Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dispute drags on over new police oversight board

Province, city spar over funding

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THE city and province are waging another funding war, this time over who's supposed to pay for Winnipeg's new police board.

At a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, city council voted unanimously to create a new board to provide civilian oversight of the Winnipeg Police Service. The board will have the authority to hire police chiefs and act as a liaison between the community and the police, but will not oversee day-to-day police operations or investigations.

Council protection committee chairman Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) praised the new board as a tool to promote transparency.

The board's cost, however, is a point of contention between the city and province, with each side insisting the other should foot the estimated $234,000 tab for staff salaries and benefits, office space, board-member remuneration and other operating costs.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said former justice minister Dave Chomiak promised the province would pick up the tab for all expenses aside from nominal costs, such as per diems for board members.

"That's the deal that was made and that's the proposal that was put on the table," Katz said following Wednesday's council vote, referring to the Selinger government. "Very clearly, council expects them to live up to their promise and that's the only reason we moved forward on it."

Provincial Justice Minister Andrew Swan, however, said the mayor is a "little confused," insisting the province will pay for the full cost of the larger Manitoba Police Commission and will provide guidance to members of Winnipeg's police board.

Swan said it is up to the city to decide whether to hire staff for its board and expects few additional expenses. He also said the province is covering the cost of an independent investigations unit that will probe any serious allegations against an officer. Previously, the Winnipeg Police Service conducted this sort of work.

"I don't expect the City of Winnipeg is going to want us to charge them every time we investigate a Winnipeg police officer," he said. "That's something we're prepared to shoulder."

The city-provincial dispute has been playing out in public since October, when Swan and Katz had a similar exchange. The two parties have not met to clarify the matter, with Katz claiming Swan is too busy to commit to a meeting.

The board will succeed the short-lived Winnipeg police advisory board, which Katz created primarily to ensure financial accountability within the police service, which now accounts for almost a quarter of the city's operating budget.

Council had to pass a bylaw to create the board before Dec. 1 to meet the terms of the province's Police Services Act, created in the wake of the inquiry into police conduct during the investigation of the officer-involved motor-vehicle-collision death of Crystal Taman.

The city is in the midst of accepting applications for up to seven board members, who will be paid honoraria of up to $190 for a half-day or $336 per full day of work. Applicants will be subject to a thorough screening process, including a criminal background check, Katz said.

The city intends to have the board in place by Jan. 30. Fielding said he hopes it will include at least one indigenous member as well as a police or justice-system finance expert. The board will also include two council members.

Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, who has expressed an interest in serving on the board, said he would have liked to see more councillors sit on the body.

Fielding said councillors will still be able to make inquiries of the police service once the board is up and running. The board will report to council once a year, he said.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Meanwhile, at EPC

Executive policy committee decisions on Wednesday:

-- Experimental Lakes Area: EPC instructed Mayor Sam Katz to write a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other federal ministers, urging Ottawa to maintain operations at northwestern Ontario's Experimental Lakes Area until a funding source is located to continue research. ELA scientists conduct whole-ecosystem research on 58 lakes. Ottawa announced plans to cut the ELA's $2-million operating budget in 2013 and either sell the program or close it. Scientists have denounced the cuts, saying the program has led the way on public policy regarding eutrophication, acid rain, mercury pollution and other freshwater issues.

-- Photo radar: EPC voted in favour of awarding a seven-year, $20-million deal that will see ACS Public Sector Solutions operate digital red-light intersection speed cameras. Coun. Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) voted in opposition. The contract faces council approval on Dec. 12.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2012 A8

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