The provincial government has set aside some cash to create a long-anticipated police watchdog in Saskatchewan.
The province earmarked $287,000 in the 2021-22 budget to develop an independent serious incident response team (SIRT).
Read more: What’s new to Saskatchewan in 2021-22 budget
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Gordon Wyant did not say when SIRT will be operational.
“We’re going to start working on that project now,” Wyant told reporters on Tuesday.
“There’s certainly a lot of details that need to be worked out.”
While the SIRT model remains unclear, Wyant hinted some of its investigators will be retired police officers.
“To make sure that we have qualified people to do the proper investigations really requires people with a significant amount of experience,” he said. “Experience around the country is to use retired police officers to do that work.”
Saskatchewan is one of a handful of provinces that does not have a civilian-led oversight body to investigate police actions that cause serious injury or death.
The Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission (PCC) will use the funding to plan and create the watchdog. The PCC investigates misconduct allegations against municipal officers or determines if an allegation will be investigated by police.
Former PCC chair Brent Cotter applauded Tuesday’s announcement, but said the shift away from police investigating themselves is overdue.
“We empower police with an awful lot of authority to be good peace officers and protect our communities,” said Cotter, now a senator.
“Given that we give them that kind of authority, it’s really important that we have confidence that it is being used appropriately.”
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) had been in talks with the province about creating a watchdog, but said officials did not tell them the SIRT announcement was coming.
“It was a surprise to us, but it’s a pleasant surprise,” said Jason Stonechild, FSIN’s executive director of justice.
“We look forward to… inclusion and being brought to the table in discussions with the government soon.”
Time and money
Tuesday’s funding announcement is a positive, but preliminary step, Stonechild said. Moving forward, he said more money will be required to run the oversight agency.
Other watchdogs in Canada require roughly $1 million annually to operate, Cotter said.
Police oversight agencies across the country are under-resourced, said National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé.
“Fair, transparent and independent is great. Timely is the one we also need to address,” Sauvé said in an interview on Wednesday.
“Not putting enough horsepower behind them leads to unfortunate delays.”
Waiting several years for investigations to wrap lets down affected civilians, families and police officers, he said.
Ultimately, he said Saskatchewan is on the right track.
“Police investigating the police is not something that the public believe in today,” he said.
“If you take it out of the hands of police, you eliminate the real or perceived bias of cops investigating cops.”