Manitoba

Manitoba pushes for provincewide code of conduct for police agencies

The provincial government has announced plans to create a provincewide code of conduct for all Manitoba police forces as part of changes that could improve police accountability in the province.

Changes would give civilians more time to file complaints over police misconduct

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen introduced legislation Thursday that includes provisions designed to create a standardized code of conduct for all police forces in Manitoba. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The provincial government has announced plans to create a provincewide code of conduct for all Manitoba police forces as part of changes that could improve police accountability in the province.

Bill 30, the Police Services Amendment and Law Enforcement Review Amendment Act, was introduced at the legislature Thursday and went to first reading.

"It will foster a culture of excellence and enhance police accountability," said Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen. 

The bill establishes the Manitoba Criminal Intelligence Centre, which will be staffed with experts who will help police forces and other law-enforcement agencies develop intelligence-gathering and analysis capacity. The centre would also improve information sharing between services, among other things, according to Goertzen.

It's amendments to the Police Services Act that might affect accountability issues.

Those amendments include the creation of two positions with the intelligence centre, one of which sets the stage for changes to how members of the public report complaints about police conduct.

Non-criminal complaints by civilians are currently lodged through the Law Enforcement Review Agency. Goertzen admitted to CBC News earlier this month there is a "problem" with how LERA operates and pledged to announce improvements.

The amendment includes the creation of a criminal intelligence director position, who will be responsible for forming standards for the centre. Another role, the director of policing, will have the power to create standards for police service operations and a provincewide code of conduct for all police services.

Several other provinces already have a unified code of conduct covering all police services.

Not having such a code in Manitoba has led to inconsistencies in how breaches are reported, managed and processed, Goertzen says.

"Having a consistent code of conduct that everybody understands and that everybody can see across the province is a good first step," Goertzen said after question period Thursday.

"With a code of conduct I think there will be more opportunity to look at: is LERA working as a mechanism; are there better mechanisms if people have concerns about how they're interacting with police officers? And it will begin that larger discussion."

Having a consistent code of conduct that everybody understands and that everybody can see across the province is a good first step.- Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen

The bill would give complainants more time to register their concerns with LERA; the timeline would increase to 180 from the current 30-day window.

Police chiefs would be required to share complaints with the department of justice and Manitoba Police Commission. The bill would also mandate co-operation with the commission by police chiefs and officers implicated in complaints.

"Clearly, there needs to be some improvement when it comes to the ability to make concerns and complaints when citizens have them," Goertzen said.

"We have tremendous women and men in the police service in Manitoba, in the municipal and in the provincial police services, through the RCMP, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a standard code of conduct as exists in most other provinces."

The announcement comes as a CBC News analysis found LERA has been languishing for years: it's understaffed, its budget has been slashed and rarely does a complaint about police result in any discipline.

'Sophie' was never interviewed by a LERA investigator. She's among the more than 2,000 people whose complaints have been dismissed by LERA since its creation in 1985. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A CBC News analysis suggests only two police officers have faced discipline over the past decade as part of LERA complaints or faced discipline over the past decade as a result of LERA investigations.

Manitobans filed more than 1,700 complaints during that same period of time, the vast majority of which were dismissed by the commissioner or abandoned by the complainant.

LERA is the sole agency in Manitoba to which individuals can file a public complaint about the conduct of a municipal officer. 

The bill will still have to move its way through the legislature, which will include public committee hearing where people will be able to voice their concerns for the bill and suggest changes.

The last time the Progressive Conservatives tried to change LERA, it was met with fierce opposition. Media reports at the time said 200 out-of-uniform officers came to the legislature in protest of the changes.

With files from Kristin Annable

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