Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fairer probes of police

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The appointment of Zane Tessler as the province's first executive director of the new Independent Investigation Unit was a sound and reasonable choice, despite the fact the usual suspects will criticize the selection of someone who might be too close to the justice system.

The IIU, which is charged with investigating serious incidents involving police officers, on or off duty, did not have to be led by someone from the legal profession, but there is no compelling reason why the position should not have been filled from within the ranks of the Manitoba bar.

The idea of an independent investigative unit had been suggested for many years, but the province embraced the concept following the inquiry into the death of Crystal Taman, who was killed when an off-duty police officer drove into the rear of her vehicle in 2005. The inquiry showed the probe was botched by police from beginning to end, highlighting once again the difficulty police have in investigating their own.

Mr. Tessler brings 32 years of legal experience to the job, having served as both a prosecutor and defence counsel, which means he is familiar with police investigations from both perspectives of the adversarial legal system. Ideally, he has learned to be skeptical and suspicious, but not cynical. As such, he should have the confidence not just of police, but also of those who believe police are unable to properly investigate themselves because of a presumed natural prejudice.

Time will tell if he is up to the difficult task. His first challenge will be to select a group of investigators, but he should not limit his choices to former police officers. There's a wide range of professions with investigative skills that could be tapped, including people from workers compensation, the medical examiner's office, the fire commissioner's office and others.

The job does not require the IIU to identify and find a suspect, but merely to determine what happened. It does not necessarily require the same skill set as a homicide or gang investigator.

Mr. Tessler deserves the benefit of a doubt and a fair chance to demonstrate his commitment to impartial and independent investigations.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2013 A10

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