The new report on complaints against the RCMP is a damning indictment of police investigating themselves but it doesn't go far enough, says David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
"We are ... surprised, and quite frankly disappointed, that the commission would look at this serious and systemic issue and not recommend that the RCMP move to the same model we have in Ontario — where civilians do these investigations, where the investigations are removed from the jurisdiction of police, so that police aren't investigating themselves, whatever department they come from," Eby said Tuesday.
Paul Kennedy, who heads the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, spent 19 months studying how the police force investigates itself and the actions of its officers.
'They can't be jury, judge and executioner all on a casual evening shift.' —Delores Young, mother of man shot by RCMP
The report recommends that serious cases involving sexual assault, death or serious injury cases should, in some cases, be turned over to outside investigators to ensure independence.
Currently, the force has discretion to decide how such investigations will unfold.
Kennedy examined 28 cases involving death or serious injury, in which the Mounties investigated themselves, and found there are no national guidelines governing RCMP internal criminal investigations.
The report also found that in one-quarter of the cases, the investigator personally knew the officer being investigated, and in a third of the cases the investigating officer was of equal or lesser rank than the officer being investigated.
Shocked by procedures
That surprised Doug Mackay-Dunn, a North Vancouver District councillor and retired Vancouver police officer.
"I'm shocked at some of the findings in this report — lack of consistency for example. Junior members investigating senior members is totally unacceptable and was never done within the Vancouver Police Department under our current legislation," said Mackay-Dunn.
B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed said he welcomes the commissioner's report and supports the recommendation that the RCMP not investigate police-custody deaths involving their own members.
Heed said the recommendations are similar to planned amendments to the B.C. Police Act.
"It shows us harmonized and going down that road together, and that road is my goal of having the most effective and accountable police service for all of British Columbia," Heed told CBC News.
Mothers call for changes
Two mothers whose sons were shot by RCMP officers welcomed the report and its recommendations.
Delores Young, whose 29-year-old son, Kevin St. Arnaud, was shot by a Mountie in Vanderhoof in 2004, said she is pleased there's now an official call for change and hopes the RCMP agrees.
"I'm pleased that people are recognizing there is a need for change, that they can't be jury, judge and executioner all on a casual evening shift," she said.
"I think it would be kind of a relief to them to not have to [investigate themselves]. They have feelings of loyalty and comradeship, and it's hard to look at your friends and colleagues to be in the wrong. I think it would be kind of a relief to them to have someone else look into it."
A report released by Kennedy in May 2009 concluded that the RCMP officer was justified in shooting the intoxicated St. Arnaud but that the police investigation into the shooting was inadequate.
Linda Bush also lost her son, Ian Bush, 22, when he was shot by police in Houston, B.C., in 2005.
"It does sound encouraging," Bush said of the report. "The important thing for everyone to know is that it's just proposed legislation to the government, and we have to make sure the government acts on it."
Another report by Kennedy concluded in 2007 that the officer who shot the intoxicated Bush acted in self-defence and that the police investigation was conducted fairly and without conflict of interest,
RCMP consider changes
The commission's recommendations are not binding, and it will now be up to the federal government and the RCMP to determine whether any changes will be made to the way serious charges against RCMP officers are investigated.
The RCMP issued a statement Tuesday saying it took issue with some of the language used in the report. The police force also noted that in some cases, there was no alternative agency available to conduct investigations of the force and its members.
Nevertheless, RCMP commissioner William Elliot said he was considering adopting some of the recommendations.
"We anticipate that new RCMP policy, expected to be finalized in the very near future, will address a number of the concerns you have identified," he said in an open letter to Kennedy.
"Those concerns and your recommendations will be considered as we finalize our policy."