Quebec launches major police reform bill aimed at rebuilding trust in officers
Quebec is changing its approach in police matters to, among other measures, broaden powers given to the province’s independent police watchdog group to deal with possible offences committed by police officers and to require police forces to follow orders from the public security minister.
Bill 18, an omnibus bill tabled Wednesday by Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault, is very broad in scope and touches on many aspects of police work and oversight in an effort to "regain the public's trust," as Guilbault put it.
It will implement some 40 of the 138 recommendations made by the Advisory Committee on Policing in a report tabled last May.
EXPANDED MANDATE FOR POLICE WATCHDOG
One of the bill’s major elements is that all investigations where a police officer may have committed a criminal offence will now be transferred to the Independent Bureau of Investigations, known as the BEI.
The BEI is currently involved in all cases where people are killed or injured during police operations, and it also has a mandate to investigate allegations of sexual offences made against police officers.
This investigative mandate will be expanded, Guilbault explained.
"From now on, the BEI will investigate all allegations of criminal offences (committed by police officers), whatever they may be,” she said.
Guilbault gave as an example of this change the fact that she recently asked the BEI to investigate certain videos of altercations involving Quebec City police officers. While she will still be able to make a request herself, any event of this sort will now automatically be referred to the BEI.
INCREASED POWERS FOR PUBLIC SECURITY MINISTER
The public security minister has always had the ability to suggest instructions to police forces, but Bill 18 will now allow her to go much further.
The current Guide to Police Practices in Quebec contains details on all sorts of police operations, including how to handle police car pursuits and domestic violence cases, but they are simply recommendations and not mandatory.
Guilbault will now be able to make some of those recommendations mandatory. Under her new powers, her guidelines will have to be followed and failure to do so will be considered misconduct leading to disciplinary action. Guilbault gave the example of random police stops based on discriminatory grounds or guidelines on continuing education.
The bill also gives more powers to the Police Ethics Commissioner and adds a prevention mandate.
"We are adding powers to the Commissioner and giving him a little more agility with respect to his investigations, with respect to the complaints that can be made to him. From now on, it will be the people directly concerned by an intervention who will be able to file a complaint, but anyone will be able to continue to report to the Commissioner," explained the minister.
Another aspect of the bill concerns the timely transmission of information when people go missing.
Under the bill, a Quebec justice of the peace may, at the request of a police officer, require that certain information be made available with regard to telephones.
That information could involve communications and geolocation, “so that we can optimize the chances of quickly finding” missing persons, said Guilbault.
HIRING CIVILIAN EXPERTS
In addition, police forces will now be able to hire people who are not trained at the National Police Academy as full members of the police force. This decision will allow, for example, the hiring of experts in various fields such as technology, law, taxation and so on.
These individuals will be required to undergo refresher training in police work and their expertise will be used in investigations requiring knowledge that is outside the scope of police expertise.
Bill 18 also provides for changes to the correctional and parole system to ensure it is stricter and more efficient, although Guilbault said she would not undermine the "delicate balance that must constantly be maintained between the protection of the public and the reintegration of offenders."
Finally, Quebec will allow various local jurisdictions, regions, municipalities and others, to adopt fire safety coverage plans that extend over a longer period of time in order to ease up on administration.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Dec. 8, 2021.