Blue Line

Newfoundland and Labrador launches effort to ‘transform’ its police services

November 20, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Nov. 20, 2023, St. John’s, Nfld. – The Newfoundland and Labrador government launched an effort Monday to review policing services in the province, after concerted cries from community groups to reform the profession and the systems that hold officers accountable.

Called the Policing Transformation Working Group, the four-person team is mandated to look into issues such as diversity within the ranks and the relationships between officers and marginalized communities. The group consists of a former deputy minister and three people with police backgrounds, including an inspector with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and a retired Mountie.

Justin Campbell, a director with the St. John’s-based Indigenous coalition First Voice, said he’s encouraged by the effort but worried about the “excessive amount” of police representation on the team.

“I would have liked to see at least one strong civilian voice included,” Campbell said in an interview. “The concern and the risk there is that it may lean too heavily toward the status quo, which as we’ve already documented that’s not working for anyone.”

Newfoundland and Labrador is served by the RCMP, which has jurisdiction over much of rural Newfoundland and parts of Labrador, and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, which oversees the Northeast Avalon, which includes St. John’s. The Constabulary also has detachments in Corner Brook, located in western Newfoundland, and in two communities in Labrador.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in particular has faced intense public scrutiny since one of its officers, Carl Douglas Snelgrove, was charged with sexually assaulting a young woman in her living room in 2014 while he was on duty. He was convicted in 2021 but has sought leave to appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada.

His case prompted several other women in St. John’s – including a Constabulary officer – to approach lawyer Lynn Moore and file two civil suits alleging they, too, had been sexually assaulted by members of the force.

First Voice has long been calling for the province to establish a civilian-led police oversight board, and it produced an extensive report last year detailing how the province might address systemic policing problems, including racism.

Newfoundland and Labrador has a police oversight agency led by a defence lawyer, which investigates problems once they arise. But Campbell says a civilian-led police board, unlike a watchdog agency, would help inform policy – and ideally prevent problems.

Justice Minister John Hogan told reporters Monday that the working group will review police oversight mechanisms, adding that it is “certainly worthwhile” to consider how a civilian oversight board could operate in the province.

As well, the working group will review best practices in other jurisdictions, examine police recruitment and training and consider the role officers play in community safety and in addressing gender-based and intimate-partner violence. A news release says the group will consult with people and organizations across the province, including Indigenous communities, and take into account the needs of the province’s urban and rural populations.

Campbell said he is pleased by the plans to consult widely, adding that he was especially heartened to learn that the report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls informed the province’s desire to review its policing services.

Moore, meanwhile, said she is cautiously optimistic, adding that the province has long needed to take a “solid look” at the state of policing, including the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s complaints process and the involvement of politicians in appointing people to the force’s highest ranks.

But she, too, has concerns about the makeup of the four-member review team.

“You need people who are in the system to be able to recognize some of the weaknesses in the system,” Moore said in an interview. “But you also need people outside the system to be able to offer a different lens. I would have a higher level of comfort if there was somebody there that was not part of the apparatus.”

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