Calls to reform Alberta's Police Act

Alberta Prime Time - Discussing the latest in crime topics are Kevin Martin with Postmedia Network and Greg Dunn a Calgary Criminal defence lawyer.

Calls to Reform Alberta's Police Act

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CLIP: Jen (Employee): I have been bullied, sexually harassed, degraded and chastised.

Rachael West (Lawyer): A significant increase in people calling us to potentially submit their own complaints. We’ve been contacted by a total of 38 former and current employees of the CPS.

Michael: With complaints mounting, Calgary Police Chief is seeking changes to what he calls a restrictive Police Act. Roger Chapman wants to see legislation updated to give him more authority to handle HR issues within his force. Echoing that call is a Mount Royal University professor who says the Act needs to allow for more flexibility and transparency. Dr. Kelly Sundburg shared his concerns on Alberta Primetime Monday.

Sundburg: How complaints are addressed where we look at issues with regards to the police associations, their unions. When we look at how the agencies themselves conduct investigations.

Michael: Alberta’s Justice Minister has yet to commit to a review of the legislation. Kevin to you first, what’s making this legislation look so long in the tooth?

Kevin: Well, its 30 years old and we are dealing with a much different culture today than back in the 1980s. I mean, issues like bullying and sexual harassment were often turned a blind eye to back then. It was considered sort of a part of the culture that female officers who were few and far between would basically suck it up and just put up with that sort of behaviour, but I think we’ve evolved as a society in the last three decades and that’s no longer acceptable and I think it has to be addressed in the legislature.

Michael: Well, Kevin, what is standing out for you about the complaints targeting specifically CPS.

Kevin: Well, I mean it’s obvious that these women are still being treated the way officers have been in that past - female officers - and that’s not acceptable. I mean, we have to have a culture that is inclusive. We can’t have bullying. Bullying can lead to all sorts of negative effects up to including suicide so we don’t want that happening in our society and I think we need to address it in 2017 and not 1980’s legislation.

Michael: Greg how limiting is legislation where police forces in this province are concerned?

Greg: Well, I mean, to the general public - the way that the police act, so first off, the police act in Alberta is employment legislation so it’s designed to regulate the relationship between the police force and it’s members. The difficulty is that the police act is drafted all those employment legislation, it’s almost drafted in a judicial sense and the police act almost acts something that would be similar to for example a military tribunal or a court-martial. So what happens is if a complaint is laid, it gets investigated by their internal standards department if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a charge then a charge is laid and then the police officer basically goes to a hearing and then then hearing is similar to what you would get in a judicial process. It’s a little more informal. The chief of police sits in adjudication of that hearing. The difficulty is, there is not a lot of flexibility in terms of being proactive, in terms of employment issues. There is no conflict resolution provisions. There is nothing that, for example the chief of police can step in ahead of time before it gets to hearing and try to triage the issue and to try to, you know, really what we do in the civilian realm in terms of dealing with employment issues. So it’s a little bit, I don’t want to say its archaic , but it’s a little bit inflexible in terms of dealing with , what it really is, a different police department today than what we had thirty years ago.

Michael: So Greg, what would you do in terms of where you would start with changes?

Greg: Well, I think, overall, I think police force members are comfortable in that sort of system because they work in the justice system anyway but they may want to give the Chief of police a little more latitude in terms of being a little more forward thinking and being able to have a process that is more informal to deal with bullying and poor treatment of female police officers before it gets to a hearing stage because once it gets to a hearing stage, police officers have lawyers - they have lawyered up, it’s going to a trial and it becomes adversarial and it becomes difficult to be able to manage the relationships between the officers once it goes down that road.

Michael: Kevin, where would you see changes needing to be made?

Kevin: Well, I don’t know what exactly needs to be done but Im sure that the police chiefs of the various forces in Alberta can come up with some ideas. The fact that Chiefs like Roger Chaffin are offering up their services to the province is a very good step forward and I think the justice department and the Justice minister should embrace that and take advantage of that and get some new ideas from the chiefs and find ways to improve the legislation.

Michael: Alright, working together

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