(Phil McLachlan/Black Press Media)

RCMP watchdog calls for report deadlines to ensure timely Mountie responses

At present, legislation simply requires the RCMP commissioner to respond as soon as feasible

The RCMP watchdog is calling for statutory deadlines to ensure the Mounties respond to complaint findings in a timely way amid mounting concerns over excessive use of force by police.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP makes findings and recommendations in complaint cases, but these are then sent to the police force for input before a report is finalized — and that can take years.

Commission chairwoman Michelaine Lahaie told a House of Commons committee studying systemic racism in policing that the RCMP takes an average of 17 months to respond.

One of the commission’s reports has been waiting for a response for over three-and-a-half years.

“This is unacceptable in any system where accountability is critical,” Lahaie said.

At present, legislation simply requires the RCMP commissioner to respond as soon as feasible.

Lahaie wants to see a recently drafted memorandum of understanding with the RCMP on timelines enshrined in a bill working its way through Parliament. The proposed legislation is primarily intended to expand the commission’s scope of review to cover the Canada Border Services Agency, as well as the national police force.

The testimony follows widespread expressions of concern about police brutality and discrimination toward Black and Indigenous people.

Lahaie said many use of force incidents involving these communities do not result in a public complaint.

During a review of RCMP actions in northern British Columbia, the commission found many Indigenous people were either unaware of the public complaint process or did not trust it.

Lahaie said the process can be excessively bureaucratic and difficult to navigate, and although the commission has taken some steps to improve accessibility, more must be done.

For instance, the commission has made the public complaint form available in 16 different languages, recently working with the government of Nunavut to ensure it was available in Inuktitut.

“Even with these strides, the commission still needs to do more to ensure greater accessibility, trust and transparency in the complaints process,” Lahaie said.

“Ultimately, my goal is for people to believe that they can file a complaint with the commission and be treated fairly, without fear of reprisal.”

To achieve that, the commission needs to consult Indigenous and racialized communities to identify and break down the systemic barriers that exist within the current system and implement their suggested changes, she said.

“We must adopt a regime that better serves all communities.”

Lahaie recommended the bill now before Parliament include public education and outreach to Indigenous and racialized communities.

It currently makes public education mandatory for the commission’s new oversight mandate for the border agency, but these activities remain optional under the RCMP Act, she noted.

“The only way that the public complaint process works is if people trust the system. The only way to build that trust is through our outreach efforts.”

Lahaie also suggested both the RCMP commissioner and the president of the border agency be required by law to provide an annual report to the review commission outlining progress on implementing its recommendations.

Finally, she said the commission needs to be “appropriately resourced” to conduct systemic reviews of issues, which would mean not having to choose between doing such reviews or dealing with complaints from the public.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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