Charlottetown Police seek to better support diverse communities

Charlottetown Police say more could be done to make their force more diverse and support the growing population of residents who don't speak English.

Police say recent court ruling highlights need to better-serve those whose first language isn't English

Judge Pierre Arseneault accepted the defence's argument that the accused did not understand his charter rights, because they were read to him in English. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Charlottetown Police say more could be done to make the force more diverse and support the growing population of residents who don't speak English.

This comes after a French-speaking man originally from Rwanda was recently found not guilty of driving impaired on the basis that his English wasn't good enough to understand his rights.

Cyusa Dylan Werabe failed a roadside breathalyzer test and another at the Charlottetown police station.

But at trial, which was held in French, his lawyer Derek Bondt argued that Werabe didn't understand his charter rights — mainly the right to consult a lawyer — because the officers only spoke to him in English.

Judge Pierre Arseneault accepted the defence's argument, which disqualified the breathalyzer evidence, and resulted in a not guilty verdict.

Increasing diversity

Charlottetown Deputy Chief Brad MacConnell says the case has been a learning experience, and he agrees there's work to be done when it comes to policing in an increasingly diverse capital city.

"I don't think we are at the level yet where we need to be to serve our diverse community," said MacConnell.

"Certainly this trial and this decision made us recognize that, and not that we completely agreed, but we respect that judge's decision and take from it what we need to. That we need to increase our level of services in that area in order to meet those expectations."

We need to encourage people in those diverse communities that we police to apply, we believe it's a shared responsibility.— Brad MacConnell, Deputy Chief

Pierre Foucher, a professor with the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa, said cases like these are much more common in larger cities and police forces have had to adapt.

"Certainly the use of interpreters, translators, and having a list of people who would be available to assist the police in giving these warnings to the accused is something that could be done," said Foucher.

A language line with translation services in hundreds of languages is available to police officers nationwide. But in the Werabe trial, arresting officer Const. Stephen Manning testified that he heard Werabe speak English to the passenger in Werabe's car, and said at no point during the arrest did he feel it necessary to seek the services of an interpreter.

MacConnell said even though police believed the accused understood them during the arrest, police will be extra cautious with language differences moving forward.

"We need to make sure that even though we believe the interpretation of our language is understood, we must respect theirs and provide them every opportunity to get counsel in their language," said MacConnell.

He also said recruiting more people from diverse communities to become part of the force is another way to better support those whose first language isn't English.

"We need to have our best people in our ranks," said MacConnell. "And we need to encourage people in those diverse communities that we police to apply. We believe it's a shared responsibility. If you come from one of those communities then we want you to play a part in solving that and apply — we need people like you in our ranks."

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Jessica Doria-Brown

Videojournalist

Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.