Sunday, November 7, 2010

Alberta: Moving Backward in Police Complaints Process?

Solicitor General Frank Oberle proposed changes to Alberta's public police complaints process on Thursday, claiming that such changes are necessary to improve the efficiency of the process. The proposed changes would include restrictions on who can launch a complaint, increased powers to dismiss frivolous complaints and a more limited appeals process.

Under Bill C-27, only those directly affected by an officer’s behaviour, including loved ones or witnesses would be allowed to make submissions. Effectively ending the ability of third-parties to make complaints on behalf of those who are unwilling or unable to file a complaint themselves.

The Canadian Trial Lawyers’ Association is especially concerned because it will prevent them from making claims on behalf of large and vulnerable groups who are afraid to proceed on their own. In recent years, the CTLA has made numerous claims against the Edmonton Police Service, such as in the case of homeless people who were allegedly rounded up in a police van and left in another part of the city.

Under the amendments, groups and individuals wishing to make a third-party claim would still have the option of bringing a concern to the police chief, but the case would proceed at his or her discretion. In cases of “non-serious” incidents the police chief’s decision would be final, removing the current option to appeal to the Law Enforcement Review Board.

Oberle has also proposed greater powers for cases to be dismissed when the complainant declines to participate in a hearing or misbehaves, provisions for fewer oral hearings, and the use of alternative dispute resolution when appropriate. He believes that sometimes all that is required to resolve a case is a simple apology or acknowledgment of the complaint and that these proposals will simply prevent those who see a story of police misconduct in the news from filing a complaint.

Do you think these changes will improve efficiency in the complaints process? Even if they will, do they go too far in limiting the effectiveness of police complaints in Alberta?

Do you agree that most police complaints can be resolved effectively with an apology?

Do you think 3rd parties should be able to lodge a complaint against the police without the involvement of the primary individual? Is the Ontario approach any different?

Posted by Pamela Santora (Windsor Law I)

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