Nunavut government introduces bill aimed at civilian oversight of RCMP

Nunavut RCMP could soon be subjected to civilian oversight for serious incidents, according to a bill introduced by Nunavut’s justice department in the most recent sitting of the legislature.

But it leaves the door open for police investigations into RCMP conduct in serious incidents

Nunavut MLAs passed Bill 53 for its first and second reading in October. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Nunavut RCMP could soon be subjected to civilian oversight for serious incidents, according to a bill introduced by the territorial government in the most recent sitting of the legislature. 

But the bill, which will be debated by MLAs early next year, leaves the door open for more of the same: police investigating Nunavut RCMP conduct in serious incidents, such as fatal shootings. 

"We're doing good things to improve transparency and reconciliation on policing," deputy minister of Justice Stephen Mansell told CBC News. 

"The intention of this bill is to allow us to use civilian investigators and civilian oversight to get as far as we can away from police investigating police."

The room left in the bill for possible police investigations is to allow the legislation to evolve toward greater civilian involvement over time, he added. 

Bill 53, an Act to Amend the RCMP Agreement Act, received first and second reading in late October. 

The bill allows the government to contract "an investigative body to investigate the [serious] incident." 

If that doesn't happen, the government can contract a police force to do the investigation. 

And if neither of those happen, the government "will notify the RCMP," which under the RCMP Act, has the authority to investigate the incident itself.

According to the act, the Mounties will first try and find an investigative body or police force to investigate but if they also fail to do so, they will investigate the incident themselves.

'Civilian' monitor may be former police officer

If a police force is contracted to do the investigation, Bill 53 says a civilian monitor "may" be appointed to review the impartiality of the investigation. 

The monitor cannot be a current police officer but, given their expertise, may be a former police officer, Mansell said. 

The monitor will assess the impartiality of the external police force's investigation and, if necessary, make recommendations to investigators. 

The bill does not include any authority for the monitor to enforce those recommendations. 

Instead, the monitor will submit a report that may make its way to the justice minister, if concerns around impartiality are not addressed.

Interpreter Atsainak Akeeshoo and Nunavut's deputy justice minister Stephen Mansell spoke to CBC by video Dec. 3, 2020. (CBC News)

"We're dedicated to sharing the results of these investigations and, in particular, the work of the civilian monitor," Mansell said. 

When asked if those reports would be made public, Mansell said the government would do its best to share as much of the monitor's work as possible while respecting privacy and the investigation. 

Cultural advisor 'may' be appointed

Bill 53 also says a cultural advisor may be appointed to investigations, which could be the same individual as the monitor. 

The bill does not make the advisor mandatory for investigations but the "intention is to ensure the investigative body has local knowledge and understands the culture in which they're working," Mansell said. 

"We understand that the trend in Canada, and what Nunavummiut are asking for, is for us to enter into these agreements and have civilians looking into these matters."

Nunavut RCMP headquarters in Iqaluit. (David Gunn/CBC)

This trend in Canada has been around since at least the 90s, according to experts who found even former or seconded police officers can bring unconscious bias to investigations into other police officers. 

The degree of independence of the investigations vary across the country. 

In Ontario, for example, lead investigators into serious allegations against police officers are not allowed to have police training. 

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is led by a civilian but uses police investigators. 

Government not committed to civilian investigations: legal aid 

Benson Cowan, the CEO of Nunavut's legal aid agency, said the legislation should have made public reporting on the investigations mandatory and required civilian investigators.

"The fact that their legislation doesn't require civilian investigation just shows that the government is not strongly committed to ensuring proper civilian oversight and proper transparency," Cowan told CBC News. 

Mansell said the government was dedicated to ensuring the transparency Nunavummiut are asking for. 

"If there are concerns about the need for further reporting, the department will look at that during our consultations and discussion with the MLAs," Mansell said.