B.C.'s solicitor general has introduced long-awaited legislation to create an independent civilian agency to conduct criminal investigations into serious incidents involving all police in B.C., including the RCMP.
Solicitor General Shirley Bond introduced the legislation to end police investigations of other police in serious incidents that result in death or serious harm on Tuesday in the legislature in Victoria.
"It is critical that British Columbians have confidence in our police and that the police are accountable to them," said Premier Christy Clark.
"This legislation is an historic step for policing in B.C. and will strengthen public faith in the dedicated officers who work so hard to keep our families safe," said Clark in a statement.
"The office will be the lead investigative agency in cases under its mandate, interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence," said the statement.
Specifically, it will:
- Be led by a civilian who has never served as a police officer.
- Conduct criminal investigations into police-related incidents involving death or serious harm, and will be able to do investigations involving other serious incidents.
- Be able to investigate members of all B.C. police agencies, including independent municipal departments and the RCMP.
- Have its powers entrenched in legislation.
- Report to the Ministry of Attorney General.
"In addition, the legislation will allow the office's civilian director to appoint a civilian monitor with access to all information on an investigation. The monitor will be free to raise concerns to the director about the integrity of an investigation and submit a final report within 30 days," it said.
Dziekanski case led call to end police investigations
The establishment of an independent office to investigate complaints against the RCMP in B.C. was one of the primary recommendations of the Braidwood commission, which looked into the death of Robert Dziekanski. The Polish immigrant died after being stunned with a Taser several times by police at Vancouver airport in 2007.
"Justice [Thomas] Braidwood said that the most important weapon in the arsenal of the police is public support," said Shirley Bond, minister of public safety and solicitor general in the statement.
"The government agrees — as do the police in B.C., who have endorsed an independent agency to do these difficult investigations," said Bond.
The executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, David Eby, said the Dziekanski case highlighted the problems with police investigating each other in serious cases, and the new legislation is welcome news.
"The fact that the RCMP did not seem to be able to put difficult questions to their own officers about exactly what happened at the airport that day, and that they would release information to the media that was inaccurate — it cost them a lot of public confidence," said Eby.
"We think this new system will help restore public confidence, that people can be reassured when police use lethal force that it was necessary and appropriate in the circumstances," he said.
Shortly after Dziekanski died, the RCMP said he was violent and refused to co-operate with the Mounties, but a bystander's video appeared to contradict that version of events.
An internal RCMP investigation initially concluded the officers acted according to police procedure.
But Braidwood's independent inquiry concluded in 2010 that the four RCMP officers involved deliberately misrepresented their actions during investigations into the incident and at the inquiry.
A later investigation by an independent special prosecutor resulted in perjury charges against the four officers.
No previous provincial oversight
Under existing legislation, the RCMP is not subject to any oversight by the provincial government in B.C. because it is a federal agency working under contract to the province.
B.C. already has an Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, but the civilian agency can respond only to complaints from the public made against officers working for 15 municipal police forces.
The office has no jurisdiction over the RCMP, which is the only police force in rural areas and many cities in B.C.