Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unit to probe police on way

Will launch six years after it was promised

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Andrew Swan

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Manitoba's long-awaited Independent Investigation Unit, which will investigate serious incidents involving police, will be in place this time next year.

Justice Minister Andrew Swan said the new unit will be made up of eight police officers seconded by police agencies across the province, with a view to hiring dedicated officers at a future date, such as retired officers.

Although who they will be is still being worked out, Swan said Thursday they will be assigned in the coming months and the unit will be fully operational by the end of March 2015.

He said the goal is officers with the unit will not investigate cases if the accused is from their own police service.

The creation of the IIU is one of the final pieces of the NDP's Police Services Act. It was introduced March 3, 2009 after the inquiry into the 2005 death of Crystal Taman -- killed in a car crash involving an off-duty city police officer -- that examined how police botched the subsequent investigation.

The timing of the rollout of the new unit was revealed Wednesday in a committee meeting dealing with policy and spending in the justice department.

Progressive Conservative justice critic Kelvin Goerzten said the province has dragged its heels getting the unit up and running.

"If it was so critical five years ago, why has nothing happened to hire investigators in that unit?" Goertzen said Thursday during Question Period.

Goertzen also questioned how independent the unit will be if it's made up of active police officers assigned from their respective agencies rather than full-time officers permanently assigned.

Former attorney general Dave Chomiak, who shepherded the Police Services Act, said at the time it was a way to modernize policing standards in the province and remove the perception of bias when police investigate themselves.

Swan said the province wants to get the proper processes and management in place for the unit before asking municipal forces and RCMP to second officers to it. Civilian monitors, appointed by the Manitoba Police Commission, also must be identified to ensure investigations are independent.

The unit will investigate all incidents where someone dies or is seriously injured following contact with a police officer, or where it appears a police officer is accused of breaking the law. The IIU must also be notified of all other allegations against a police officer, both on-duty and off-duty.

Swan added the province has already hired former Calgary police inspector Catherine Light to head up the unit. She worked for the Calgary Police Service for more than 30 years, including in professional standards, career development, organized crime and major crimes.

Swan also said the province is looking for office space to meet the demands of the IIU and is hiring support staff.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2014 A4

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