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Access denied to documents detailing police vehicle collision on Sydney highway

The CBRM is planning to go ahead with a recommended formal review of the Cape Breton Regional Police Service's current and projected policing costs. The recommendation was one of several in the final report of a recently-released report from an independent study on the future viability of the municipality. The CBRPS has an annual budget of more than $27 million, a figure that represents about 18 per cent of the CBRM's annual operating budget.
A Cape Breton Regional Police car is shown driving past the Myles F. Burke Police Headquarters on Welton Street in Sydney in this file photo. - David Jala
SYDNEY, N.S. —

Circumstances surrounding a collision involving two Cape Breton Regional Police vehicles three months ago remain a mystery.

Police haven't released information on the cause of the crash that occurred around 4 a.m. on Aug. 4 along Highway 125 near the George Street and Grand Lake Road exits. The vehicles were later scrapped for parts.

The incident happened while officers were responding to a call. Minor injuries were reported, with one officer being treated at hospital.

Regional police are conducting their own investigation using officers from the force’s traffic safety unit in conjunction with its forensic ident unit.

Although not always the case, collisions that occur on provincial highways are typically handled by the Nova Scotia RCMP.

"There is an MOU in place for CBRPS to respond to all RCMP highway calls during overnight hours, which is when this collision happened," said CBRPS spokesperson Desiree Magnus. "So, it was a CBRPS response call. Even still, this particular investigation is under the direction of the traffic safety investigator currently seconded to the RCMP as part of the Integrated Traffic Unit."

The Cape Breton Post filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request for documents related to the crash under the province’s Municipal Government Act.

In a letter dated Nov. 4, the force denied access to the records on grounds that “disclosure of such information may harm the effectiveness of investigative techniques or procedures currently being used, or likely to be used.”

The Post is appealing the decision.

“It would be helpful, obviously, if they could explain without revealing inappropriate information why that is a problem — for example whether in fact charges may be laid or something like that,” said Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus of law at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law.

"These things need to be done in a way that reinforces the public’s trust in police and their ways of performing and that transparency is one way to do that.”

An appeal of the decision will require additional details be provided to the Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia to determine whether an exception was appropriate.

"There is an MOU in place for CBRPS to respond to all RCMP highway calls during overnight hours, which is when this collision happened," — CBRPS spokesperson Desiree Magnus

Nova Scotia's information and privacy watchdog is currently experiencing a severe backlog with some appeals taking years to be processed.

MacKay said in some circumstances policing units will investigate themselves, but noted that it doesn't often come without criticism.

“In the name of ensuring ongoing trust for the police it’s better to have that kind of thing investigated by an outside authority,” he said.

“The greater distance from the actual party being investigated would allow people to have greater confidence in the results that come from that. And as is the case here, no information is being made available.”

After consulting with the CBRM’s fleet manager, it was decided to pull the extensively damaged vehicles from the road. This was viewed as the most cost-effective option due to the price of repairs and the value of the vehicles.

"We did not have to purchase new vehicles to replace these two because we cycled in existing replacement vehicles we already had available," Magnus said.

Once the investigation is complete Magnus said regional police will reveal whether or not charges will be laid.

Chair of the CBRM board of police commissioners, Jim Macleod, said he expects the results of the investigation in the coming weeks.

According to the CBRM’s bylaws, the board's purpose is to act on behalf of council with respect to administrative direction, organization and policy required to provide efficient and sufficient policing to the municipality.

MacLeod said investigations such as this are a managerial responsibility and not something that would typically come before the commission.

“We are overseerers, yes, we are responsible for the budget, but for the internal operation and the day-to-day operation we have nothing to do with that,” said MacLeod.

RELATED: Two police vehicles involved in accident on Sydney highway

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