POLICE ETHICS TRIBUNAL REVERSED COMMISSIONER’S DECISION DUE TO PROBLEMATIC INVESTIGATION
Montreal, February 19, 2014 --- The Police Ethics Committee has invalidated a Police Ethics Commissioner’s decision to dismiss a NDG Black couple’s complaint, on the grounds that the Commissioner’s investigation produced findings that are different from those produced by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission about the same case and raised an apprehension of bias.
The facts are simple: an English-speaking Black couple in NDG went to Police Station 11 in June 2012 to ask for a police ethics complaint form after their home was the target of what they believed to be an abusive and discriminatory police intervention. The female officer at the counter told the couple that there was no form available and gave her the phone number of another police station in downtown to call. Since they had come to the same station in the past to obtain the complaint form, the couple felt denied and discriminated against, and left the station without the form.
In the past three years, CRARR was seized with half a dozen complaints from Black and Asian Montrealers who went to their local police stations (often in NDG, Côte des Neiges and downtown) to obtain information on police ethics and the ethics complaint form, and were either denied the form or given the run around by the officer at the front desk. There is no statutory requirement in the Police Act for the police to provide such forms to citizens, only internal departmental directives to do so.
The couple sought CRARR’s help in filing police ethics and civil rights complaints about both incidents. The Commissioner and the Commission produced, after investigating separately on the same incident, different findings.
In his Decision to dismiss the complaint, issued in December 2013, the Police Ethics Commissioner was silent on the officer’s length of service (Note: the Police Act gives police officers who are cited in the complaint the right not to cooperate with the police ethics investigation). The Commissioner did not interview the commander of Station 11. Furthermore, the Commissioner did not examine formal SPVM policies and procedures regarding citizens’ requests for information related to police ethics; instead, he relied on anecdotal and incomplete information from a commander of a different police station, without explaining why this person was contacted in the first place. Finally, no information was obtained as to whether the denial of the police ethics complaint form was a common practice at Station 11, even when it was confirmed that the form could have been printed by the officer from the Commissioner’s web site.
Upon receiving the Commissioner’s negative decision in December 2013, the couple appealed to the Police Ethics Committee, an independent administrative tribunal, for review.
In the mean time, the Human Rights Commission issued its own investigation report in mid-January 2014, in which it refers to and cites the Police Ethics Commissioner’s decision to dismiss the case.
The Human Rights Commission’s investigation obtained information which the Commissioner did not or could not obtain, partly as a result of the Commission’s ability to interview the police officer involved. Among other findings, the Commission had access to a departmental policy and procedure on the matter, which was not mentioned in the Police Ethics Commissioner’s decision. However, despite qualifying its investigation as being systemic in nature, the Commission did not provide the date of the policy’s adoption and information on how it is implemented or monitored. And, like the Police Ethics Commissioner, the Commission did not interview senior managers, including the one for Station 11, about the decision-making process and no contextual information as to the extent or frequency of citizens’ complaints about being denied police ethics complaint information and forms at Station 11 or other stations (the Commission was made aware of this recurrent practice through several complaints).
Despite CRARR’s comments on obvious gaps in the investigation, references to issues raised in the appeal to the Police Ethics Committee and the need for additional information, the report was submitted, very likely as is, to Commissioners for a decision.
In late January 2014, the couple received another Police Ethics Commissioner’s decision about their other complaint regarding the intervention in their home before the incident at the Station 11. It was only in reading this second decision that the couple discovered a startling piece of information: the commanding officer of the other station, who was interviewed by the Commissioner about the denial of the police ethics complaint form, is none other than one of the officers whom the couple listed in a separate complaint about the police intervention in their home. The couple never realized that it was the same person because they did not have his full name at the time. Yet the Commissioner failed to mention this pertinent fact in both of his decisions.
The couple immediately wrote to the Commissioner, the Committee and the Human Rights Commission President, about “important questions of apprehension of bias and lack of transparency and consequently, of lack of impartiality” in the treatment of the couple’s complaint.
“As Black citizens and complainants, we expect and have a right to an investigation into our complaint of police misconduct and violation of our rights that meets basic standards and requirements of thoroughness, rigor, impartiality and fairness”, stated the couple in their letter.
The Committee rapidly agreed with the Black couple, as it struck down the Commissioner’s decision within five weeks of the Application for Review. The tribunal ordered the Commissioner to undertake an additional investigation within 90 days to further probe and produce a clear portrait of the situation, and to clarify the status of the commanding officer in question.
It is unclear what the Human Rights Commission will do in light of this case, which raises questions about the handling of complaints of race-based discrimination in police services.