British Columbia

B.C. Civil Liberties Association heads to court over RCMP complaint delays

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is preparing to face the RCMP commissioner's office in court over what they call "extreme delays" in responding to public complaints about police misconduct.

Suit alleges commissioner has taken years to respond to complaints, stifling police accountability

Brenda Lucki is the current RCMP commissioner, assuming the role in April 2018. (Chris Wattie/Canadian Press)

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is preparing to face the RCMP commissioner's office in court over what they call "extreme delays" in responding to public complaints about police misconduct.

A lawsuit filed by the association alleges the commissioner's office sits on public complaints for years at a time, ultimately leading to inadequate police accountability and oversight.

"This is a serious systemic problem with the RCMP," said Paul Champ, legal counsel for the BCCLA based in Ottawa. "There are many Canadians who wait two, three, four and five years and longer for the RCMP commissioner to release public complaint reports."

The lawsuit says it's the duty of the commissioner to review and respond to public complaints in a reasonable period of time. By failing to do so, the suit alleges the commissioner is violating the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, which says reports should be responded to "as soon as feasible."

Brenda Lucki has been commissioner of the RCMP since April 2018.

The lawsuit will be heard in Federal Court on Sept. 22. CBC News has reached out to the RCMP for comment.

Report delays

The lawsuit stems from a February 2014 complaint from the BCCLA alleging officers spied on Indigenous and environmental groups who were opposed to the now-defunct Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, and who attended National Energy Board meetings in 2012 and 2013.

The complaint was filed with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), an RCMP watchdog that reviews complaints about police conduct.

Before final CRCC reports are released, the RCMP must respond to the commission's findings and outline whether or not actions will be taken.

The BCCLA lawsuit alleges the RCMP commissioner's office dragged its heels when responding to the Northern Gateway complaint and ultimately delayed the CRCC by several years. The final report was only released in December 2020 — seven years after the initial complaint was filed and more than three years after CRCC findings were submitted to the RCMP commissioner.

The BCCLA argues that the legal requirement for a response "as soon as feasible" should mean a matter of months, not years.

According to court documents, there are 106 interim reports that have been awaiting a response from the RCMP commissioner for more than one year. The BCCLA says the delays have undermined the public's confidence in the complaints process.

"It's a completely broken system. These are unacceptable delays that are having a real impact on people who may be victims of police misconduct," said Champ.

"We want to court to say that 'as soon as feasible' doesn't mean whenever you want."

The CRCC has been granted intervener status in the hearing, meaning it will be able to provide its own evidence and arguments.

The commission would not comment on the suit, but said it has long been concerned with delays in the complaints process.

Wider implications

Champ said these delays are routine and lead to a culture of police impunity where misconduct can continue because it's never formally addressed.

He points to mounting concerns over how officers are currently policing the Fairy Creek blockades on Vancouver Island, where protesters are defying a court injunction to prevent a logging company from toppling old-growth trees.

RCMP and old-growth logging demonstrators stand face-to-face in silence at the Fairy Creek logging blockade on Vancouver Island. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

The RCMP have been accused of excessive use of force, lack of police identification, and refusal of medical attention to protesters, according to the CRCC.

As of Sept. 9, 186 public complaints have been filed related to police actions at the Fairy Creek blockades.

"When they don't take these complaints processes seriously, it makes you wonder how seriously they take the rights and freedoms of Canadians — including those protesting at Fairy Creek," said Champ.