After years of criticism, the RCMP now says it has cleared its backlog of public complaints and is in the midst of implementing recommendations coming from its watchdog agency – but some of the complaints are no longer alive to see the results.
The Civilian Audit and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC) is called upon hundreds of times a year to investigate public complaints about RCMP activity, ranging from allegations of misconduct to allegations of misconduct.
When a member of the public has a problem with the way they were treated by Mounties, the local department first investigates the complaint. If the individual is not satisfied with the RCMP’s results, they can leave the matter to the CRCC.
When the watchdog is not satisfied with the RCMP’s original actions, it sends a report to the RCMP Commissioner for review.
Only after RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and her team have responded to the watchdog’s findings and recommendations can the CRCC’s final report be compiled and released.
Over the last few years, hundreds of these reports have been left in limbo awaiting the Commissioner’s response – sometimes for years.
So far this financial year, the Watchdog Agency has completed more than 160 “unwanted” reports – those that came to conclusions that were unfavorable to the RCMP.
One of these reports concluded that the RCMP did not have enough to investigate a teenager’s sexual assault, while others confirmed that people were arrested without reasonable cause.
Although the financial year is not over yet, the number of unsolicited reports completed this year far exceeds the 78 negative results in 2020-2021 and the 24 the year before.
Pr. On December 8, the watchdog had completed a further 110 reports on the RCMP’s side.
In a tweet earlier this month, Commissioner Lucki said the force has cleared its backlog of public complaints
“Civil audit is essential to ensure public trust and confidence,” she said.
On its website, the RCMP states that most of the CRCC’s recommendations have been met. But the delays affected how the force put some of these recommendations into action.
In a case involving “improper use of force, mismanagement of property and wrongful arrest,” for example, the officer was unable to apologize as recommended because the complainant was dead. The complaint was filed in 2018 and the report was completed earlier this year.
In another “improper use of force” case, filed in 2016 and concluded in 2020, the RCMP wrote that it was unable to implement some of the watchdog’s results because the Mountie involved had retired.
Critics say much more is needed to improve police accountability, and they hope Ottawa finally solves problems the CRCC faces in the new year.
“The Commission remains both under-resources and underpowered,” said Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto who is writing a book on policing in Canada.
The Commission can be overwhelmed
The Liberal government has introduced legislation three times to shake up the agency. The first was intended to extend its mandate to allow it to investigate complaints about border guards.
If a person landing in Canada or crossing the border is concerned about how they were treated by an officer from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), their only way is to file a complaint internally. There is no mechanism for them to request an independent review.
One version of that legislation died before it passed the Senate ahead of the 2019 election. Another version died when parliament prorogated in 2020.
Then, following the global outcry in response to George Floyd’s death in police custody in 2020, Ottawa announced that it would expand the CRCC’s powers.
A version of that legislation was introduced a few weeks before the election was called in August before the text of the law was published. It died with the election call.
In his new letter of mandate, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino is being asked to set deadlines for the RCMP’s response to CRCC recommendations and to introduce legislation to set up an audit body for the CBSA.
“As you continue to support the important work of law enforcement, you will also prioritize police reform to address systemic racism and ensure that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police meet the needs of the communities it serves and to ensure that the RCMP continues its work. with transforming its culture and creating a culture of accountability, justice, diversity and inclusion, “the letter reads.
“In addition, you will ensure continued compliance with accountability and audit bodies.”
I am concerned about the danger of the Commission being flooded– Kent Roach
Roach said he fears the addition of CBSA complaints to the CRCC’s plate could overburden the commission’s investigators and distract from their systemic reviews – which have previously covered strip searches, street checks and workplace harassment within the RCMP.
“How effective will it be to monitor 20,000 Mounties when it gets CBSA, which has nearly 15,000 employees?” he asked.
“I am concerned about the danger of the Commission being flooded.”
Professor Paul McKenna of Dalhousie University, who has written academic articles on police oversight, said the “holy grail” is civilians investigating the police.
“The mentality should be that the police are not investigating themselves at all,” he said.
“The utopia would be that all these incidents, all these supervisory issues, immediately fail the hands of the police to people who are considered competent but who are civilians, to carry out this kind of investigation.”
He said he hopes a new mandate for a new minister gives the government a chance to rectify its previously inflated bills.
“Let’s go back. Not just go back to the drawing board, let’s redesign the drawing board and start from scratch,” he said.
“Because I think there have been increases in previous efforts, and you know it does not make sense to try to throw the net even wider.”
A push for native representation
Roach said another way would be to let the provinces that have contracts with the RCMP take over public complaints.
“It’s terribly confusing for people in contract police provinces to say, ‘Okay, yes, if I have a steak with a municipal police officer, I’m going to this office. And if I have a steak with the RCMP, I’m going to another office,’ ” he said.
Roach said that if a new bill is introduced, he would like to see initial investigations into complaints taken from RCMP officers. He also wants to see native representation in the commission.
Despite the long-standing problems, McKenna said he remains optimistic.
“The character of my optimism has diminished over the last, I would say 25 years,” he said.
“But I continue to believe that there could be the big breakthrough that will bring about some significant changes in policing, especially the RCMP.”