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Police officers in New Brunswick accused of sexual assault or domestic violence may be subjected to more external investigations under a new plan to create a shared police watchdog agency with Nova Scotia.

Felix Cacchione, director of Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT), said that’s one potential impact of the partnership announced Monday between the two provinces. While the SiRT is mandated by law to investigate sexual-assault cases involving police, and routinely probes domestic-violence complaints against officers, police in New Brunswick are seldom investigated by an external agency except in major cases such as fatal police shootings or serious injuries.

New Brunswick doesn’t have its own independent police-oversight agency, and contracts other provinces’ watchdog agencies on an ad-hoc basis in serious cases. It has a police commission that can investigate misconduct complaints by the public, but it cannot pursue criminal charges against officers.

The province’s Police Act allows police chiefs themselves to decide if an external investigation is needed, and doesn’t require an independent agency, including in cases of domestic violence or sexual assault – something that will need to change, Mr. Cacchione said.

“In New Brunswick, any incident of domestic violence I think would either be investigated in-house, or farmed out to another police agency to investigate,” he said. “Those things need to be addressed.”

New Brunswick’s reliance on other provinces’ police watchdog agencies was widely criticized last year after the fatal police shootings of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, two Indigenous people whose deaths were probed by Quebec’s investigative agency, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes du Québec (BEI). In both cases, the BEI investigators found criminal charges weren’t warranted against the police officers involved.

It’s the first time in Canada two provinces have created a shared police-oversight agency, and a lot of logistics still need to be worked out. That includes making legislative changes, hiring more investigators and determining whether the Halifax-based agency will have an office in New Brunswick, which Mr. Cacchione argues it should.

“It’s important to be on scene and start investigating potential witnesses as soon as possible,” he said. “You don’t want that work done 12, 24 or 36 hours later.”

He said there’s significant benefit in having investigators based in the province who can begin their work immediately, without the public perception of a delay. New Brunswick, which will need to put up the resources to fund the expansion of the watchdog, will also have to update its laws to allow the SiRT to lay charges against police officers without Crown approval, which is the case in Nova Scotia, Mr. Cacchione said.

The governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia say they’re committed to making the necessary legislative and policy changes to allow the SiRT to act as the police-oversight body for both provinces. The partnership is expected to start in 2022.

“We know the importance of having an independent oversight body to investigate serious incidents involving police and we are pleased with this agreement in principle,” New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said in a statement. “This is an example of how the provinces in our region can work together to ensure we have ready access to the expertise that we need to serve our communities.”

Nova Scotia’s Premier, Tim Houston, said it’s in the public interest that investigations of police are undertaken in an efficient, professional manner, and he expects that will continue under this new partnership.

“Citizens need to have confidence that serious incidents involving police are thoroughly and independently investigated. Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team is highly regarded and we are proud of the work they do,” Mr. Houston said in a statement.

“Collaboration between the provinces promotes and supports public safety in both provinces.”

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