Police Act rewrite vital to improving force transparency: lawyer

CALGARY — Since being sworn in as Alberta’s Justice Minister just over a year ago, Kaycee Madu has promised to continue a review and modernization of the Police Act and has been consulting with stakeholders.

There are renewed calls to update the act to make police more accountable in the wake of misconduct allegations.

Ian Savage, president of the Calgary-based Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, has long called for a change to one specific part of the Police Act which allows an officer facing an internal investigation or discipline to resign and not face any consequences.

READ MORE: Alberta government working to modernize police act

“It only allows the chief of a police agency to continue an investigation and issue any appropriate discipline, including up to the point of dismissal against an officer, if the officer is still an officer. That is if the officer is still employed as a police officer with that agency,” said Savage.

He says this has led to a pattern in the province, which is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada where this so-called loophole exists.

“A pattern of abuse of that situation in that the officer in the face of perhaps some serious and or damning allegations and evidence against them, rather than facing the music so to speak by way of a hearing and a discipline procedure, simply resigns.”

Savage says the loophole should have never been in the Police Act in the first place and it’s been long overdue for change.

Savage skeptical updates will go forward, despite need for change

He credits the UCP for continuing a review of the act but Savage is skeptical that any updates will actually move forward, noting that the review is wrapping up the consultation process.

“We are now less than two years before the next [provincial] election and so unless the Police Act review process concludes with some recommendations to the government by this fall it’ll take the legislative drafters probably at least six months or more to draft because a fundamental re-write of the Police Act is what’s being proposed by stakeholders including our Association.”

He’s not the first person to raise questions about whether or not a rewrite of the Act will in fact happen.

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Earlier this summer, Mount Royal University Criminal Justice Professor Doug King pointed out that many governments have promised to review the Act but none have ever followed through.

Savage says a rewrite of the Police Act would likely take over a year to draft which would then bring it close to the last few months of the UCP’s term before a provincial election.

“Whether they have the moxie to stand behind and push forward with an appropriate and strong rewrite of the Police Act in the last few months of their mandate, I’m doubtful,” said Savage, pointing out that from a practical standpoint it would be very close to the wire to get anything in front of the Legislature.

Reform focusing on ‘common sense measures’: Madu’s office

However, in a statement to 660 NEWS, Madu’s office says the government is focused on what it calls common-sense measures to improve policing.

“As part of those measures, the Government of Alberta is currently conducting a full-scale reform of the Police Act to modernize policing in this province — police are already regulated under this act — and will address things like establishing a credible complaints process throughout the entire province, officer educational requirements, and civilian oversight.”

The statement says that Madu has heard the same concerns about the loophole from stakeholders while he’s been touring the province talking to Albertans about a number of issues related to the justice system.

“Minister Madu has been traveling the province to discuss ongoing work to modernize the Police Act, listen to Albertans concerns with rural crime, and update the public on the progress of the government’s study on the feasibility of establishing a provincial police service to replace the RCMP in Alberta,” the statement reads.

“The Police Act review has also engaged with nearly 15,000 Albertans and community groups from all backgrounds. We heard the same concerns from our stakeholders during the review as Minister heard on his tour. We look forward to improving Alberta’s Police Act with many reforms.”

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