Officers launch legal challenge of Quebec's police watchdog

When a police officer in Quebec is under investigation for a shooting or causing serious injury in the line of duty, they can't invoke the right to silence or consult a lawyer. Officers say that's unconstitutional. They're taking the government to court to try to change it.

Police federations allege BEI investigations violate officers' charter rights

The lawsuit alleges police officers in Quebec under investigation by the BEI are denied rights that ordinary citizens accused of a crime would have, such as the right to remain silent or to consult a lawyer. (Stéphane Beaudoin/CBC)

Two police federations in Quebec are launching a legal challenge against the province's police watchdog, arguing the process to investigate officers suspected of wrongdoing violates their constitutional rights.

The bureau, known by its french acronym BEI, was set up in 2016 to investigate when someone is shot, seriously hurt or killed during a police operation.

The Montreal Police Brotherhood and The Federation of Quebec Municipal Police Officers filed a motion in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday.

They allege that obliging officers under investigation to speak with BEI investigators is unconstitutional.

"Police officers in Quebec are entitled to the same protections as the general public in terms of criminal law," Robin Côté, president of the municipal police federation, said in a statement.

"It's obvious that the Quebec government would be better off watching what's being done elsewhere in Canada and asking questions to revise its own regulations."

Different standard compared to other provinces

The BEI was created in 2015 expressly to put an end of the practice of police investigating police. Prior to its creation, when an officer was accused of killing or seriously injuring someone on the job, officers from another police force were called in to investigate.

The legislation that created the BEI stipulates that police officers who are either witnesses to or directly involved in police operations where people are hurt or killed must speak to BEI investigators and turn over their notes.

Other provinces make a distinction between officers who are witnesses and officers who may eventually face criminal charges.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has different standards for "witness officers" and "subject officers."

The SIU defines subject officers as those "whose conduct appears, in the director's opinion, to have caused the death or serious injury under investigation."

Those officers can invoke their right to remain silent during SIU investigations and consult a lawyer.

Witness officers are defined as being involved in the incident, but not being subject officers.

Witness officers in Ontario are obliged to speak to SIU investigators and to turn over all their notes.

That same model is used in British Columbia and other provinces with independent investigation bodies.

In Quebec's legislation governing the BEI, there's no distinction between subject officers and witness officers.

Both are obliged to speak to BEI investigators and turn over their notes. Both can't invoke their right to remain silent nor consult a lawyer.

Lawsuit alleges charter violation

It's this specific part of the law the police federations are hoping to overturn.

"This violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and violates the fundamental rights of the police officer under investigation," the statement from the municipal police federation said.

A spokesperson for Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said the minister wouldn't comment since the matter is before the courts.

The head of the BEI has complained that several officers under investigation in the province have refused to comply with the law.

A recent CBC News investigation found that since its creation, the BEI has investigated 126 cases involving Quebec police, including 71 where someone died.

No police officer in Quebec has ever been criminally charged following a BEI investigation.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.


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