The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2004)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Scott Burbidge

The paper from which this summary is taken was presented at the “In Search of Security” conference held in Montreal, February 2003, by the Law Commission of Canada. For over 20 years Scott Burbidge was a senior researcher and policy analyst in the Secretariat of the federal Ministry of the Solicitor General (now known as Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada). Currently, he is a consultant specializing in issues of police organization and programs. He can be reached at email address:


The starting point for this analysis is the notion that Canada is a democratic society governed by the rule of law, where the rights and privileges of citizens are enshrined in human rights legislation. In Canada, this includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and provincial human rights legislation. The basic notion is that, thanks to the rule of law and our human rights legislation, Canadian citizens can always count on the protection of these legal institutions, whether they find themselves in public spaces, private spaces or mass private property.

From this perspective, the examination of options for ensuring effective governance and accountability arrangements for private as well as public police proceeds from the governance model for public police which prevails in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. According to this generalized model, the public police are subject to direction from, and are accountable to, a public governance authority. Furthermore, within this model, a separate and independent public complaints authority usually exercises an oversight role in relation to police actions and policies.


This paper was based on a review of the literature and available documentation from government and other sources. The literature and documentation consulted originated from English-speaking liberal democracies with traditions of democratic policing similar to those in Canada.


The growing presence of private police in our society, and the fact that they perform many policing functions traditionally regarded as the preserve of public police, raises fundamental questions of police governance and accountability for a democratic society which is based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. Private police are not accountable to the public nor are they subject to oversight and direction from democratically-elected governments, in the same way that public police agencies are.

From the perspective of the rule of law and respect for human rights, there is a public police question inherent in a situation where public police, at least in theory, are governed by and accountable to democratically-elected governments and to the public, while private police officers performing similar functions are not subject to the same form of democratic governance and accountability.

The findings from the United Kingdom and other jurisdictions on internal and external regulation and oversight mechanisms for private policing suggest an integrated approach to governance. Such an approach in to the governance of both public and private police, incorporates the democratic oversight mechanisms of the public police but also recognizes the potential value and effectiveness of existing regulatory and oversight mechanisms in the private policing sector.

Conclusions and Implications

As one key component of an integrated approach to the democratic governance of policing, the paper suggests a uniform Canadian code of police conduct that would apply eventually to all private and public police.

Given existing federal and provincial human rights legislation, and the recent extension of federal privacy and access legislation to the private sector in Canada, there should be no insurmountable jurisdictional or constitutional obstacles to extending the notion of a code of conduct, which incorporates recognition of human rights, to the private security sector. The code of conduct could apply when they are involved in the exercise of such police powers as investigation, detention, arrest, the gathering and sharing of personal information, and so on. Such a development would constitute significant progress towards the goal of an integrated approach to governance and accountability for all policing in Canada.