Major changes are needed in the way police investigate incidents involving their own, Quebec's Ombudsman says.
In a special report tabled yesterday in the National Assembly, Raymonde Saint-Germain suggested creating an independent civilian bureau to conduct the probes, an approach the Quebec government did not rush to endorse.
"The status quo is neither acceptable nor in the interest of citizens, police officers or sound governance," Ms. Saint-Germain said yesterday.
The Ombudsman said that public trust in the police is severely tested when a force is required to investigate incidents involving other officers. When police are implicated in incidents involving a death, life-threatening injury to a detainee or an injury involving a firearm, including tasers, a different force investigates.
The fatal police shooting in Montreal of Freddy Villanueva in August, 2008, which is part of an ongoing coroner's inquest, is the most recent example of public discontent with the current system.
When police investigate the police, it is difficult to maintain an appearance of impartiality crucial to building public trust, Ms. Saint-Germain said. The current system, she added, does not guarantee the independence of an investigation and undermines transparency and credibility.
In her report, Ms. Saint-Germain said that "the best solution is to create an independent body based, notably, on active civilian participation." She noted that the model used in Ontario proved to be effective despite flaws that police have criticized.
A Quebec special investigations bureau should be headed by a civilian with no past ties to a police force, the report said. The investigative team could be made up of qualified civilians and former police, all receiving special training, as is the case in Ontario, Alberta and other jurisdictions, Ms. Saint-Germain said.
"More than 20 years after the first special report on police investigating police in Quebec, this report deserves to be examined," she said. "The status quo is not a solution."
The Minister of Public Security, Jacques Dupuis, agreed changes are needed, but said he was not convinced that an independent body was the solution. "We are thinking about changing the way these investigations are conducted," Mr. Dupuis said, but he refused to say what those changes will involve. He said he wasn't sure that appointing former police officers to a special investigations unit would do much to build public trust.
Mr. Dupuis said the government will make proposals "at the appropriate time," refusing to say whether the timing may be affected by the coroner's inquest into Mr. Villanueva's death.