Fredericton police should have 'farmed out' blogger case
Ex-ombudsman says force had 'too much history' with Charles LeBlanc
Posted: Dec 4, 2012 5:51 AM AT
Last Updated: Dec 4, 2012 3:47 PM AT
The Fredericton Police Force should have "farmed out" the investigation involving controversial blogger Charles LeBlanc, an independent review released on Tuesday concludes.
"There was too much history with the force, too many incidents involving this same officer and Mr. LeBlanc was too often in the public sphere to avoid the perception that the Fredericton Police Force could not be totally impartial in its consideration of the case," former ombudsman Bernard Richard states in his report.
LeBlanc who writes a blog on politics and social justice issues, was facing possible criminal libel charges, under section 301 of the Criminal Code for allegedly damaging the reputation of a city police officer in a blog post in the summer of 2011.
But the Office of the Attorney General issued a statement in May, saying it would not be proceeding because that section had been deemed unconstitutional in other jurisdictions.Fredericton police officers raided Charles LeBlanc's home and seized his computer equipment in January. (CBC)
Richard, was hired by the City of Fredericton in June to "review and investigate all aspects of conduct" of the police force.
Richard cannot express opinions regarding civil or criminal liability of any person or organization under the review's guidelines.
But he does make several recommendations, including:
- That the City of Fredericton and its force take steps to promote the adoption of policy guidelines for the full implementation and use of the MOU creating the New Brunswick Integrated Investigation Team.
- That in all Fredericton Police Force (FPF) requests for search warrants respecting computer data, every effort be made to specifically describe the information sought.
- That the FPF provide to all its members a briefing with clear instructions relating to the proper use of the "Letter of request for account information regarding a child sexual exploitation investigation."
- That the FPF provide all its members with enhanced mandatory training on dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, including education on mental disorders, available services and intervention techniques.
- That the FPF give consideration to including in its staffing complement resources with appropriate training, knowledge and experience in dealing with emotionally disturbed persons.
- That the FPF develop a police for responding to emotional disturbed persons, which includes a strategy for managing communications when clients publish false and/or libelous information.
- That the FPF ensure that members who are the targets of unfair and potentially harmful criticism stemming from the execution of their duty have access to the help and support they require.
Acting Police Chief Leanne Fitch says all seven recommendations are being reviewed and will be acted upon in the coming weeks, Richard states in his report.
"We have already begun to enhance training in dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, formed partnerships within the local mental health services community, and we will be revisiting current police to provide clearer direction on the execution of search warrants as referenced by Mr. Richard," she is quoted as saying
"It is also extremely important that we provide our officers with all the support we can when they're faced with these kinds of challenges. This is something I take very seriously and will be discussing with members of the force in the coming weeks," Fitch added.
LeBlanc was arrested and released in January, while officers searched his apartment and seized his computer equipment. Eight officers were involved in the raid, he has said.
In May, then-police chief Barry MacKnight said he welcomed a review because the case had raised questions about the motivations behind the investigation.
"I appreciate the optics on this were not good," he had said.Barry MacKnight retired as the Fredericton chief of police on July 1. (CBC)
"There is nothing more important to a police department than the public having confidence in its integrity as that relates directly to our reputation."
On June 20, MacKnight, 49, announced he was stepping down as chief.
A national civil liberties group wrote to the police chief in February, questioning the treatment of LeBlanc.
Six University of New Brunswick professors also sent a letter to the attorney general in February, saying they thought the case would not result in a conviction and was not in the public interest.
At least four jurisdictions have found section 301 to be unconstitutional — Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.
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