Quebec's Ombudsman Raymonde St. Germain has slammed proposed legislation to create a civilian oversight body that would monitor the way police investigate police in Quebec.
Hearings into Bill 46 began Monday, and while there is little sign of consensus on the bill, Public Security Minister Robert Dutil appears unwilling to make many changes to it.
The draft legislation calls for the creation of a civilian board to keep watch over police probes into their own conduct, but that falls far short of the recommendations that St. Germain made in a special report in 2010.
"This office would not have the power to directly investigate such incidents involving police officers," St. Germain said, adding she wants a fully independent investigation unit staffed by civilians - similar to those in Ontario and B.C.
"Be it real or not, there is a perception that police officers, amongst themselves, are very protective," St. Germain said. "There is a kind of 'omerta'."
The ombudsman and other critics point to high-profile cases including the Montreal police shooting of Fredy Villanueva in August 2008 and the September 2007 death of Claudio Castagnetta, who succumbed to his injuries after he was tasered by Quebec City police.
In both cases investigations by other police forces exonerated the officers involved.
Dutil said he is sensitive to the perception that whenever a civilian is killed or gets hurt by a police officer, the investigation of that incident by another police force is less than impartial.
"We want to have more transparency when those events happen," Dutil said, but he added that it's important police remain the frontline investigators.
Police forces across Quebec support the legislation and insist only police officers have the know-how to investigate their fellow officers.
"For the most part, we are in agreement with Bill 46," said Denis Côté, the president of the Union of Quebec Municipal Police.
Côté said he believes the bill goes far enough to reassure the public without interfering in internal police probes.
But St. Germain insists a civilian board is capable of getting the job done, and that would reassure a skeptical public that the process is transparent, independent and impartial.