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Civilian body to oversee B.C. police

The B.C. government announced legislation Tuesday that will create a civilian-led police oversight office.

The Independent Investigations Office will lead criminal investigations of police incidents involving death, serious harm and "other serious incidents" in B.C., said B.C. solicitor-general Shirley Bond.

The office will have authority in cases involving all levels of law enforcement in the province, including the RCMP.

"This legislation is an historic step for policing in B.C. and will strengthen public faith in the dedicated officers who work so hard to keep our families safe," said Premier Christy Clark in a press release.

Bill 12 , if passed, will establish the office by the end of the year and entrench its powers in provincial legislation.

A civilian who has never served in law enforcement will lead the office and report to the Ministry of Attorney General.

The announcement comes after two separate public inquiries into the conduct of B.C. law enforcement officers recommended a civilian-led police oversight body.

William Davies, former B.C. Supreme Court justice and commissioner of the public inquiry into the death of Frank Paul, said the office should be created "for the investigation of police-related deaths occurring in the municipalities policed by the 11 municipal police departments."

The Frank Paul inquiry questioned why Vancouver police officers dumped the severely intoxicated man in a Vancouver back alley where he later died of hypothermia.

While Davies' recommendations were limited to municipal police forces, former justice Thomas Braidwood made a similar recommendation for an office that would account for all B.C. law enforcement officers.

In his 2010 inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant tasered to death by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport, Braidwood said such an office should be mandated to investigate all police related incidents that occur in B.C.

He said that a "police incident" is not necessarily limited to incidents of death or serious harm.

"The debate is no longer whether British Columbians should have a civilian-based investigative body, but what it should look like," wrote Braidwood in a postscript to his final report.

In his report, Braidwood referred to similar civilian-led oversight bodies that operate in Alberta and Ontario.

But Bond said the B.C. office will be more independent than Alberta’s, "reporting to the attorney general rather than the minister responsible for policing," and broader than Ontario’s.

"We have worked very hard over the past year to turn this important recommendation of Justice Braidwood into the legislation I am introducing today," said Bond.

"Justice Braidwood said that the most important weapon in the arsenal of the police is public support," said Bond. "The government agrees -- as do the police in B.C., who have endorsed an independent agency to do these difficult investigations."

Tyler Harbottle is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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