City lowers security requirements for police board members
April 11, 2023 By Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Apr. 11, 2023, Saint John, N.B. – Saint John city council has lowered the security clearance necessary to join the Saint John Board of Police Commissioners, paving the way for a prominent police abolitionist activist to potentially join the civilian oversight board.
Previously, potential board members were required to submit information about their family members as a part of their security clearance and background check, in order to be appointed to the board by city council.
Now, members of the police commission will be subject to “Level 1” security clearance, as is the case in civilian oversight commissions across Canada, says city councillor Joanna Killen, who initially brought forward a motion to determine council’s legal authority to change the requirement.
Killen said there was “no evidence” that other police oversight boards across Canada had higher security clearance, so Saint John “aligns with everyone else.”
The motion to lower the security clearance requirement was supported unanimously by Saint John city council, with the exception of Greg Norton, who sits on the police board.
Matthew Martin, head of Black Lives Matter New Brunswick, previously told the Telegraph-Journal his application to join the Saint John Board of Police Commissioners was denied due to some of his family members having criminal records.
Martin grew up in one of the city’s priority neighbourhoods, where he saw “a lot of police interaction,” he says.
Killen resigned from her position on the police board after Martin was denied a seat, and was replaced by Saint John mayor Donna Reardon.
While Killen feels a sense of accomplishment in seeing the security clearance requirements rescinded, she said she still “feels the heaviness” of policing issues in Saint John.
“We need to focus on the upstream piece of policing,” she said, like addictions and mental health issues.
People who grew up in priority neighbourhoods should be at the table of a civilian oversight commission, Killen says, “able to speak their minds at these issues, and say it directly.”
Tamara Kelly, chairperson of the police board, said the board stands behind its initial recommendation to keep the enhanced security clearance requirements in place, due to the confidential nature of the information the board received.
“Policing, by nature, needs to be confidential,” she said. “The reason we have security clearance is because you are allowed to receive certain information. It’s required for us to effectively be civilian oversight.”
Kelly said the board’s position wasn’t intended to block any individual’s appointment to the commission, but was solely based on the information the board is privy to.
Martin says he first applied to be on the police commission more than two years ago, and since then, his plate has been filled with other committees and obligations.
But, he says, the interest to join the police board remains, should a seat come available.
The years-long process of lowering the security requirement, though, was discouraging, as “in my opinion it was very clear,” he said, “it was a problem, and it should have been fixed quickly.”
Addressing Saint John council, Killen said changing the security clearance was “only a tiny change as it relates to the massive challenge of taking on systemic issues.”
“We need to be a lot more open and swift when it comes to implementing changes like this to ensure a truly equitable community,” she said.
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