Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/9/2011 (3507 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE breathless — debate-less — speed with which Winnipeg’s city councillors agreed to significant changes to the bylaw on police disciplinary records should give citizens reason to wonder what could so thoroughly undermine the duty to defend public interest.
The simple fact that other municipalities have taken the misguided step to do the same is a woefully weak rationale on which to defend such a decision.
The amended bylaw now permits expunging an officer’s record of misconduct — so-called "defaults" — after five years if that officer is not disciplined for another offence in that time. This puts beyond review the officer’s previous misconduct when police management is considering suspending or dismissing an officer for a new offence. Perhaps more significant is the fact that such records, to be sealed, will be beyond the reach of the courts. An officer’s record for tampering with evidence, falsifying notes or misleading an internal investigation, for example, would clearly be relevant to a criminal case should evidence of similar conduct emerge. This decision puts past practice out of reach of the court.
The Winnipeg Police Association for decades has lobbied the service to expunge disciplinary matters. Resisted by past administrations, the union found a sympathetic ear under chief Keith McCaskill’s leadership. Mr.
McCaskill drew the analogy in his submission to council that even criminals are granted pardons. Such is the standard against which he would measure his officers?
The police service buttressed its proposal with the fact that a number of Canadian municipalities have moved, particularly in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling on the use of the records in court, to put the disciplinary histories out of reach. The foundation of the chief’s request, however, was simply that even the smallest of infractions remained a blight on an officer’s record forever. City council blithely overlooked the elegant fix for this; expunge minor offences after five years.
City council should have given this proposal close scrutiny and a rejection. Citizens can easily recognize the victory for the union and for officers in this amendment. The fact it passed council without a whiff of debate is damning.