Quebec’s police watchdog says officers under investigation should be required to answers the bureau’s questions.
In a report made public Wednesday, Madeleine Giauque, head of the watchdog, noted that officers who refuse to co-operate with investigators aren’t subject to automatic sanction. She said the government should amend the law to oblige officers to fully co-operate with her office.
The Bureau des enquetes independantes, or BEI, investigates cases where civilians have been seriously hurt or killed during a police intervention or in police custody. It also probes cases involving officers accused of sexual misconduct or when the alleged victim is Indigenous.
Her report is the first from the BEI since it began operating in 2016. Quebec created the watchdog after mounting pressure from citizens upset that police were left to investigate each other.
But since its creation, some civil rights groups and families of people killed by police have accused the bureau of lacking transparency and favouring police over citizens. In her report, Giauque pushed back at the criticism, saying her office is following the law and conducting its investigations impartially and with integrity.
But her report recognizes the bureau’s work is restricted in certain ways that needed to be remedied by lawmakers. It has previously been reported that Giauque has issued at least 10 letters to police departments across the province, reminding them of officers’ duty to fully co-operate with BEI investigations.
“In three years of operating, few police officers have refused to answer questions,” she said in her report. But some simply handed over their police reports and refused further comment, “even if imprecisions or omissions on certain important points were brought up by BEI’s investigators,” she said.
She said the rules regulating the watchdog’s investigations should be amended to include wording requiring officers to answer questions by the BEI.
“Currently, an officer who doesn’t respect their obligations is not subject to any penalty, and only their (supervisor) can discipline them, if they think it’s warranted,” she said.
Last week, rights advocates and families of victims killed by police said the watchdog itself should be investigated by a legislative committee. The groups, led by the Ligue des droits et libertes, lamented the lack of criminal charges that have resulted from BEI investigations.
Giauque’s bureau, according to its website, has initiated 90 criminal investigations of Quebec police officers since it began operating in June 2016. Of those, 42 resulted in no charges and 43 remain open. Two officers have been charged with sexual assault and three files are being studied by prosecutors.
Giauque responded to criticism that her bureau’s investigations haven’t resulted in enough prosecutions.
“To assume that the rate of people being charged should be used as a measure or indicator of success … is illogical and tendentious for an office that should, first and foremost, be impartial,” she wrote.
Eve-Marie Lacasse, with the Ligue des droits et libertes, said the BEI’s report is nothing more than a “self-evaluation” and doesn’t constitute a real progress report.
“It represents only one point of view,” she said in a statement. “Other actors must absolutely be heard.”