Alberta Liberal leader calls for tighter oversight for police street checks

Alberta Liberal Party Leader David Khan is calling for an overhaul to the Alberta Human Rights Act to expand the powers of the human rights commission to investigate racial profiling complaints around police street checks.

David Khan wants amendments to give more authority to Alberta Human Rights Commission

Liberal Party Leader David Khan says the human rights commission should be able to initiate human rights investigations and make recommendations when there is widespread concern. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

Alberta Liberal Party Leader David Khan is calling for an overhaul to the Alberta Human Rights Act to expand the powers of the Alberta Human Rights Commission to investigate racial profiling complaints around police street checks.

Khan noted human rights commissions in other provinces, such as Ontario, have broader powers to investigate. He has sent a letter to Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley calling for the amendments.

"The act can be changed to give the commission more ability and power to investigate issues of discrimination which would include this issue of carding, which involves racially profiling citizens," said Khan in an interview with CBC.

He said the commission should be granted the ability to initiate investigations of Alberta-based human rights issues and make recommendations where there is widespread concern.

A recent CBC Edmonton investigation showed between 2012 and 2016 Edmonton police disproportionately stopped, questioned and documented people of colour in non-criminal encounters.

Some advocacy groups and carding critics say the figures are evidence of racial profiling.

But Edmonton police insist street checks are not racially motivated and officers conducting them improperly will be held accountable.

Most complaints filed against Edmonton police officers are currently investigated by the Edmonton Police Service's Professional Standards Branch, and reviewed by the public complaint director of the Edmonton police commission.

Appeals are made to the Law Enforcement Review Board, made up of members from the public, who are appointed by the lieutenant-governor.

But Khan said those appeals are flawed because the board reviews the decision for "unreasonableness" rather than re-hearing the evidence and substituting its own decision.

As well, he said hearing officers are generally former police officers appointed by police chiefs "and there is at least the appearance of bias."

Legislative amendments are needed to provide greater civilian oversight and control over police commissions, Khan said.

Police commissions are 'window dressing'

"Right now we really don't have real civilian oversight of police services," Khan said, suggesting police commissions are "sort of window dressing" and they don't have the ability "to reprimand police officers" for misconduct.

"I'd want to look at that more closely, working with the police services to come up with some way so that there's more civilian oversight and thus more confidence in our police services by the citizenry," said Khan.

"Because that will benefit the police and public at large if we know that there are some mechanisms for seriously considering these important issues."

In a statement, Ganley told CBC the government is finalizing a plan to launch province-wide community consultations on street checks.

"Once feedback is collected, our goal is to draft a provincial guideline on the practice of street checks to ensure the rights of the public are respected, while still allowing community policing that engages with the public," she wrote.

"We believe a provincial guideline will standardize police practices throughout the province and provide consistent rules for all police to follow."