New Brunswick

Allowing corporate donations to police will erode public trust, critics warn

Bill 53 would allow police chiefs and cities served by the RCMP to request additional funding for any “project that would benefit” policing in the province.

Black Lives Matter activists push back on Police Act amendment amid concerns some could 'buy influence'

Public Safety Minister Ted Flemming has proposed Police Act amendments that will allow police chiefs to request funding for any "project that would benefit" policing in the province. (Jacques Poitras/CBC file photo)

Amendments to the Police Act that would allow corporations to donate to police services have sparked concerns about conflict of interest and the potential for influence peddling.

Proposed by Public Safety Minister Ted Flemming, Bill 53 will allow police chiefs and cities served by the RCMP to request funding for any "project that would benefit" policing in the province. Requests can also be made for projects aimed at improving expertise in policing techniques. 

The amendments got final approval from MLAs in a vote on Tuesday and are expected to become law on Friday.

But some are pushing back against the amendments.

Activists with Black Lives Matter Fredericton have started writing letters to MLAs to oppose the bill, which would facilitate donations through the creation of the Municipal Police Assistance Fund.  

BLM organizer Husoni Raymond says getting public input on community safety policies shouldn't take this long. (Miriam Lafontaine)

Black Lives Matter organizer Husoni Raymond said he worries the fund will erode the public's trust in police.

"Marginalized communities oftentimes do not trust the institution of policing because of the disproportionate harm that it has had on their community members," he said. 

"Allowing corporations to essentially buy influence into police forces is completely outrageous, and it's something everyone should be concerned about." 

Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson agreed the fund could create potential conflicts of interest. 

"If policing is a public service, then it should only receive public funds, and if you do open it up to the private sector then you're opening up a can of worms," he said. 

"Obviously we believe the more resources and tools we can get to our police forces, the better it is, but it's got to be done properly."

Allowing corporations to essentially buy influence into police forces is completely outrageous, and it's something everyone should be concerned about.- Husoni Raymond, Black Lives Matter Fredericton

In a statement to CBC News on Wednesday, Flemming said the fund is being incorporated into the Police Act to provide funding for training and new equipment.

The fund has existed for several years already, he said, but has only received funding from fines.

"A portion of the fine revenue, 25 per cent, is paid into the fund," he said. "This has always been the primary and only source of revenue credited to this fund." 

Green MLA Kevin Arseneau attempted to remove the section of the bill mentioning gifts from corporations and citizens during a committee meeting on May 28, but the move was voted down. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Reports will be made public, Flemming says

Green MLA Kevin Arseneau attempted to remove the section of the bill mentioning gifts from corporations and citizens during a committee meeting on May 28, but the move was voted down. 

Arseneau has also expressed concerns about whether information about donations to the fund will be accessible to the public.

According to the bill, annual reports written by the minister of public safety must be provided to the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police.

"Why write it like that?" Arseneau said. "If you're going to make it public, just write it explicitly, and then the government is forced to make it public."

Flemming said the reports will be made public.

"All special-purpose accounts, such as this one, are subject to the Province of New Brunswick's Public Accounts examination," he said in his statement Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the minister also said the names of the corporations and individuals who donate over $1,000 will be disclosed to the public. 

Donations to police forces not unheard of

Donations to police forces in New Brunswick are not unheard of. In 2019, Commercial Properties, an Irving-owned company, donated an armoured vehicle to the Saint John Police Force.

Similar foundations exist in other provinces, though they are typically run through police departments rather than through the province.

When the Calgary Police Foundation was founded in 2012, oil companies Enbridge, Cenovus and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. were listed among the donors who had provided at least $1 million. 

This year, real estate tycoon Peter Wall donated $1 million to the Vancouver Police Foundation. The founder of the publicly traded Wall Financial Corp. is also a frequent donor to political parties.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Montreal, and can be reached at miriam.lafontaine@cbc.ca.

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