Quebec's police watchdog gets staffing boost as workload grows

The bureau that investigates serious allegations or incidents involving police is expanding, in part to deal with sexual allegations involving police officers.

Four investigators added in part to handle complaints of a criminal sexual nature

Indigenous women in Val-d'Or's allegations of sexual abuse by police let the bureau of independent investigations to take on new duties. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

Quebec's police watchdog is expanding to deal with its growing caseload, nearly one year after it got down to work.

The Quebec independent investigations bureau (BEI) began operating in June 2016 with a mission to conduct independent investigations whenever a civilian is seriously injured by a police officer's firearm, or dies as a result of a police intervention or while being detained.

So far, the bureau's nearly two dozen investigators have been called to work on at least 48 cases.

Now the provincial cabinet has granted permission to hire four new investigators, which bureau spokesperson Martin Bonin-Charron sees as an acknowledgement of just how busy the bureau has been.

"It's quite a big workload for a new organization," said Bonin-Charron. "We started from nothing a year ago and we now deal with new challenges."

One of those unexpected challenges is the fallout from allegations made by some Indigenous women in the Val d'Or area, who said they had been sexually assaulted by police.

Thirty-seven women came forward to file official complaints. None led to any criminal charges.

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux announced last year that the independent investigations bureau would handle all complaints of criminal sexual offences against police.

The extended mandate put an extra burden on the bureau, which is now handling more than a half dozen files of this kind, said Bonin-Charron.

"This can explain a part of the need for new resources," he said.

The four new investigators, who mostly come from backgrounds outside law enforcement, will start looking at cases after their training.