The Saskatchewan provincial government is reforming the police act to allow members of the public to monitor investigations where someone has died or been seriously injured in police custody.
Under Saskatchewan’s current system, Investigation Observers are appointed by the deputy minister of justice and they are always members of a Saskatchewan police service, RCMP detachment or retired police officer.
But the Police Amendment Act 2020 — which was tabled by Justice Minister Don Morgan on Wednesday — will allow civilians to oversee injuries and deaths that occurred in police custody.
The new legislation will also transfer power to the Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission (PCC) to appoint Investigation Observers.
Should the bill pass, the PCC would be required to publish online summaries of their reports. Under current practice, the reports are confidential and sent to the Ministry of Justice.
Further proposed changes will require the appointment of a second Investigation Observer of First Nations or Metis ancestry in any incident involving First Nations or Metis people.
“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 in a statement.
“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 bill also addresses complaints of workplace harassment made by police officers.
Any police officer or civilian staff within police services will be able to report workplace harassment to the PCC who will investigate the internal complaints.
According to the government, Saskatchewan is the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement a complaints process that addresses sexual and workplace harassment within police forces.
“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.”
Other proposed changes under the legislation include:
- implementing a new process within the PCC 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.
Changes to the PCC will require $350,000 in additional funding, which has been accounted for in the 2020-21 budget.
The money will be used to hire more staff and to manage the increased workload.