Police should have 'farmed out' blogger libel investigation: review
Fredericton blogger Charles LeBlanc has been a vocal critic of police, and questions were raised about the force's motivation when he was arrested for libel in January.
Published Tuesday, December 4, 2012 6:57PM AST
FREDERICTON -- The Fredericton police department should have allowed another agency to investigate a criminal libel complaint from one of its own against a local blogger given the troubled history between the two sides, a review released Tuesday says.
Bernard Richard, New Brunswick's former ombudsman, issued seven recommendations following his review into the Fredericton police's handling of its investigation into Charles LeBlanc.
The review was launched earlier this year after Fredericton police searched LeBlanc's home and seized his computer equipment while investigating a complaint of criminal libel from one of its own officers.
LeBlanc has been a vocal critic of police, and questions were raised about the force's motivation when he was arrested for libel in January.
"There is no escaping the conclusion that the offended constable's complaint and the ensuing investigation should indeed have been 'farmed out,"' Richard's report says.
"There was too much history with the force, too many incidents involving this same officer and Mr. LeBlanc was too often in the public sphere to avoid the perception that the (Fredericton Police Force) could not be totally impartial in its consideration of the case."
No charge was ever laid because the province's Justice Department said it could not support laying a criminal libel charge over comments LeBlanc made online about the officer.
Acting police Chief Leanne Fitch said the force accepts Richard's recommendations, which include mandatory training on dealing with emotionally disturbed people. They also urge the Fredericton Police Force to ensure that officers who are the targets of unfair criticism stemming from their work have access to support.
"Mr. Richard's independent review was very balanced," Fitch said in a statement. "It recognizes the real challenges faced by officers when confronted with intense, unfair and potentially harmful criticism stemming from the execution of their duty in social media.
"But his report also identifies areas where we must make improvements, particularly in dealing with mental health issues."
Fitch said the recommendations will be acted upon in the coming weeks.