Policing the police: Newfoundland and Labrador moving ahead with civilian-led oversight agency

Newfoundland and Labrador is getting ready to launch a new Serious Incident Response Team, which would investigate police shootings and other serious incidents.

RNC police chief welcomes the new resource as "a good thing'

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons led discussions about proposed legislation on a new Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT). (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador is preparing to launch a new team that would investigate police shootings and other serious incidents. But there's still no decision on whether it will be Atlantic-wide or only for Newfoundland and Labrador.

The government has introduced a bill to establish a Serious Incident Response Team Legislation (SIRT), and Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons says discussions are ongoing with other provinces about whether to team up.

"I'm happy to do that to see if it will allow efficiencies in cost and efficiencies in improving investigations," said Parsons.

"This legislation will allow us to do a model that is either Newfoundland and Labrador, regional, bilateral ... it allows for any arrangement we think is best," said Parsons.

Parsons says he'll be in Nova Scotia in the coming weeks to discuss this with other provinces.

Director of SIRT to be a civilian

Government committed to the creation of SIRT in March 2016, following years of calls for better civilian oversight of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The director of the SIRT will be a civilian; they can't have served as a police officer. Individual investigators may be hired or seconded from the RNC and RCMP.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says discussions are still underway with other Atlantic provinces about whether to team up on an incident response team or whether to go it alone. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

While seconded, the officers will report to the director, and won't be allowed to lead an investigation looking into the conduct of officers from his or her own force. Parsons says other provinces have similar models which work well.

Following other provinces

Alberta and Nova Scotia both have their own civilian oversight agencies, which are called in for investigations of police forces.

Newfoundland and Labrador, however, doesn't have one — and there have been multiple cases where one police force, the RNC or RCMP, investigated alleged wrongdoing by the other.

Calls for such a team accelerated in recent years, including during the investigation into the death of Don Dunphy, who was shot and killed by RNC Const. Joe Smyth. As no provincial oversight group existed, the RCMP was brought in to investigate the shooting.

Calls for a serious incident response team increased in recent years, including after Const. Joe Smyth shot and killed Don Dunphy. (CBC)

The director will have the independence to decide which police incidents to investigate.

According to Bill 24, also known as the Serious Incident Response Team Act, the criteria for those decisions would include all matters involving a death, serious injury, sexual offence, or domestic violence, and any other matters of significant public interest arising from police activity.

The director will have the authority to lay charges, after consultation with the director of public prosecutions.

SIRT 'a good thing,' says RNC chief

The chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is on board for SIRT to be established here. 

"I think it's important that  our community see these investigations as being fair and you know, having public confidence is critical for a police service," Joe Boland told CBC Thursday afternoon. 

"So I think that having SIRT established here in the province is a good thing. "

RNC Chief Joe Boland says SIRT will improve the public's perception of police. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Boland believes there are advantages to teaming up with other Atlantic provinces which have had previous experience, and thinks it will ultimately improve certain optics. 

"When you have the perception of police investigating police ... it will be seen as the police looking after themselves. So what SIRT will do, hopefully, is eliminate that," he said.