Nfld. & Labrador

Civilian oversight coming to RNC and RCMP, as number of investigations spike

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons is calling for civilian oversight of police forces in this province, as CBC News has obtained new details that reveal just how often the police are being investigated in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Justice minister says total of 42 probes in 2015 unusually high, helps justify additional steps

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speaks with the CBC's David Cochrane 4:07

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons is calling for civilian oversight of police forces in this province, as CBC News has obtained new details that reveal just how often the police are being investigated in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We need to ensure public confidence in this system, and civilian oversight is going to do it," Parsons said.

Parsons's comments come less than a week after CBC News revealed that senior members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary were under criminal investigation.

That probe is being carried out by a civilian-led agency from Nova Scotia.

Parsons says the need to shift to civilian oversight is reinforced by information contained in government briefing notes obtained by CBC News through access to information.

According to those briefing materials, the RNC and RCMP were investigated 42 times in 2015 alone.

  • 12 times by an out-of-province police force;
  • 16 times they investigated each other;
  • there were nine internal investigations at the RNC;
  • five probes were carried out by the provincial director of public prosecutions.

Parsons cautions that there could be some duplication in those numbers — for example, multiple investigations into one incident.

It's a lot. I've checked into this, and I guess from what I'm being told, this is an abnormal year. This is higher than usual, which is a concern.- Justice Minister Andrew Parsons

The minister also noted that some may have been minor or human resources-related matters.

But he acknowledged the numbers are high.

"It's a lot. I've checked into this, and I guess from what I'm being told, this is an abnormal year. This is higher than usual, which is a concern," Parsons said.

"Even without that number, this is something that I wanted to see done … But having that number even I think gives it more justification for the steps that we're taking right now."

No timeline for action 

Parsons wouldn't give a timeline for when civilian oversight of the police forces could be in place, saying he doesn't want to rush it or get it wrong.

The minister says he has directed his officials to explore how this works in other provinces, and what may be best in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Before I can get to timelines I want to figure out the basics," Parsons said.

The move comes after a year that has seen criminal investigations into RNC officers in Corner Brook and St. John's, that were done by other police forces, along with the fatal shooting of Don Dunphy by an RNC officer.

'The public needs to have confidence'

"We've heard in the past police investigating police sometimes leaves an impression that maybe not the right thing was done," Parsons said.

"It comes back down to the overall concept that look, the public needs to have confidence in the justice system, in their policing forces, in every aspect of justice."

Parsons's comments come days after Premier Dwight Ball was asked about the need for a civilian-led agency.

Last Thursday, Ball was non-committal about that option.

"Who does the investigation, what's important to me is that the proper investigation gets done," the premier told reporters.

"Because 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."

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