Review underway to determine if New Brunswick should establish police watchdog team

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Review underway to determine if New Brunswick should establish police watchdog team
When an incident such as death or serious injury occurs as result of police actions, Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team steps in. As Callum Smith reports, New Brunswick still doesn’t have its own – Aug 12, 2019

While many people seem to agree a police watchdog is one of the best ways to be transparent with the public about police-involved incidents, New Brunswick still doesn’t have it’s own team.

In Nova Scotia, when an incident – such as one leading to death, injury or sexual assault – is alleged to have occurred as a result of police actions, the province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) gets called in. But because New Brunswick doesn’t have its own watchdog, it’s typically SiRT – a civilian-led organization – that gets called.

Felix Cacchione, a former judge who was on the judicial bench for over 30 years, is the agency’s director. Having a police watchdog to provide public transparency is “very important,” he says.

Nova Scotia’s SiRT also investigates incidents in Prince Edward Island.

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In New Brunswick, a review looking at the possibility of establishing its own watchdog started earlier this year, according to Carl Urquhart, the minister of the Department of Public Safety.

“There has been questions whether we should have our own or stay regional,” Urquhart said. “I really agree it has to be looked at, but I do not want to react just because ‘everybody else has got one, so I want one.”

Urquhart says the review, which was announced earlier this year, will look at how other teams operate across the country and how policies and procedures work.

The cost won’t be a contributing factor, Urquhart says, because if it’s needed, they’ll pay for it.

“I can assure you cost is not going to be prohibitive in any way,” he says. “In these types of teams or tools that have to be done, they’ve got to be done the best.”

Alain Lang, the chief of the Edmundston Police Force and vice-president of the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police, says they support the idea.

“We’ve been saying for the last few years as police chiefs, that we’re all for a SiRT-type of unit in the province of New Brunswick to take care of those serious incidents.”

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On August 10, 2018, a gunman allegedly opened fire from his Brookside Drive apartment killing four people including two Fredericton police officers and two civilians. Fredericton police said the accused suffered serious injuries, and SiRT was called in.

Matthew Vincent Raymond is expected to stand trial on four counts of first-degree murder beginning in September.

“The status is, I have just received last week, the investigators report,” says Cacchione.

Cacchione says the reason for the delay was due to a dispute over who would pay for the investigation; the province or the Fredericton Police Force.

“There was this difficulty in obtaining a memorandum of understand, is the best way I can put it,” he said, suggesting that took seven months.

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But he says it will probably “be a while” before he can start detailing his findings from that report due to an incident in Truro, N.S., where police fatally shot a man who allegedly hit an officer with a vehicle.

“That’s the unfortunate thing when we’re dealing with calls for assistance outside the province.”

The reports from the SiRT directors are posted online if the incident is in Nova Scotia, but it’s from another province, he says RCMP is responsible for the release of information.

If the matter stems from an incident involving a municipal force, “The Department of Justice or Public Safety in New Brunswick would be responsible for whether or not the report would be made public.”

Cacchione says it’s the same deal in P.E.I., meaning “it’s up to that government to determine if they will make it public or not.”

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