While reports, investigations and denunciations have accumulated in recent years regarding police practices in Quebec, Bill 14 tabled by François Bonnardel to “modernize police practice” only proposes, at best, a simple modernization of the facade.

Moreover, the expeditious nature of the consultation in parliamentary committee and the fact that most of the speakers invited are police organizations, police unions or police members leaves little room for citizens, communities or defense organizations. Rights. Space and time to participate in the modernization of police practices when it is an important democratic issue.

By their role and their powers, police organizations are not like other institutions. Through their ability to control, monitor and repress citizens, police organizations must be part of a strong relationship of trust with individuals and society as a whole by accepting genuine democratic control which will make it possible to guarantee that police practices are exercised without abuse or discrimination. However, it is clear that Bill 14, rather than strengthening democratic control of the police, is eroding it.

The bill in fact considerably reduces the right to file a complaint with the Police Ethics Commissioner, by suppressing complaints made by third parties, even though it is these complaints that most often bear fruit in terms of police sanctions. By reducing third-party citizens to a reporting role rather than a complainant, the bill further undermines much-needed democratic control of the police.

Similarly, since the creation of the Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI) in 2016, many voices have been raised to denounce the lack of transparency and impartiality. After more than six years of BEI investigation, a quick glance at the BEI website reveals that despite more than 200 investigations where at least one police officer was involved in the death or serious injury to at least one citizen, no investigation resulted in charges being laid by the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions. And yet, on average, the BEI has opened one investigation per week since its creation, which means that police practices pose serious life-and-death stakes in Quebec, whereas in many countries, these stakes are limited, even non-existent. Modernizing police law would certainly have been an opportunity to review the work of the BEI to strengthen the role of citizens with regard to police practices that lead to the death or serious injury of people. Yet Bill 14 is silent on this point.

Admittedly, liaison officers should accompany complainants in dealing with police ethics. But, here again, while the deadline for filing a complaint had been extended to three years in Bill 18, which died on the order paper this fall, we are now back to a one-year deadline. At no time do we seem to be concerned about the issues of reprisals or the difficulties of people in filing a complaint process against police officers and above all, we forget that behind abuse, discrimination, there are institutional and organizational logics that no individual complaint can resolve. This facade reform of ethics does not respond to the concerns repeatedly expressed by the communities, namely the very long processing times, the very low rate of complaints that lead to sanctions and the often derisory disciplinary sanctions imposed on police officers.

Rather than prohibit roadside interceptions such as arrests without cause, despite court decisions and studies that have shown their deleterious effects, the bill proposes an illusion of supervision by guidelines established by the Ministry of Public Security and annual reporting by police organizations. The urgency is to return to our rule of law which protects citizens from abuse, profiling, arbitrariness and partiality by offering the population, the communities, the right to circulate on the road as in public space without being hampered by arbitrary and discriminatory decisions.

The modernization of police practices in Quebec is definitely a necessity. This exercise must be part of a strong political will for the in-depth transformation of this institution, its role, its powers and its controls. The bill only proposes a junk revision that leaves the issues of abuse and profiling to remain, offering police organizations the possibility of continuing to act without regard for the citizens they must serve. Consultations are a reflection of this modernization: an exercise in facade.