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Atlantic Canada-wide police watchdog not an option: SIRT director

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speaks with reporters Thursday outside the House of Assembly.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons. - David Maher/The Telegram

Thin resources in N.S. prompted N.L.-specific civilian oversight for RNC and RCMP

The current head of the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team says a local approach is best for civilian oversight of police, especially given budget constraints in his office.

On Thursday, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons announced the creation of a serious incident response team (SIRT) for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Previously, the province has relied on the Nova Scotia SIRT and the Alberta SIRT to oversee investigations into police officers. The Alberta SIRT led the investigation into the shooting death of Donald Dunphy in 2015, for example.

One suggestion that has been floated by former Nova Scotia SIRT executive director Ron MacDonald was for an Atlantic Canada-wide civilian oversight body.

Parsons says that idea was explored during MacDonald’s tenure in Nova Scotia, but since he moved on, a new direction was taken.

Felix Cacchione, a former Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge, says he’s not open to the idea, given limited resources.

“At times, our resources were stretched very thin having to cover incidents that occurred in other provinces. We only have four investigators,” said Cacchione.

“Without a larger infrastructure, more investigators, more support staff and regional offices, it would be difficult in certain situations to not only respond quickly, but effectively to calls.”

Cacchione says even with a regional model, response times to calls could be difficult if there were a high number of investigations ongoing at once. He says with situations as time-sensitive as police investigations, it’s not something he could endorse.

The budget for the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team is approximately $600,000, compared to the $500,000 allotted annually in this province.

Parsons says with Cacchione unsupportive of the idea of a regional approach, he had to act to create a local body to oversee any future investigations.

“We have tried. We worked to see if an Atlantic model would be possible. The fact is, at some point you just can’t wait any longer,” said Parsons.

“We’re making the call for oversight assistance and we’re not getting the response that we need. We decided we would move forward on our own, but the door will never close on Atlantic collaboration.”

Parsons says none of the five active investigations or two that are before the courts were delayed because of difficulty accessing help from Nova Scotia, but there were times when multiple calls had to be made, which was less than ideal.

The job posting for the executive director position for the Newfoundland and Labrador Serious Incident Response Team team closes on Feb. 12.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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