis felt there were "reasonable and probable grounds" to believe an offence had taken place but he was overruled by senior Crown prosecutors who didn't believe there was a likelihood of conviction.

The incident has raised questions about the purpose and independence of ASIRT. On Tuesday, Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis defended the decision not to proceed.

"ASIRT is important because I want the public to have confidence it's not the police investigating police," he said.

"But it's also important the public understands that the Crown makes these decisions independent of any political interference from me or anybody else in the government."

The Ontario Special Investigations Unit laid charges against a dozen police officers in one year. ASIRT has charged one Alberta officer in the past two years.

 

With files from the CBC's Janice Johnston