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Liberals move to create N.L. SIRT

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speaks to reporters Thursday while announcing government will introduce legislation to create a Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) in Newfoundland and Labrador. At right is deputy minister Paula Walsh, a former Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speaks to reporters Thursday while announcing government will introduce legislation to create a Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) in Newfoundland and Labrador. At right is deputy minister Paula Walsh.

Minister Andrew Parsons says public confidence in system is essential

The Liberal government is introducing legislation to create a Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) in Newfoundland and Labrador.

If passed as is, the act will establish an investigative team — independent of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — able to respond to cases arising of significant public interest, including where police officers are involved.

Serious incidents are being defined as a death, serious injury, sexual offence, domestic violence or any matter of significant public interest that may have arisen from the actions of a police officer in the province. The director gets to decide what cases are taken on.

The civilian director will be someone who has never worked as a police officer. That director will be appointed for up to five years, with the chance for one re-appointment.

Members may be seconded from the police forces.

A regional Atlantic Canadian SIRT is still a possibility, so the government has designed the legislation to allow for a regional model going forward. In the meantime, it also allows the province to get something in place.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told reporters he will be in Halifax in a few weeks’ time to further discuss the potential for a regional team.

“Public trust and co-operation are essential in effective law enforcement. In order to achieve that, checks and balances are important,” he said.

“Establishing a SIRT team will provide an increased level of transparency and help ensure people have trust in the justice system.”

The aim is to have a team up and running in six to eight months, allowing for a go-alone or regional model.

As for the question of cost, Parsons said the estimate is just under $800,000 to run the team, including about $600,000 for salaries.

“And any extra costs that we incur as a province right now during this fiscal climate is difficult, but what I would also suggest is when it comes to public confidence, that’s priceless,” he said.

“And as a province we’ve gone through some very difficult times, where if people don’t have faith in the police force, then that undermines the entire system.”

The SIRT legislation comes following the Commission of Inquiry into the Death of Donald Dunphy. Dunphy was shot and killed in his home in Mitchell’s Brook on April 5, 2015, by RNC Const. Joe Smyth.

The inquiry found RCMP investigators were too quick to accept Smyth’s statement of the event at face value, with “too friendly” interviews. Smyth was not charged or found to have shot without reason, but the investigation into the shooting was found to have its flaws, undermining public confidence.

In his recommendations, Commissioner Leo Barry suggested a SIRT team, but — as a best-case scenario — one shared with other provinces.

“The success of civilian-led oversight in this province will depend upon adequate long-term funding,” he wrote. “Also, provision must be made for proper annual training. Given the relatively small population in the province and the need for continuous training and job experience for investigators, a regional solution may be the most effective.”

Barry recommending limiting the team members to less than 50 per cent former police officers, but also said this province is unlikely to create an effective team without hiring of former police officers.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

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