Fredericton police broke language and conduct rules, investigation finds
Traffic stop complaint to N.B. Police Commission results in 2 officers being disciplined, 3 recommendations
A complaint filed against the Fredericton Police Force over the way two officers responded to a request for service in French during a traffic stop last summer has resulted in disciplinary action and three recommended changes.
An investigation by the New Brunswick Police Commission found the two officers did not comply fully with the province's Official Languages Act or with the force's language policies and procedures.
"The Fredericton Police Force takes the findings of the commission's investigative report very seriously," Chief Leanne Fitch said in a statement Thursday.
"We will continue to make improvements to address a number of recommendations outlined in the report."
Katherine d'Entremont, the commissioner of official languages, could not immediately be reached for comment.
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The complaint was filed June 13 by two women who said they had received unprofessional and intimidating treatment after their car was pulled over by police on Smythe Street on June 11.
In an interview with CBC News in July, the passenger said the driver told police she did not speak English and would need to be addressed in French, which was her right.
The first two police officers who came to the car, however, would speak only in English, the passenger said, and one of them told her he was sure she, too, spoke English.
The passenger told CBC News that after the driver informed police she would wait the 30 to 45 minutes for a French-speaking officer, the officer conducting the traffic stop yelled that he would fine her for failure to produce insurance.
Eventually, a third officer, who was bilingual, arrived to handle the traffic stop. The driver was issued tickets for an expired registration and failure to produce proof of insurance.
The complaint contained seven allegations, but only two were upheld, said Fitch, without elaborating.
The New Brunswick Police Commission investigated a conduct complaint against the two officers and a service complaint against the force under two sections of the New Brunswick Police Act, according to executive director Steve Roberge.
"There were indeed disciplinary processes" against the two officers, confirmed Roberge.
But he said he could not release the names of the officers, the nature of their conduct or details about the disciplinary action because the matter did not proceed to a public arbitration hearing.
Fitch said the officers had to attend a settlement conference, but settlement agreements are confidential under the Police Act.
"We acknowledge that traffic stops can be challenging," she said. "Officers must consider a number of variables with each encounter to ensure the public and officer safety."
With respect to the service complaint against the force, the commission's investigator, former deputy premier Aldéa Landry, recommended that:
- The wording of the pocket translator, in consultation with the Department of Public Safety, be enhanced to cover an officer asking a driver to produce their licence, registration and proof of insurance.
- Refresher sessions be given at least once a year to all non-bilingual police officers to remind them of their obligations under the Official Languages Act and the force's language policy.
- The Fredericton Police Force ensure there is at least one bilingual officer available at all times to provide service in the language choice of members of the public, within a reasonable time.
Roberge said it's up to Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry to ensure the recommendations are complied with. The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Fitch said it's "a constant challenge" for the force to balance providing public safety services while also complying with the Official Languages Act.
But "additional resources will be allocated" to provide some French language training for officers and staff.
26% of 'staff' know some French
As it stands, about 26 per cent of "staff" have some capability in French, ranging from basic up to French being their first language, according to oral testing conducted last summer, said Fitch.
She did not provide the proficiency levels for officers alone.
"We feel this reflects the city's population and needs, which according to Statistics Canada, in Fredericton 75 per cent speak English only, and 24 per cent are bilingual or French-speaking only," Fitch said. "The last one per cent is neither English nor French.
"Our numbers/ratio reflect well in terms of per cent French and English provincially.
She also said training is a constant process in the department, and language training is part of professional development.
Bilingualism can't be 'prerequisite'
All job postings now list bilingualism as a "preference and an asset," said Fitch.
"We can't narrow it to 'prerequisite' because the pool of interested qualified candidates would be too small," she said.
For the past several years, all officers have been trained to provide the required "active offer" of serving citizens in the language of their choice and have been issued pocket translator cards.
The force continues to inform its members about the importance of "formulating the active offer," said Fitch.
- An earlier version of this story omitted the detail that the passenger alleges an officer yelled during the traffic stop, which is part of her allegation of intimidating conduct.Feb 02, 2018 3:36 PM AT