Written By Scott Bower, Andrea Froese and Ian Mahood
The first major reform of Alberta's policing act in over 30 years received royal assent on December 15, 2022. When brought into force, the Police Amendment Act, 2022 , among other things, will champion a "policing-by-consent" framework. Practically speaking, this policing-by-consent framework would see greater civilian participation in policing oversight and policy development in Alberta.
The changes fall into four main categories:
- outlining a theoretical framework for policing in Alberta;
- increased participation for municipalities policed by the RCMP;
- the establishment of the Provincial Police Advisory Board (the Board); and
- the establishment of the Police Review Commission (the PRC).
In this blog, we summarize these changes and explain how they will impact the policing landscape in Alberta.
Outlining a Theoretical Framework
The Police Amendment Act creates a theoretical framework for policing in Alberta. The newly created preamble highlights that policing is meant to ensure public safety and order, that policing is founded on public consent and trust and that proper oversight is essential to guaranteeing the public's trust in policing.
In addition, the Police Amendment Act, also adopts eight guiding principles for policing in Alberta. These guiding principles are:
- ensuring safety and security of persons and property;
- safeguarding fundamental rights;
- cooperation between police and community;
- individual consideration for health-related factors;
- recognizing First Nations' history and tradition;
- accounting for pluralism;
- promoting a culture of accountability; and
- objective and transparent complaint process.
The Police Amendment Act also permits the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services to intervene in disputes among the various policing participants and to establish policing priorities through regulations—a potentially significant step if used. Police commissions, then, must consider these priorities when setting their own priorities.
Increased Participation for Municipalities Policed by the RCMP
The Police Amendment Act creates municipal policing committees for municipalities with populations over 15,000 that the RCMP serve. Currently, municipalities may contract with the RCMP to provide policing services for their respective communities. These municipalities, however, do not have any formal oversight or the ability to direct police policy. To allow municipalities more control over local policing, then, the Police Amendment Act creates municipal policing committees. The legislation itself does not specify the nature, power or responsibilities of these committees. Rather, subsequent regulations, which the cabinet and minister may make, will define these powers. Based on the general themes present in this legislation, however, such powers will likely include the ability to create municipal policing priorities and general policy.
Establishment of the Provincial Police Advisory Board
Another new feature is the establishment of the Board. The Board, consisting of no more than 15 people, must have at least one First Nation member and one Metis member. Similar to the municipal policing committees, the legislation does not specify the nature of the Board. This task falls to subsequent regulations. As the name implies, the Board will likely have an advisory role, rather than a regulatory role.
Establishment of the Police Review Commission
One of the most significant changes that the Police Amendment Act implements is the establishment of the PRC. Once established, the PRC would transform the police disciplinary process in Alberta by transferring the investigation of police disciplinary complaints from a police service to an independent centralized agency. No longer will "the police police the police" for major disciplinary matters, which has been an irresistible slogan long championed by critics and columnists in Alberta. Now, an outside agency will investigate disciplinary complaints.
While the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) currently handles all police complaints/cases involving serious injuries and death, it generally confines itself to criminal law matters and does not investigate or prosecute police disciplinary offences. There is no central and independent disciplinary complaint agency in Alberta. The PRC, however, would fill this role.
The PRC, headed by its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), will receive all complaints regarding the conduct of all non-RCMP police officers in Alberta. The RCMP, being a federal body, will retain its own complaint process. Any police service receiving a complaint will have to forward such complaints to the PRC as soon as practicable and in any event, within 30 days.
After receiving the complaint, the PRC will (1) notify the complainant of its receipt of the complaint (within two days), (2) notify the relevant police service of the complaint, and (3) assess the complaint (the Assessment Process). During the Assessment Process, the PRC will classify all complaints into five categories. After classifying the complaints, the PRC will be responsible for investigating level 1 and 2 complaints. The chief of police of each respective police service will be responsible for investigating level 4 and 5 complaints. For level 3 complaints, the PRC will have the discretion to investigate the complaint itself, or allow the police service to investigate. The below table summarizes the different types of complaints and their respective disciplinary process:
|Complaint Level||Criteria of Complaint||Disciplinary Process|
Within 30 days of receiving the complaint, the PRC must inform the complainant of the results of the assessment. Further, the legislation maintains the one-year limitation period for level 2 and 3 complaints.
Once brought into force, the Police Amendment Act will be a significant step for policing in Alberta, called for by both the critics and various police services. In particular, it will take significant resources to ensure that the PRC runs efficiently and effectively—a problem long suffered by ASIRT.