Saskatoon

Sask. justice ministry exploring change to system that has police investigating police

Saskatchewan is looking at new ways to investigate when police are involved in civilian deaths, under mounting criticism of police agencies investigating their own officers.

Ministry 'aware of the criticisms of Saskatchewan's current model of police oversight'

"The ministry is aware of the criticisms of Saskatchewan's current model of police oversight and has begun looking at potential options to increase transparency and public confidence in the way police oversight is conducted in the province," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said Tuesday. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan is exploring new ways to investigate when police are involved in civilian deaths, under mounting criticism of police agencies investigating their own officers.

"The ministry is aware of the criticisms of Saskatchewan's current model of police oversight and has begun looking at potential options to increase transparency and public confidence in the way police oversight is conducted in the province," a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said in an email Tuesday.

"The minister has also had discussions with Saskatchewan police forces to gather their feedback and thoughts on what the future of police oversight looks like in Saskatchewan."

The topic has come back into the spotlight following a recent coroner's inquest into the death of Joshua Megeney. The Saskatoon man was killed in 2016 after a tense standoff with Saskatoon police members. 

 Megene's shooting by a Saskatoon SWAT team member  was investigated by Saskatoon Police Service's (SPS's) own major crimes unit — an insular model of investigation that came under immediate question by Scott Spencer, the lawyer who represented Megeney's family. 

"The process or the practice of police services investigating shootings or deaths involving their own members is not a process that can maintain public confidence," Spencer said.  

Discussions 'very much alive' 

SPS Chief Troy Cooper said last week, in response to the inquest, that discussions with the provincial government about police investigating police were "very much alive."

When asked for an update last week following Cooper's remarks, the ministry said, "At this time there are no plans to change the way Saskatchewan currently handles police oversight."

"When the ministry was contacted last week, there had not yet been any formal decision made on whether to move forward with exploring new options for police oversight," the spokesperson said Tuesday.

'Certainly problematic': justice minister

In a post-inquest interview with the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Justice Minister Don Morgan was more explicit, saying police investigating from within their own force is "certainly problematic." Morgan was not available for further interviews Tuesday, according to the ministry.

When a civilian is fatally killed or injured by a police officer, the police agency involved typically requests another police force to investigate.

That doesn't always happen, however, as there is no legal requirement within The Police Act for an outside investigation. 

For example, SPS did not ask an outside body to step in for either the Megeney case or that of Jordan Lafond — another Saskatoon man whose police-involved death was the subject of a coroner's inquest.

That stands in contrast to the RCMP's fatal shooting of Brydon Whitstone in North Battleford in October 2017, after which the RCMP asked the Regina Police Service to investigate the shooting. 

Asked if a legislated requirement for outside investigation is among the changes being considered by the ministry, the spokesperson said, "At this point it's too early to provide specifics on what potential changes may be made."

Civilian involvement

The ministry did cite one possible change.  

Currently, an investigation observer — typically an ex-cop not affiliated with the police force being investigated — is tapped by the ministry to review the police investigation. That observer then writes a confidential report to the ministry.

"[The potential overhaul] could potentially include the online release of ministry reports done into these types of circumstances," the ministry spokesperson said. 

After the Megeney inquest, Spencer said nothing short of a police oversight body involving civilians "can maintain the public confidence." The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said the same thing two weeks before the inquest. 

The ministry is reviewing police oversight models in other provinces, including Alberta, home to the civilian-led Serious Incident Response Team. 

There is no timeline for making potential changes, but the spokesperson said talks with Saskatchewan police forces will continue into the fall and "we hope to make progress on this before the end of the calendar year."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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