Brittany Cohen, a rising second-year J.D. candidate, is another student research assistant working at the Asper Centre this summer.
Building on one of its student working group projects this past academic year, the Asper Centre is developing a series of police oversight legal information guides for the general public (one for each province, the territories and for the RCMP), and Cohen is spearheading the research this summer. The guides will include a plain-language review of criminal and disciplinary oversight procedures in each jurisdiction, detailed steps that affected persons need to take to file a police complaint, timelines to keep in mind, special sections for vulnerable groups such as Indigenous people and victims of gender-based violence, and lists of resources and referrals for further assistance. The guides will be available online and in print, and will be translated into French and several Indigenous languages, to ensure accessibility.
The guides are designed so “[the public] can find really accessible information on how to file a police complaint,” Cohen says. “Right now, in a lot of provinces, it’s really difficult to find the right information.”
The most difficult aspect of her research thus far has been tracking down accurate and up to date information on the precise mechanisms of each province’s police accountability procedures. “The reason we want to create the guides is that there’s a lack of information, so that’s obviously a problem when creating the guides,” Cohen explains. “We will be partnering with stakeholders across Canada to find legal experts in the different regions who can fill in the gaps.”
Cohen was a member of the police oversight student working group during her first year as a law student, where she performed preliminary research on the police oversight bodies in Nova Scotia. Over the summer, she’s been exploring the issue on a national level by reviewing each province’s policing legislation, which establishes the police oversight bodies and/or procedures in that province, and drafting the information guides.
Cohen, who first became interested in the law in high school and who studied criminal justice and psychology in undergrad, is drawn to both criminal defence and constitutional law. “There’s a lot of overlap there,” she says, noting the two fields involve directly assisting clients. “I think both of them have a direct impact on the public, and that’s my main focus.”
Cohen will be co-leading the Asper Centre’s police oversight student working group this upcoming academic year.