Opinion: Quebec's BEI falls short of expectations

Recent weeks have seen a succession of controversies about the secrecy and alleged pro-police bias of Quebec’s new police watchdog agency, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes.

Created two and a half years ago to investigate officers involved in shootings and other serious incidents, the civilian-led BEI was supposed to finally bring independence and transparency to investigations.

But the BEI is starting to look like a step backward. Of 110 investigations started so far, none has led to charges. That’s actually worse than before the BEI, when police were routinely accused of covering for each other when investigating fellow cops.

Before the BEI, 10 charges were filed in 526 investigations of police officers from 1999 to 2016, according to Quebec public security ministry data. The charging rate back then was ultra-low — just 1.9 per cent — but at least it was better than the BEI’s dismal batting average of zero.

To put this in perspective, in Ontario, investigations by that province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, led to charges 2.8 per cent of the time, according to a 2010 Toronto Star analysis of 3,400 SIU investigations. The charging rate for the SIU was still low enough for the investigative report by the Star to conclude that Ontario’s justice system “heavily favours police” and treats them “far differently than civilians” when accused of a crime.

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