Manitoba

Proposed changes to police act would amount to 'takeover of a police service' by province: Winnipeg mayor

A report to the province suggests 70 changes to policing legislation, including changes to how police board appointments are made. "If these recommendations move forward, the province will have full control over the Winnipeg Police Service," says Mayor Brian Bowman.

Recommendations in report to province include changing how police board members are appointed

Proposed changes to Manitoba's Police Services Act could see Winnipeg city council's authority to appoint members to the police board transferred to the provincial government. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman has targeted a report to Manitoba's justice minister on suggested reforms to provincial policing legislation, calling some of the recommendations a potential attack on local democracy.

Justice Minister Cameron Friesen responded that Bowman should "stop his complaining." 

The review, completed last fall by the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance — a Saskatoon-based non-profit think tank — provided 70 recommendations on overhauling Manitoba's Police Services Act.

Those include reforming police oversight from the Law Enforcement Review Agency and the Winnipeg Police Service's professional standards unit, as well as the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, which is mandated to investigate all serious incidents involving police in the province.

The report also proposes a significant increase in authority and governance on policing issues for the Manitoba Police Commission.

The authors of the report include former RCMP officers, a criminologist and the executive director of the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards.

Bowman was prompted to raise concerns after a City of Winnipeg report on the recommendations was made public this week. 

"Effectively it's a takeover of a police service by a provincial government," Bowman told reporters Thursday.

Mayor Brian Bowman says he likes some of the recommendations on reforming the Police Services Act but others amount to an 'erosion of of local democracy.' (John Einarson/CBC )

Many of the report's recommendations are based on comparisons with how other provinces and their municipalities manage oversight of police services. 

Bowman's concerns speak to other proposals in the Safety Alliance report. 

Among those are replacing two municipal appointees on the Winnipeg Police Board with two provincial appointees.

The report also suggests the board become the employer of the police chief and take responsibility for collective bargaining with the union representing officers. 

"If these recommendations move forward, the province will have full control over the Winnipeg Police Service, less input from residents, and they will dictate the price the city must pay," Bowman said.

Winnipeg's mayor urged provincial MLAs to speak out about some of the changes. 

Manitoba Justice Minister Cameron Friesen says Mayor Brian Bowman should 'stop complaining' and start listening to some of his city councillors. (Marouane Refak/CBC)

The justice minister's response was swift and pointed, with Friesen saying he's met with St. James Coun. Scott Gillingha, who is the city's finance chair, and St. Norbert Coun. Markus Chambers, who chairs the Winnipeg Police Board.

"I encourage the mayor to stop his complaining, speak further with his own city councillors about our recent meetings, and commit to engage in this important work that we are committed to moving forward," Friesen wrote in an email late Thursday.

Chambers told CBC News earlier this week he sees some of the proposed changes as "problematic," and is "OK with the way it [the police board] is set up now."

He was emphatically opposed to the recommendation the province take over the responsibility from the city for selecting board members, saying those non-elected appointees would be beholden to the province. 

He said, however, he'd like to see members of Winnipeg's police board with more expertise in finance issues and hopes to see someone with a background in mental health issues appointed to the board.

In his email, Friesen said no decisions on the recommendations have been made yet and the government was engaged with numerous municipal and community stakeholders.

"The work continues with the Manitoba Justice team undertaking outreach and consultations to further inform our path forward," Friesen wrote. 

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