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A Case on Negligence of Police in Alberta

The Court looked at the some of the legal duties of police in the case of Rennalls v Tettey, 2021 ABQB 1. The Court said at 24:

[24]There is no question that police officers are under a duty to do their jobs properly, both under statute and at common law. For instance, the Police Act, RSA 2000, c P-17 states at section 38(1): “[e]very police officer… has the authority, responsibility and duty (a) to perform all duties that are necessary to carry out the police officer’s functions as a peace officer… and (b) to execute all warrants and perform all related duties and services.”

[25] Further, the classic case of Dedman v The Queen, 1985 CanLII 41 (SCC), [1985] 2 SCR 2 at para 14, outlines the common law duties of police. These include the preservation of the peace, the prevention of crime, and the protection of life and property. Other case law has required police officers to investigate the commission of crimes and apprehend offenders under their duty of “enforcement of laws”: R v Custer, 1984 CanLII 2586 (SK CA), [1984] SJ No 438 (CA) at para 26.

[26] Critically, however, those duties are owed to society at large, not to individual citizens. As the Ontario Court of Appeal stated in Wellington at para 20:

While the police owe a duty of care to a particular suspect under investigation (see Hill and Beckstead), and to warn a narrow and distinct group of potential victims of a specific threat (see Jane Doe), there is now a long list of decisions rejecting the proposition that the police owe victims of crime and their families a private law duty of care in relation to the investigation of alleged crimes.

[27] This list of decisions includes the leading case of Norris v Gatien (2001), 2001 CanLII 2486 (ON CA), 56 OR (3d) 441 (CA) [“Norris”], where an Ontario Provincial Police [“OPP”] officer struck and killed a cyclist while driving an OPP vehicle. The deceased cyclist’s family sued the investigating officer of the local police service for negligent investigation into the OPP officer’s conduct. On a motion to strike the plaintiff’s claim against the investigating officer, the Ontario Court of Appeal laid out the governing legal principles at para 18:

[T]he plaintiffs had no legal interest in the investigation or prosecution of [the OPP officer]; that investigation and prosecution were matters of public law and public interest. Nor had the plaintiffs any legal interest in the disciplinary proceedings taken against [the OPP officer]. Had [the OPP officer] been convicted on either or both charges, the plaintiffs, or some of them, may have derived some personal satisfaction from that conviction. That satisfaction, however, would have been a purely personal matter; it would have no reality in law. Nor did the failure to reach that verdict have any consequence for the appellants sounding in damages.

[28] The Court of Appeal accordingly held that the claim was correctly struck for disclosing no reasonable cause of action. In Wellington, it re-stated and affirmed this general rule that police do not owe a duty of care to the victims of the crimes they investigate. There, a man was shot dead by a police officer, and the Special Investigation Unit of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General [“SIU”] was called in to investigate. The deceased’s family sued the SIU on the basis that their investigation into the shooting was negligent. In a unanimous decision authored by Sharpe JA, the Court held that the plaintiffs “had no legal interest in the investigation or prosecution of [the OPP officer]: that investigation and prosecution were matters of public law and public interest” (Wellington at para 18).

If you require legal advice related to this issue, please feel free to contact us.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice. No solicitor client relationship is formed through this article. The reader is encouraged to retain counsel for advice in these matters.

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