As of January 1, 2023, Saskatchewan established an independent police oversight body known as the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT). SIRT has the power to initiate investigations into incidents involving police, the Saskatchewan RCMP, and special constables such as conservation officers and members of the Highway Patrol. According to Saskatchewan law, SIRT must publish a summary of its investigation results three months after a case has been completed.
SIRT will examine cases where a person experiences significant injury or death while in police custody or due to the actions of a police officer. Additionally, SIRT is authorized to investigate allegations of sexual assault or domestic violence committed by a police officer.
Saskatchewan is the second last province to establish a civilian-led police oversight unit. The introduction of SIRT has been applauded by police chiefs in the province and a former head of civilian oversight in Ontario as a much-needed and long-overdue development.
Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said his police service is “really excited” to see SIRT start up.
“We think this is a real positive step forward in terms of oversight for policing in the province. Chiefs have been asking for this sort of oversight, especially those serious incidents where someone is either injured or dies while in police custody.” sourceHunter, Adam “Sask. police chiefs welcome independent oversight body” CBC News, January 8, 2023
What benefits will an independent oversight body have?
The goal of an independent oversight body is to restore public confidence in police oversight by increasing accountability, transparency, and integrity in police actions. SIRT can provide recommendations for policy and procedural changes to prevent future incidents of misconduct. SIRT also offers additional protection of individual rights and due process for both citizens and police officers.
Prior to the establishment of SIRT, serious incidents would be investigated by a police force from a different city, and reports did not have to be made public. Police investigating police is problematic because it doesn’t have the appearance of being fair and impartial. Furthermore, It’s also problematic because of the significant time and resources required of the police officers.
For a recent use case, look no further than Myles Sanderson who died in police custody a short time after his arrest. SIRT is currently involved in the investigation with the Saskatoon Police. The presence of an independent oversight body will curtail police misconduct, and was one of the reforms called for in the Stonechild inquiry.