Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. SIRT could be in place this year, justice minister says

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister anticipates that the new serious-incident response team handling investigations into the police will be up and running this year.

Andrew Parsons stresses Crown has final say whether charges are laid against police officers

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says he hopes a serious-incident response team can be established in Newfoundland and Labrador by the end of the year. (John Pike/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister says he believes the new serious-incident response team handling investigations into the police can be up and running this year.

"We are extremely close to hiring the new director," Andrew Parsons told CBC News.

"We've gone through an interview process. So I anticipate that moving forward very quickly."

Up until now, the province relied on the SIRTs in Nova Scotia and Alberta to investigate instances where there is possible police wrongdoing.

At times, the province would lean on outside police forces to investigate — as was the recent case involving three Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers.

A CBC News investigation today revealed details of a report by St. John's lawyer and independent overseer Gus Bruce, who recommended criminal charges be laid against three officers for their handling of an incident at the Ball family home in Paradise in November 2017.

Newfoundland and Labrador will soon get its own serious-incident response team, similar to those in Nova Scotia and Alberta. (SIRT)

The Ontario Provincial Police were called in to investigate and Bruce oversaw the file, which included surveillance footage from outside the family home. It showed officers pepper-spraying and striking Zackary Ball, as well as beating in a window. 

The officers said Ball and his father resisted arrest and obstructed justice. However, the Crown withdrew the charges against the two men after viewing the video and reviewing evidence in the case. 

Despite Bruce's recommendation for charges against the RNC officers, the Crown ultimately decided there was not enough evidence to bring the case before the courts, for a reasonable likelihood of conviction.

"One thing our Crowns are always careful of is not taking something to trial if you don't have that reasonable likelihood," Parsons said.

Independent oversight vital, minister says

Parsons said having independent oversight of police incidents is vital for public trust and for police officers themselves.

"Some cases, there are charges that are laid, some that are not, but the fact is, people now know there is an independent overseer," Parsons said.

"And it's not just good for the citizenry; it's actually good for the police, because the police know in the vast majority of cases they are doing good work, and they don't mind having their work scrutinized."

Parsons said there are three independent investigations underway involving police officers. Two of the 13 completed investigations are before the courts. 

As in all cases, Parsons said the Crown will determine whether or not to proceed with prosecution — regardless of the SIRT recommendation.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

With files from Rob Antle