British Columbia

B.C. ombudsperson says RCMP lockups lack oversight

Jay Chalke said a “number” of situations have come to his attention involving complaints against RCMP detention centre staff.

Jay Chalke says new process needed to respond to complaints about conditions in detention centres

Ombudsperson Jay Chalke, seen here in a 2017 photo, said there have been serious complaints levelled against some guards in RCMP lockups. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

B.C.'s ombudsperson says municipal lockups policed by the RCMP lack proper oversight and wants to see improvement.

Jay Chalke said in a statement Monday that an accountability gap exists in detention centres because guards are neither Mounties — who would be subject to discipline by the RCMP's Civilian Review and Complaint Commission — nor are they employees of one of B.C.'s 11 municipal forces, subject to discipline by B.C.'s Police Complaint Commissioner.

These guards are instead civilian municipal employees or contractors and the ombudsperson and the complaints commissioner have no jurisdiction to investigate them in the event of a complaint.

"We really had some quite serious allegations," Chalke told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

"What was concerning for us is that there was nowhere for us to send these [complainants] other than send them to the RCMP, who could review the conduct of the RCMP officers, or back to the municipality.

"But there was no independent oversight of any such investigation and that's unusual when you're talking about deprivation of liberty."

Chalke explained that these lockups or detention centres are the kind of places where an arrested person would be held for up to a few days before being sent to a provincial jail.

Chalke said a number of situations have come to his attention involving complaints against RCMP detention centre staff.

In one case, a young woman claimed she was menstruating while in the detention centre but was not given any menstrual products or access to a shower.

In another, a woman who was an immigrant and victim of domestic violence described a male guard's attempt to assault and strip search her while in custody. She alleged she was told she would face consequences if she complained.

Chalke said no investigation of these allegations occurred because no public body has oversight over the guards at these RCMP lockups.

"In every other context in which someone is detained under operation of provincial law there's independent oversight of any investigation and that just isn't the case in this circumstance," he said.

Chalke said he raised the issue with MLAs Monday at the Special Committee to Review the Police Complaints Process in Victoria and previously raised the issue last May with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

He said while some interim steps have been made toward remedying the problem, the solution is to develop a "full, independent statutory process ... for the oversight and investigation of these kinds of complaints."

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast