It is rather incredible that by the end of 2016 several provinces still do not have distinct agencies to provide some oversight of police in cases in which officers injure or kill civilians. Added to this absurdity is the fact that for those institutions that do exist in various provinces, like the Independent Investigations Office in British Columbia, serious questions about the nature of their independence from police exist.
Québec had long been among the provinces with no oversight agency, The newly formed Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), which investigates serious cases of harm to civilians, including fatalities, involving police, only began its operations in June 2016. This came as a result of an amendment to the Police Act in May 2013. Prior to the launch of the BEI, investigations into cases of police harm to civilians were carried out by the Public Security Minister and one of three major forces, Montreal, Québec City, or the provincial Sûreté du Québec (SQ). This clearly reflected a lack of independence, transparency, and accountability and raised issues of conflict of interest and the blue wall of silence. Yet the new agency has not been well received by victims of police violence and/or their families, critics of police, or community advocates.
One significant advocacy group which has spoken for victims of police violence and their families, and which has focused attention on police violence in the province has spoken publicly in criticism of the BEI. The group Justice for Victims of Police Killings argues that the BEI is lacking in both diversity and independence. They point to, in particular, the police based composition of the agency. In the words of their statement: “We denounce the creation of the of the ‘independent’ police investigation bureau that is made up of 14 of 18 ex-police employees, and 11 former police officers.”
They have called for a meeting with Québec’s Minister of Justice so that victims’ families can raise their concerns and tell their painful stories directly. In support of victims’ families and in order to press for changes to policing, and police oversight, in the province the group held a commemorative vigil in front of the Montreal police association offices on Laurier Street on Saturday, October 22, 2016.