Defence attorneys claim police watchdog is protecting police rather than serving the public

A lawyer in Winnipeg is raising concerns about the level of transparency that exists within the province’s police watchdog, saying it may be protecting police, more than serving the public good. Morgan Modjeski reports.

When a person is seriously injured or killed in Manitoba during an interaction with police in the province, it’s the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba called on to investigate.

But a criminal defence attorney in Winnipeg says the agency — which is supposed to act as a police watchdog — is actually protecting police, as opposed to serving the public good. 

Since its inception in 2015, the IIU has seen over 384 cases fall under its mandate – only 76 of those the IIU suggested a case moves forward with charges in court. 

“I think the issues with IIU are much bigger and deeper than just that number can tell you,” said Karl Gowenlock, a Criminal Defence attorney.

While the IIU releases “conclusions” into its investigation the results are never made public and Gowenlock, says this is a problem.

She says while other professions and members of the public will see an investigation into serious matters disclosed in a court of law or regulatory hearing, police are not subjected to the same level of transparency or disclosure. 

“It’s only if it’s brought forward to the court that the public gets any view into what the police did, how they are justifying, what all the evidence is,” said Gowenlock.

“When we’re looking at police accountability, just like holding any part of the justice system accountable to its own standard, it’s not just that justice be done, it’s that justice seen to be done by the public.”

The IIU is now investigating a recent incident following an interaction with police on Oct. 15, where video shows a man was struck by two officers numerous times before a police news release said he went into medical distress and died in hospital — the cause of death has not been released. 

The number of cases the IIU has handled since its inception has fluctuated over the years, but the number of staff working for the agency currently stands at 15.

Criminal defence attorney Zilla Jones too feels the IIU is flawed, saying the people conducting the investigations, are former members of law enforcement. 

“The investigators tend to be aligned more with police, and not so necessarily aligned with the community and with the groups that tend to be harmed by the police, which we know are racialized people, Indigenous people and so on,” said Jones. 

“A lot of the time, it becomes the word of as I said, a vulnerable person, maybe with a criminal record without witnesses, against police officers who generally have their partner there, have back-up, and so it’s really not a level playing field.” 

CityNews made several requests for an interview with the IIU’s new director Roxanne Gagne to respond to concerns and questions about the agency moving forward, but an interview request was declined. 

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