Sackville Town Council has decided to hear monthly reports from the RCMP behind closed doors again — a return to the private police briefings that had ended in September 2019.
Town CAO Jamie Burke responded to a reporter’s question about how the decision was made by saying it came after a discussion held in a private council meeting.
“We can’t talk about in-camera discussions, but I’m quite comfortable to say that we had a conversation in-camera on the topic of RCMP reporting,” Burke said.
Mayor Mesheau defended holding the police briefings in private.
He said short, printed police reports will continue to be included in background documents issued publicly in advance of regular council meetings and the RCMP will also issue quarterly reports and brief council publicly on them four times a year.
In addition, the town and the RCMP are jointly planning a “public engagement session” sometime this fall, but so far, details haven’t been worked out.
The monthly, public town council briefings were never popular with Sgt. Paul Gagné, the head of the Sackville detachment who complained about them in February 2020.
“Since we changed the format of our present meeting to being open to the public, I personally don’t find as much value in being here as I did before because I found our [private] exchanges much more, I would say, hearty and substantial,” he told council then.
The provincial law that governs municipal councils allows in-camera or closed-door sessions for a limited number of matters such as discussion of land transactions, legal and personnel matters as well as “information gathered by the police, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in the course of investigating any illegal activity or suspected illegal activity, or the source of that information.”
When asked about the legal justification for closed-door police briefings, Mayor Mesheau suggested that the half-hour monthly sessions cover a wide range of subjects with councillors asking follow-up questions that may raise legal issues.
“Even though we have the ability to move in and out of in-camera, the flow of that 30-minutes would be all over the place because there’s opportunity for councillors to ask questions,” Mesheau said.
“At that point in time, if the question generates something that’s more of a legal nature, if there’s a pending investigation, then we need to ensure that flow,” he added.
CAO Burke said the fact that the town has what he termed “a third-party agreement with the RCMP” allows council to hold closed-door police briefings.
“Oftentimes, the majority of the discussions that we’re having with the staff sergeant are operational in nature and that eventually can lead to something being before the courts,” he added.
“So, that’s why we’re moving back in-camera.”
Since September 2019 when they first began, the public police briefings have tended to be low-key, somewhat rambling affairs, with councillors showing deference to the RCMP sergeant clad in uniform and body armour.
On two occasions, however, Councillor Michael Tower broke with tradition and quizzed Sergeant Gagné vigorously on his apparent failure to enforce restrictions on fossil-fuel tanker trucks parked illegally beside the town’s water supply near TransCanada highway Exit 500.
“I would think the water supply risk is pretty high if we have vehicles like that there,” Tower said during a council meeting in October 2019.
He was referring to tanker trucks parked along the highway on-ramp near Walker Road.
“I think it would be a priority, not as much as an armed robbery, but at the same time, if it leaked, it would be bigger than an armed robbery and if the RCMP aren’t going to discourage people, then who’s going to do it?” Tower asked.
Sgt. Gagné acknowledged that an oil spill would be serious, just as an armed robbery would be.
“Except the difference is, being as an armed robbery is totally 100% my job, right, but a spill isn’t,” Gagné said, adding that for the RCMP, parking violations are not a top priority.
“If I have to pick and choose what we’re doing, I promise you, you want me looking into sexual assaults, domestic violence…mental health investigations; other things are more important than that [parking violations].”
Newly-released RCMP contract
The federal policing services contract with the town appears to support Sgt. Gagné’s comments.
The contract, posted this week on the town’s website after a request from Warktimes, suggests that municipal bylaw enforcement is not a top priority. [Article 2.2. (c)]:
Those [RCMP] members who form part of the Municipal Police Service: may render such services as are necessary to prevent offenses against by-laws of the Municipality, after having given due consideration to other demands for enforcement services appropriate to the effective and efficient delivery of police services in the Municipality.
The contract, which expires in 2032, gives Sackville’s mayor the authority to set the objectives, priorities and goals for the local RCMP detachment. [Article 6.0]
It also states that the head of the local detachment will act under the direction of the mayor. [Article 7.0]
However, the mayor’s authority is less clear when it comes to “operational effectiveness assessments.”
Article 18.0 states that the “frequency, scope and subject matter to be reviewed are subject to the agreement of the CEO [i.e. mayor] and the Member in Charge [i.e. head of the local detachment].”
To read the full Municipality of Sackville, Municipal Police Service Agreement, click here.
Here is a screenshot of the latest printed monthly police report submitted to town council by Sgt. Gagné: