A longtime Winnipeg lawyer says the province's police watchdog shouldn't have to go to court to force the Winnipeg Police Service to release requested information.
Harvey Pollock said Monday he believes police must provide the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba with the incident reports and notes of two cadets who were involved in the July 2018 in-custody death of 34-year-old Matthew Richards Fosseneuve.
On Wednesday, the IIU took the extraordinary step of filing an application in Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench that seeks to force the police service to hand over the materials. The IIU, which has been asking for the materials for nine months, says the incident reports and notes are needed to complete its investigation.
"The legislation that is in place gives the IIU a strong mandate to review the conduct of police," said Pollock. "There's no excuse in not co-operating with the IIU. The IIU is there to keep police honest and for police to give full disclosure of their own members and their conduct with people being interrogated, investigated or prosecuted."
Pollock, who tangled with police in the past representing the family of slain Indigenous leader J.J. Harper in court and at the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, said it should make no difference whether the reports and notes are written by full-fledged police officers or a cadet.
"The police department is responsible for their conduct. To say the cadets enjoy special exemption from following the duties of a police officer in training is nonsense." — Harvey Pollock
"The cadets are in the service of the Winnipeg Police Service," he said. "They are being trained as police officers. The police department is responsible for their conduct. To say the cadets enjoy special exemption from following the duties of a police officer in training is nonsense. They are employed and their employer is responsible for their conduct in law."
The WPS has made no public comment on the IIU's legal action.
Pollock said that if somehow the courts rule the police service does not have to divulge the notes, then the provincial government should be amending the IIU's legislation to include in its mandate all WPS employees.
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said the provincial government is examining the legislation.
"We do recognize there is an issue there, in terms of gaps in the existing legislation, as it was previously written," he said. "We made a commitment back during the throne speech that we would review the Police Services Act. That act is very comprehensive and we want to do a comprehensive review of all aspects of that particular legislation.
"We want to make sure we take the time to get it right."
Cullen said they have been working on the terms of reference of the review during the last several months and they have recently hired former Manitoba RCMP commander Scott Kolody as its new associate deputy of justice to take a look at it.
Cullen said the goal is to complete the review by next spring.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.