The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) recently reviewed an arrest made in Penticton in 2018 after a driver alleged he was seriously injured during an unlawful arrest. The man alleged he was “slammed” to the ground by the officer when he went to pick his wallet off of the ground, but footage from the officer’s dash cam tells a different story of the situation. (File Photo)

‘Totally unacceptable:’ Most independent investigators white, former officers

B.C. only province not to provide number of investigators who identify as a visible minority, person of colour

The majority of independent investigators delving into alleged police misconduct in Canada are white men who are former police officers.

Seven provincial independent investigation units currently look into incidents involving police.

The Canadian Press has found that of the 167 members involved in these units, 111 are former officers or have had a working relationship with police, and 118 of them are men.

Every province but B.C. also provided the number of investigators in their units who identify as a visible minority or person of colour. There are 20.

“It’s very, very biased,” says Ghislain Picard, regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec and Labrador. “How can you expect any trust from those cultural minorities and Indigenous Peoples?

“The interaction between the independent bureau and our communities it’s practically non-existent.”

Indigenous people don’t have hope for justice when police investigate themselves, Picard adds, especially after what happened in Val d’Or, Que., more than 500 kilometres north of Montreal.

In 2015, there were 38 cases involving complaints by multiple women there against Sûreté du Québec officers. Some women claimed they were drugged and sexually assaulted. Montreal police investigated.

In the end, two retired police officers were charged. Both died before their cases finished in court.

At the time, some 2,500 police officers wore red bands while on duty to support their accused colleagues. First Nations members who testified during a commission said it was clearly an intimidation tactic.

In the wake of the scandal, Quebec’s Bureau of Independent Investigations was created. Picard says creation of a largely white investigative unit made up of former officers has done nothing to repair the relationship.

More than half the unit’s 44 investigators had previous police employment. Four are people of colour but none are Indigenous. It does have an Indigenous liaison.

“It’s again the police investigating their own,” Picard says. “That’s totally unacceptable for many people. There is no faith, no trust coming from women.”

The agency declined to comment on Picard’s remarks.

The unit was recently tasked with investigating two recent police shootings of Indigenous people in New Brunswick, which doesn’t have its own independent investigative unit.

Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut also don’t have independent units and outside forces are generally called in to investigate cases there.

Independent units in Nova Scotia and Newfound and Labrador have no people of colour working as investigators. Manitoba has three of 11. Ontario has the most, with 9 of its 52 investigators.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, says because investigative units are comprised largely of former officers, there is the perception of an allegiance to the policing world.

Officers also can bring systemic biases or racism that exist in law enforcement, he says.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team has permanent investigators, as well as seconded members from police forces. All 25 members are former law enforcement.

Susan Hughson, the executive director, said in an email “that experience is invaluable.”

But Owusu-Bempah questions what independence there can be when active police officers are seconded to a unit. He says civilians should instead be educated and trained to work in these units.

“We’ve got issues related to trust and confidence in law enforcement in this country, especially amongst marginalized populations,” he says.

Civil rights groups and families have also criticized a lack of charges, and even less convictions, stemming from investigations by independent units.

In Manitoba, there have been a handful of convictions against on-duty police officers since its unit began in 2015. The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba was created after criticism of a probe into an off-duty officer who drove into another vehicle after a night of partying, and killed a mother behind the wheel.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor at Queen’s University and a member of the Kingston Police board, says he would caution against people assuming more women, Black or Indigenous people in these units would lead to different outcomes.

And in many cases, he says former officers have the best skills to investigate.

“I think we have yet to see a case where somebody challenged the findings of an independent investigation unit on the grounds that the findings were biased.”

Black Lives Matter demonstrations have helped people see that the public has a role in deciding how police are funded and held accountable, Leuprecht adds. That includes independent investigative units.

“In a democracy, it’s ultimately up to us to make decisions,” he says.

“And if we don’t like what’s happening, it shouldn’t be up to police to decide how to run things. It should be up to the public.”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Police

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

NDP acclaims Brittny Anderson as Nelson-Creston candidate

The provincial election will be held on Oct. 24

Nelson plans major renovation to Civic Centre as part of COVID-19 stimulus plan

Project would upgrade energy efficiency and provide a concourse to access all parts of the building

Without federal aid, the future of B.C. air transport is bleak

Air traffic remains down 75 to 85 per cent

Go By Bike Week hits the road in Nelson

The event runs Sept. 28 to Oct. 4

Rossland resident Aerin Bowers completes 19-km swim along Christina Lake

Bowers said her dad inspired her to complete the epic adventure

Liberals vow wage-subsidy extension to 2021, revamp of EI system in throne speech

Canadian labour market was hammered by pandemic, when lockdowns in the spring led to a loss of 3 million jobs

Incumbent MLA ‘disappointed’ premier has called snap election

Doug Clovechok will be seeking re-election on Oct. 24.

Horgan blasts B.C. Greens for refusing youth overdose detention

Lack of support key to B.C. election call, NDP leader says

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Grand jury indicts police officer in Breonna Taylor death

Officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Most Read