Province begins process of improving police oversight

Education Minister Don Morgan shakes a students hand during a visit to Robin Cameron High School in Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation. © Herald photo by Jason Kerr.

The provincial government has taken the first steps to improving police oversight in Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan Party introduced the Police Amendment Act, 2020 on June 17. The act is intended to enhance the investigation observer process to make it more transparent and accountable. Under current legislation, the observer is appointed by the deputy minister of justice when someone has suffered a serious injury or death in the custody of or as a result of the actions of a police officer, and is a current or former police officer themselves

The new legislation gives the responsibility for this to the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) and requires the commission chair to publish online summaries of the results of the observer’s reports.

The PCC currently exists as a five-person non-police body appointed by the government that determines whether allegations against municipal police forces are investigated by themselves, by another member of that police force or by an outside police agency.

To support the legislation, $350,000 has been allocated in the budget to hire more staff and manage the increased workload anticipated.

“Through this Act we will be making numerous enhancements to improve transparency and accountability in our provincial police oversight processes,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan said. “We will continue work with our partners to evaluate what our next steps will be in our ongoing efforts to improve police oversight in Saskatchewan.”

The province was criticized in recent weeks as protests against systemic racism and police brutality took place around the world and in several Saskatchewan communities.

Saskatchewan doesn’t have independent, non-governmental civilian oversight of the police. It’s one of the only provinces without one. Typically, other police forces investigate each other in the province, which critics say isn’t sufficient to look into alleged police misconduct.

Work to create more civilian oversight of police was put on hold during the pandemic response. The government was accused of not taking the issue seriously.

The legislation introduced Wednesday also expands the role of investigation observers to include investigations of sexual assaults and off-duty incidents involving police officers, required the appointment of a second investigation observer of First Nations or Métis ancestry in incidents involving First Nations or Métis individuals and allows people other than current or retired police officers to hold investigation observer positions.

“This expansion to the jurisdiction and responsibility of the Public Complaints Commission represents the most significant changes we have made to independent police oversight in this province since the commission was first established in 2006,” Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell said. “As a government, we will continue to work with our partners in policing and the larger community to ensure that police oversight in Saskatchewan is transparent and accountable to the public.”

The changes would also see a new process added within the Public Complaints Commission to address complaints of workplace harassment made by police officers and civilian police staff. Saskatchewan would be the first province to implement a complaint process to address sexual and workplace harassment within police forces.

Other changes to police oversight proposed Wednesday include:

  • Implementing a new process to address complaints against specific classes of special constables, such as conservation officers and highway traffic officers working as part of the provincial Protection and Response Team
  • Requiring police services to ask another police organization to investigate serious injuries, deaths or sexual assaults that occur in police custody or as a result of the actions of a police officer and
  • updating the Lieutenant Governor in Council’s authority to make regulations respecting special constables