WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government plans to bolster the civilian-led agency that investigates potential police wrongdoing, but is stopping short of requiring all officers to co-operate with probes.
A bill introduced in the legislature Monday would introduce fines and jail time for most officers who do not comply with "reasonable" requests from the Independent Investigation Unit. It would expand the range of people who can be investigated to include civilian employees of a police service.
The bill would also forbid the unit from hiring active police officers as investigators and create a director of Indigenous and community relations to build bridges with First Nations, Métis, Inuit and other communities.
"There are many changes in this bill that create more accountability requirements for police," Justice Minister Cameron Friesen said.
The bill stems from an independent review of the law governing police last fall and was originally scheduled to be debated last spring. But Friesen pulled the bill, citing a need for more consultation following a probe into the fatal police shooting of Eishia Hudson, an Indigenous teen in Winnipeg.
Hudson was shot after a chase in a stolen Jeep following an alleged robbery at a liquor store. At the time, Winnipeg police said Hudson was driving the Jeep when it ran into a police cruiser and a number of other cars.
The Independent Investigation Unit recommended against charging the officer, saying video taken by a driver stopped at a nearby traffic light showed officers were in danger of being hit by the vehicle. The unit said the officer who fired the shots declined to be interviewed but did volunteer his notes and a prepared statement.
Friesen's bill would require officers involved to co-operate with investigators unless they are the ones suspected of wrongdoing. He said the exemption is needed to comply with police contracts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"We cannot simply override the protections that police officers have in their collective agreements. We can't override what the charter says about your right not to incriminate yourself," he said.
The Opposition New Democrats said there should be a way to ensure more police co-operate.
"At the end of the day, we also have to ensure that investigations are thorough and robust," NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said.
"And some would submit that ... an officer who's involved in the particular complaint or investigation should be interviewed."
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said it had yet to review the bill, but was pleased with the amount of consultation the Progressive Conservative government had engaged in.
"We actually had some of our best and brightest working alongside the minister and his staff," assembly Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2021.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press