• Lewis Waring

Peace Officer or Safety Officer? - blawger

R v McLeod (“McLeod”) is a Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench case (”the MBQB”) from May 8, 2020. In McLeod, Derry McLeod assaulted a First Nation safety officer after McLeod’s father called concerning an underaged, intoxicated girl in his home. McLeod was later convicted of assaulting the peace officer, Brianna Garrioch, while performing her duties under section 270(1)(a) of the Criminal Code. Upon her arrival to the residence of the McLeods, Garrioch encountered the intoxicated girl outside. While attempting to speak with McLeod’s father, McLeod engaged in physical contact with her, which led to a fight including the attempt of McLeod to punch and kick Garrioch.


The distinction between safety officers and peace officers


In Manitoba, First Nation safety officers must comply with three sources of authority: the Police Services Act, the First Nation Safety Officers Regulation, and the Operating Agreement between the First Nation, the Province and the police force (in the case at hand, the Cross Lake First Nation Operating Agreement). A First Nation safety officer is not the same as a peace officer per se; a safety officer is considered a peace officer only in certain cases set out in the First Nation Safety Officers Regulation and further restricted by the Operating Agreement.


In McLeod, McLeod was accused of assaulting a safety officer, so the MBQB was required to establish whether Officer Garrioch was taking part in activity that constituted peace officer status rather than safety officer status.


McLeod argued that Garrioch was not acting as a peace officer according to the authority set out in the First Nation Safety Officers Regulations and the Operating Agreement. In addition to this, McLeod argued that Garrioch came to their home to remove the girl from the premises and into custody, a purpose that was out of the scope of the Operating Agreement. The Crown aimed to prove that the Police Services Act and the First Nation Safety Officers Regulation could be interpreted in such a way that allowed Garrioch to have assumed status as a peace officer at the time of the incident.


Trial finds an assault of a safety officer


Under section 270(1)(a) of the Criminal Code (“the Code”), the Crown must prove certain elements of the crime:

  1. The elements of assault

  2. That the safety officer was engaged in the duties of a peach officer, in that:

  3. Safety officer was validly employed as a safety officer by the First Nation;

  4. Safety officer was on duty at the time the incident arose;

  5. A valid Operating Agreement was in effect for that First Nation;

  6. The incident arose within the geographic area specified in the Operating Agreement; and

  7. Safety officer was enforcing an enactment, or performing the duties or exercising the powers, under s. 4 or s. 5 of the First Nation Safety Officers Regulation, which was also authorized by the specific Operating Agreement of that First Nation.

According to these requirements and the facts in McLeod, the trial decision of the Provincial Court of Manitoba (“the MBPC”) found the assault to have happened. However, the MBPC failed to establish that Garrioch was acting as a peace officer at the time of the assault.


Sometimes safety officers are peace officers


In order to address the main issue on appeal at the MBQB, the following questions needed to be answered:

  1. Why was Garrioch at the McLeod residence and what was she doing at the time she was attacked?

  2. What do the First Nation Safety Officers Regulation and the Operating Agreements say in regard to Cross Lake First Nation safety officers?

In addressing the first question, both sides in McLeod agreed on the facts that Garrioch came to the house on request of McLeod’s father concerning the removal of an intoxicated minor from the premises. Regarding the second question, the MBQB found sections of each provision to bestow power to safety officers to enforce them. The MBQB answered the question by referring to two past decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada (“the Court”) while focussing on statutory interpretation, R v Myers and Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes. Both cases held that a statute should be read in its entire context with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament. Keeping this in mind, the Court decided that the various legislation in question in McLeod suggested that it was reasonable to assume First Nation safety officers to be peace officers while enforcing their provisions.


The Court held that McLeod’s actions fulfilled the elements that prove the assault of a peace officer engaged in the execution of her duties and therefore he was found guilty under section 270(1)(a) of the Code.


A fair and unbiased decision


In reaching a decision in McLeod, I believe that the Court was very fair in its analysis of each side. In incorporating various legislation into the decision of whether this officer was acting as a peace officer at the time of the offence, the Court created a stronger case against McLeod. Backing up their stance with multiple pieces of legislation and rules made it even more clear as to why Garrioch should reasonably have been considered a peace officer during her performance of the specific duties she was carrying out. Using The Police Services Act, we are able to see how the role of a First Nation safety officer is described. One of the roles established in that legislation is that a First Nation safety officer implements crime prevention strategies, including connecting with those who need social service providers. At the same time, the First Nation Safety Officers Regulation states that there are certain provincial enactments that one can perform while under the role of First Nation safety officer if the Operating Agreement allows it. In McLeod, the Cross Lake First Nation Operating Agreement operated between Cross Lake First Nation, the Province of Manitoba, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This agreement is what establishes when a safety officer may act as a peace officer. After reviewing the clear rules set out in each document, it became evident that the case against Officer Garrioch was weak as she was acting in enforcing duties explicitly authorized by the agreements.


Prior to reading McLeod, I was expecting the case to constitute a situation that we see quite often; one in which an authoritative party receives preferential treatment by the justice system and the public is left wondering if the accused was stripped of their right to justice. In McLeod, I thought that the Court’s decision was clear and unbiased in each direction despite the decision to convict the accused, and I can appreciate the outcome that was decided.

Check out the Robson Crim MLJ
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