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Editorial: Justice cannot be blind

Public confidence in the RCMP – Nunavut's police service – hinges on full accountability and truly independent investigations

The issue:
Police transparency

We say:
Must improve

The Ottawa Police Service has completed its investigation into an RCMP shooting death of a Kinngait resident.

The fatal encounter took place on Feb 26. The subsequent investigation took nearly 24 weeks to complete.

During that time, the Ottawa Police Service and the RCMP were asked by Nunavut News whether the findings in the investigation report will be released to the public. Neither police force would make that commitment.

A week after the report was submitted to the Mounties, the reasons why a life was taken in Kinngait still weren't clear and it wasn't known whether they would ever come to light.

A coroner's inquest was not guaranteed to happen.

The family of the deceased is surely looking for answers and the community's mayor says local residents deserve an explanation.

He's right.

The same will hold true for Clyde River, where a police officer drew a service pistol and shot a resident on May 5.

The opaque nature of police being the sole investigators of fellow law enforcement officers, even if they're from a different jurisdiction, has long been criticized, as it should be. There's inherent bias in police adjudicating the actions of their brethren.

An independent body with a single police officer and several civilians would serve Nunavut much better. In the south, a Canadian Press investigation found that so-called civilian oversight panels to keep the police accountable are actually composed of former officers – 111 of 167 of these positions are filled by ex-cops.

That's obviously little better than one police force scrutinizing another.

Senator Vernon White told Nunavut News in May that he'd support the concept of a civilian oversight body assisting in investigations of RCMP conduct in Nunavut, something Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said will be under consideration during the winter sitting of the legislative assembly. White's favourable view of a civilian oversight body should carry some weight on the law enforcement side of the ledger, seeing as he was formerly Nunavut’s commanding officer from 2001 to 2003 and he later served as chief of police in Ottawa.

Such a concept should have become reality long ago, but it will only hold credibility among Nunavummiut if the majority of the commission's members are Nunavummiut who bring community and cultural perspectives along with intimate knowledge of history and local issues. Having a police presence on the commission – perhaps limited to just a single seat – would hold value because officers are trained in investigative techniques that are needed.

As calls for the RCMP to use body cameras have grown and Iqaluit was the site of a Black Lives Matter protest in June, where police brutality against Inuit was also reflected on, V Division's commanding officer has admitted that her officers have a challenge ahead of them in terms of building trust.

Releasing the Kinngait and Clyde River investigation reports – with reasonable redactions to protect privacy of witnesses – and fully backing the creation of a civilian oversight body will be critical steps in gaining the confidence of the public. The GN should never have signed a service agreement with Ottawa Police Service that omits a guarantee of public accountability following investigations of RCMP conduct in Nunavut.

An English dictum from the early 20th century states: “Justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.”

That principle certainly applies to these cases in Nunavut.