Manitoba·CBC Investigates

Complaint about police shut down over 'unreasonable' time limit for filing

A Winnipeg woman lost the ability to publicly complain about the conduct of police because of an arbitrary 30-day time limit that exists only in Manitoba.

Manitoba only province in Canada to set a 30-day limit to request action

Karen Robson stands beside the truck she was driving home from work late at night. (Kristin Annable/CBC)

A Winnipeg woman's complaint about police conduct was rejected because she missed the 30-day filing deadline by a day — a time limit that only exists in Manitoba.

Karen Robson came forward last month to tell CBC News the story of the night Winnipeg police mistook her for a thief and ordered her out of her pickup truck at gunpoint.

She says she filed a complaint with Manitoba's Law Enforcement Review Agency (LERA) and was waiting to hear back.

She had no idea it was on the desk of the commissioner, about to be rejected for being one day late.

"That was the only reason," she told CBC News. "They thought it was well written. It was understood … what my plight was. But they decided just [because it was] one day late to reject it."

30-day limit only in Manitoba

An analysis by CBC has found Manitoba is the only province in Canada that sets such a short limit for someone to file their complaint. The majority give at least a year, while Ontario and Newfoundland give complainants six months.

"That shocks me, that really shocks me," Robson said. "Because, I mean, why is it like that here in Manitoba? It should be the same … all over Canada."

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen introduced legislation Thursday to extend the time limit for filing a LERA complaint to 180 days from just 30.

"The time limit is something obviously that was identified to us as being out of step with other provinces and not … making it accessible for some folks to be able to in a timely way raise a concern if they had one," Goertzen said.

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen introduced legislation Thursday that will extend the time limit for filing a Law Enforcement Review Agency [LERA] complaint to 180 days instead of the current 30 days. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Robson says she's glad the change is coming, and would like to see it made retroactive for people who have had complaints rejected because of the shorter deadline.

"That would give a lot of people a chance to voice their concerns or issue a complaint when they felt that they've been done wrong," she said.

Vancouver lawyer Wally Oppal, a former British Columbia judge and attorney general with decades of experience in the field of police reforms, told CBC News 30 days is an "unreasonable" time limit. 

"If you want to have a fair process for the public, then it should be longer than 30 days," Oppal said in an interview from B.C., where the time limit to file such a complaint is one year.

Robson traumatized by police incident

Robson's run-in with police happened on Dec. 27, 2021, when she was driving home after a shift as a Winnipeg transit driver. 

It was just past 1:30 a.m. when she pulled over near her house and was suddenly surrounded by police, who aimed guns at her and ordered her out of the truck.

She says police told her someone with a weapon had stolen a truck that matched the description of her father's truck, so they got her out of the vehicle, handcuffed her and were going to place her in the back of a police car when they suddenly realized their error and let her go.

The event left Robson and her family traumatized and looking for an avenue to complain about it. They hired a lawyer, who gathered Robson's statement and filed the complaint on Jan. 27.

LERA commissioner Andrew Minor notified them in an email to Robson's lawyer in February the case could not go ahead because it missed the 30-day filing deadline.

Fairness needed: Oppal

Oppal says having a time limit on filing complaints is necessary, but it has to be reasonable.

"It's not fair to the police to have somebody come forward and complain about an incident that may have taken place three or four years ago," he said. "That's not fair." 

However, he says, the 30-day window is not long enough for members of the public who might not be aware of the possibility of filing a complaint, or who might be intimidated by the process.

"The public gets intimidated by police" Oppal said. "They get intimidated by the bureaucracy and the legislation that's involved, so we need to be fair to the public,"

Vancouver lawyer Wally Oppal, a former B.C. judge and attorney general, is among those who say 30 days is not enough time for filing a police complaint. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

The Winnipeg Police Service told CBC News it would not comment on Robson's case, but confirmed its professional standards unit has been looking into the matter. 

The Robson family is preparing to file a formal complaint with the WPS professional standards unit.

As commissioner of LERA, Minor said he cannot discuss a specific case, but in an email to CBC News said they sometimes make an exception to the 30-day rule. 

He said the complainant must prove "there is a justifiable reason that prevented them from having a reasonable opportunity to submit the complaint" within the legislated timeline. 

Complaint about police shut down over 'unreasonable' time limit for filing

3 months ago
Duration 2:31
A Winnipeg woman's complaint about police conduct was rejected because she missed the 30-day filing deadline by a day — a time limit that only exists in Manitoba.

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