Justice minister says province will review community safety officer training, how they are overseen

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen told the CBC the provincial government is looking at changing the Police Services Act to include community safety officers (CSOs) under the jurisdiction of the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), which looks into serious allegations of misconduct involving on- and off-duty police officers in the province.

He said the province will also review the type of training CSOs receive but stopped short of committing to a further investigation into a January 2018 incident when 19-year-old Genesta Garson was punched by a Thompson CSO after being detained under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act (IPDA).

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The IPDA allows police and other designated officers, such as Thompson’s CSOs, to detain people they believe are intoxicated and keep them in a holding cell until they are sober without formally arresting them.

Like other Manitobans, I found [the security video of a CSO punching Garson] disturbing, obviously regrettable on so many fronts," Cullen told the CBC. “So we obviously here at Manitoba Justice take this very seriously. We've been doing our own background work to see how things unfolded since the incident."

After the video was made public earlier this month in an article published by the CBC, which obtained the Thomson RCMP detachment security footage through a court application, the City of Thompson, which has employed CSOs since 2016, said in a news release that it was unaware of the incident until seven months later when they were informed of it by someone from the provincial justice department.

Garson was removing some clothing, as required before being placed in a holding cell, when she threw her belt at or hit a CSO with it, the video shows. He then punched her in the face, knocking her to the floor and causing her to briefly lose consciousness. The CSOs and an RCMP officer then dragged Garson into a holding cell where she remained until an ambulance arrived and took her to the hospital for treatment of her injuries.

The city of Thompson said that the CSO was cleared of any wrongdoing in a review by the RCMP’s use of force expert. The commanding officer for the Manitoba RCMP said the police force was looking into the incident and what occurred afterwards to determine if anything could have been done better.

CSOs do not currently fall under the jurisdiction of the IIU. 

Cullen told the CBC that under the Police Services Act as it is now, that’s a gap through which the actions of CSOs fall.

“There's not a natural oversight body to review the activities of community safety officers," he said. "I think this incident has given us the ability to kind of shine a light on that, so that we are respectful of that. And I'm mindful of that."

The City of Thompson didn’t comment specifically to the CBC on the incident when Garson was punched, as she as filed a lawsuit against it, the RCMP, the attorney general of Canada and the two CSOs and the female RCMP officer who were supervising her. Only one of the CSOs still works for the city and he is in a different role now, the city said. The CSOs’ three-week training module includes sessions on use of force and diversity, according to a syllabus the city provided to the CBC.

“We're looking at making sure that CSOs [community safety officers] are provided the proper training so that this type of situation doesn't happen again," Cullen told the CBC. Manitoba RCMP said it was also reviewing the training that safety officers receive because they have access to the cell block at the Thompson RCMP detachment.

Cullen told the CBC he is waiting for Garson’s lawsuit to be resolved before taking any action based on what happened to her.

“There's an opportunity for us to see how that works, what details … and recommendations come out of that. And we'll always be mindful of that outcome," he said.

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