Tuesday, July 24, 2007

RCMP complaints process a travesty

As questions mounted about the death of Ian Bush, the RCMP repeatedly noted that the shooting would be investigated by the RCMP Commission for Public Complaints.
What they didn't say was that the top Mounties get to rewrite the commission's reports before they're made public.
And they routinely do, clearing officers accused of wrongdoing.
The Commission for Public Complaints issued 48 interim reports in its last fiscal year, which ended March 31.
The commission, after reviewing the evidence, issued 184 "findings." Half of them - 92 - were critical of the actions of the RCMP officers involved.
But the RCMP commissioner gets to go through the reports before they're released. During that 12-month period, the commissioners - first Giuliano Zaccardelli, then Beverley Busson - regularly rewrote reports. They decided witnesses judged credible by the commission should not be believed. They changed findings of fact and introduced new evidence.
And they over-ruled and rewrote 50 per cent of the commission's "adverse findings" against the actions of officers.
The situation is so outrageous it's like something out of a political satire. If something goes wrong - from a small complaint to a shooting - here's what happens. The RCMP investigates the actions of its officers. The investigators might forward a report to Crown prosecutors, who would use it to decide if charges are warranted.
If someone was unhappy with the results of this process, they could ask the RCMP Commission for Public Complaints to review the case. But the commission relies largely on the investigation by the RCMP.
And the top Mountie can and does rewrite the commission's reports to remove criticisms of officers or the force.
This has nothing to do with the general conduct of RCMP officers. Based on my limited experience as a police reporter - all right, very limited - they routinely do a tough job with remarkable good judgment.
But not always. Not invariably, 100 per cent of the time, like some saintly brigade. These are people like you and I, who chose a challenging line of work.
We give police officers great powers - from carrying guns to stopping people they suspect of wrongdoing. And most of us, I think, when we hear someone complain about being mistreated by police, tend to give the officer the benefit of the doubt. We've seen the kind of people they have to deal with, drunk and stupid and contrary.
That's exactly why there has to be accountability and independent oversight. When something does go wrong, a victim needs to know someone will look at his complaints with an open mind. Someone who isn't on the side of the police, or against them. Someone just interested in the truth and law.
Instead, complaints are investigated by RCMP officers. The information goes to the commission for public complaints. And then the head of the RCMP can rewrite any recommendations he doesn't like.
It's a deeply flawed process. The head of the RCMP has a natural desire to protect fellow officers. And too many bad reports might cost him his job.
The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is trying to improve things. It announced this month, in the aftermath of the Ian Bush shooting, a test program that will see its staff observe investigations into serious cases in B.C.
Commission chair Paul Kennedy says more is needed. The government has to pass legislation that allows real independent oversight. (Justice Dennis O'Connors investigation into the Arar case produced the same recommendation.)
The federal government's failure to deal with the issue is particularly unfair to British Columbians. The province has an independent Police Complaint Commissioner in charge of investigating public complaints.
But the RCMP won't accept the commissioner's oversight. Since most communities are policed by the RCMP, about 75 per cent of British Columbians don't have access to an adequate complaints process.
It's time the federal government acted on the urgent need to bring adequate oversight to the RCMP
Footonote: An independent review released earlier this year found significant problems in the provincial police complaints' review process. The report's author, former appeal court justice Josiah Wood, also advocates bringing the RCMP under the authority of the province's complaints commissioner.

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