British Columbia

RCMP civilian watchdog report an indictment of northern policing, say critics

Critics say a recent report from the RCMP's civilian watchdog group highlighting shoddy reporting by police in northern British Columbia is an indictment of police practices there.

'It's very alarming, it's very disconcerting,' says Indigenous social worker

Ian McPhail, Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said in many instances, police supervisors have failed in their duties to provide guidance and oversight. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Critics say a recent report from the RCMP's civilian watchdog group highlighting shoddy reporting by police in northern British Columbia is an indictment of police practices there.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP released a report on Wednesday. It also found serious record-keeping gaps, policy weaknesses or compliance issues related to police investigations of public intoxication, personal searches and use of force.

One NDP politician says the report draws attention to a shortcoming in the federal Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry, which was established last year by the Liberal government to examine the disappearances and deaths of thousands of Indigenous women across Canada.

That is, policing is not explicitly included in the inquiry's terms of reference, said New Democrat MP Sheila Malcolmson. 

'Make women safer'

"I'm very afraid the inquiry will not succeed if we don't explicitly include police practices with a view to improving them, to make police better respected, and to make women safer," said Malcolmson, the MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

The watchdog report took an in-depth look at how officers handled cases involving public intoxication, strip searches, domestic violence, missing persons, use of force and files including young people between 2008 and 2012.

It said some of the poor police record-keeping makes it impossible to tell whether many missing persons cases were properly investigated

It found that in nearly 50 per cent of missing persons cases, police failed to investigate "promptly and thoroughly."

Commission Chair Ian McPhail said in many instances, supervisors have failed in their duties to provide guidance and oversight.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, called the RCMP's failure to keep proper records a "shocking failure" on the part of police officers and supervisors.

"This is just being done inadequately across the north," Paterson said. "And that is the blockbuster revelation in the report today."

First Nations groups in northern B.C. said the report reinforces suspicions long harboured by Indigenous people that missing persons cases weren't properly looked into.

Report 'not surprising' 

"I think it's very alarming, it's very disconcerting," said Mary Teegee with Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George.

"However, it is not surprising and I think the long history that we've had with the RCMP, the treatment of Indigenous people, we've heard this in the work that we do anecdotally."

The  report focused exclusively on the North District, which is headquartered in Prince George and has 35 detachments and more than 600 members.

It makes 31 recommendations aimed at improving transparency and accountability through better reporting, policies, supervisory review and training.

The complaints commission initiated the investigation in May of 2013 in response to concerns about policing in northern B.C. raised by individuals and various human rights and civil liberties groups, as well as a provincial inquiry into missing women.

With a report from The Canadian Press and Meera Bains