New legislation could create independent police oversight in Nunavut
Bill 53 received its first reading in the legislative assembly last week
Nunavut’s justice minister tabled legislation last week that could pave the way for a new police oversight model for the territory.
Bill 53, an Act to Amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Agreement Act, received its first reading in the legislative assembly on Thursday, Oct. 22.
The new bill adds provisions to allow independent investigations to look into police-involved civilian injuries or deaths in the territory and the terms to create such a body.
As it stands, the Nunavut RCMP has agreements with the Ottawa and Calgary police services to conduct third-party investigations of incidents involving the police that lead to serious injury or death.
In the fall 2018 sitting, Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak told the legislative assembly that her department was open to looking at a civilian oversight body—rather than one led by the police—to review complaints of excessive force by police in the territory.
The call for that reform has only grown louder this year. In 2020, there have been six incidents in Nunavut where the Ottawa Police Service has been called in to investigate.
Three of those incidents were police-involved shootings, two of them fatal.
The bill, if passed, would allow the Government of Nunavut to enter into an agreement with an independent investigative body to look into incidents.
MLAs and other Nunavut organizations have called for changes to how serious police altercations are handled, stressing that one police force shouldn’t investigate another.
In Quebec, for example, the government created an independent police watchdog in 2015 called the Bureau des enquêtes independantes to look into police-involved injuries or deaths.
But Nunavut’s proposed legislation doesn’t exclude contracting a police force to do those investigations—the government would pick whichever body is most appropriate given the circumstances.
“A contracted investigative body and a contracted police force has the power to investigate serious incidents in Nunavut for the purpose of determining whether an offence under federal law has occurred,” the legislation reads.
“If, as a result of an investigation … a charging officer determines that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a police officer has committed an offence under the Criminal Code, the charging officer shall cause charges to be laid against the police officer.”
In the event that a police force is contracted to lead an investigation, the legislation also allows for the appointment of a civilian monitor to assist with investigation, to ensure its impartiality.
“The civilian monitor may inform the contracted police force of their concerns and may make any recommendations to the contracted police force that they consider appropriate to address the concerns,” the legislation reads.
The designated authority can also appoint a cultural advisor, the bill proposes, though the civilian monitor may be appointed as cultural advisor for the same investigation.
The Nunavut government would still need to draft regulations and criteria for the appointment of those monitors, their mandate and what would be required in the final report they submit to the justice minister.
The legislation doesn’t suggest whether and how those findings would be made public.
Bill 53 is expected to receive its second reading this week. If passed, the bill would be renamed simply as the Police Act.