Québec’s Police Watch-Dog: Proven to Bark, but will it Bite?

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Québec’s Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI) is an independent organization that investigates the deaths and injuries that occur while individuals are in police custody or those that occur during a police operation. The unit also handles allegations of sexual assault against officers. Launched in June of 2016 and comprised of 22 investigators, the unit, as one might imagine is constantly and consistently busy. In June of 2017, four officers were added to the unit to help with the high case load.

Periodically since its launch, high profile events, such as police shootings of racial minorities in Montréal and Nunavik, have brought the BEI temporally into the public eye. Most recently, an incident involving the death of a young, black man in a Montréal courthouse and two others involving the unrelated deaths of young Indigenous men in Northern Québec (one in Waskaganish and one in Umiujaq), have inspired investigations by the BEI, a unit criticized for its lack of diversity – the majority of the investigators are white men. Says Robyn Maynard of Montréal Noir: “That is not at all reflective of the actual make-up of Montreal. And especially it’s not representative of the population that actually face the most police violence.” Furthermore, almost one half of the investigators are former police officers, a fact that has also resulted in criticisms and accusations of bias by groups such as the Ligue des droits et liberté and the Coalition Against Repression and Police Abuse, the latter of which advocates for citizen-led investigations.

This past June, one year after the unit’s launch, criticism emerged about lack of transparency as well. The Coalition Against Repression and Police Abuse is demanding that the unit publish the findings of investigations, the vast majority of which do not end in charges. BEI director Madeleine Giauque responded by saying that “a police investigation report is not of a public nature”… “there is an obligation to protect sensitive information and all the elements that would help reveal the identity of the persons involved or witnesses, both civilians and police officers…”.

Regardless of reporting mechanisms, it is clear that the BEI should be an independent, effective investigative mechanism that, over time, can ensure that police forces across the province respect the populations they serve.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.