Nfld. & Labrador

Erin Breen calls for civilian-led agency to oversee serious incidents involving police

A prominent criminal defence lawyer says there should be an independent, civilian-led agency in Newfoundland and Labrador to investigate serious incidents involving the police.

Lawyer says independent investigative body would mean more accountability

Erin Breen is a criminal defence lawyer based in St. John's. (CBC)

A prominent criminal defence lawyer says there should be an independent, civilian-led agency in Newfoundland and Labrador to investigate serious incidents involving the police.

"It would be, in my mind, a very progressive step," Erin Breen told CBC News.

Breen says Newfoundland and Labrador should follow the lead of other provinces, which have civilian-led agencies to avoid having situations where the police investigate the police.

"It's an extra layer of independence, of accountability, of integrity," she noted.

"It's all about the appearance that things are being done right. And it's all about public confidence in that system."

Breen was reacting to a story CBC News broke on Wednesday, about an external criminal investigation of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

That investigation that is being carried out by a civilian-led agency from Nova Scotia, the Serious Incident Response Team.

There is no similar agency in this province. Breen thinks there should be.

Lawyer for Dunphy family 

Breen is the lawyer in another serious situation involving the police — the fatal shooting of Don Dunphy by an RNC officer last year.

She represents Dunphy's daughter, who has expressed concern about how that investigation is being handled.

Breen says those concerns could have been avoided.

"Had we had an independent civilian agency taking control of this at the beginning, I think for the family it would have given them a level of comfort that they have not had," she noted.

Issue raised with premier

Reporters raised the issue of whether it is time for the province to have its own civilian-led agency in a scrum with Premier Dwight Ball on Thursday.

Ball replied that what's important is that the proper investigation is completed.

"Newfoundlanders and Labradorians — and Canadians in general — what they want to be able to do is be able to rely on a justice system that they can count on," Ball said.

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