Internal RCMP reviews find illegal arrests, incomplete investigations
Management reviews give previously hidden look at quality of RCMP investigations
Internal reviews of RCMP investigations across New Brunswick in recent years found illegal arrests, failures to offer support services to domestic violence victims, and a lack of supervision that affects the quality of policing in the province.
RCMP reports called management reviews offer a previously undisclosed look at how the force itself viewed the quality of its criminal investigations over recent years across the province.
A review of the Campbellton RCMP district in 2014 showed officers went into homes to arrest people six times without a required warrant to do so, making the arrest illegal. A 2017 Hampton review found police bringing cases to the Crown that couldn't be supported by the evidence.
One stark report from 2012 of the policing district around Woodstock found:
- 52 per cent of investigations reviewed met expectations, "well below" the average of 84 per cent across the province set in 2009;
- 58 per cent of the investigations were considered complete or thorough;
- 55 per cent of files showed suspects were arrested when they should've been;
- 60 per cent of cases showed statements taken from victims when they could have been; and
- Briefs prepared for the Crown prosecutor were "often incomplete" and returned for further work.
A Woodstock-area review from 2017 doesn't offer similar percentages and is generally favourable. It describes the overall thoroughness of investigations as meeting expectations with six of 32 files reviewed not meeting standards (it describes an unwillingness to charge female suspects of domestic assault as part of the problem).
While some of the findings are now several years old, they describe the quality of investigations ranging from property crimes to more serious assaults, crimes that involved victims seeking justice and suspects facing potential prosecution.
Gilles Lemieux, a defence lawyer who has worked in the province for 30 years, said he applauds investigations properly carried out, but is concerned about the number of cases deemed not complete or thorough.
"There's either a victim or a suspect who is not properly served by the system and that to me is serious stuff," Lemieux said.
Assistant Commissioner Larry Tremblay, the commanding officer of New Brunswick RCMP, did not provide an interview when requested in June and July.
Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh instead sent a written statement saying there has been "significant organizational changes" since some of the reviews were done.
"Many of the issues raised in these documents were addressed through those changes, or specific action plans," Rogers-Marsh said, without referring to any specifics.
Roger Brown held Tremblay's position when some of the reports were completed and is now Fredericton's police chief. Brown did not provide an interview.
The issues are outlined in management reviews the force carries out every few years at divisions or detachments across the country. The reviews evaluate everything from officer morale, community satisfaction with the force, handling of evidence to the adequacy of investigations.
The reviews see officers from one area, such as Moncton, evaluate the performance of their peers in another area like Campbellton. Copies of the reviews, which contain recommendations for improvement as well as good practices, are sent to commanding officers for the province and area reviewed.
Reports released years after requested
CBC News obtained copies of reports completed between 2005 and late 2017 in New Brunswick through an access to information request filed in January 2018. The reports spanning 440 pages were released in late May 2020, making the 2017 reports the most recent ones available.
While many of the reviews offer positive findings, common issues with investigations have been noted in various parts of the province. The documents don't say what changes occurred after they were completed.
Some of the strongest comments are in a 2014 report of the Campbellton policing district, the most recent report for that region. The review looked at 12 cases involving RCMP officers entering homes with the intention of arresting someone.
A landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in 1997 requires police obtain a warrant to enter a person's property, home or business with the intention of arresting a person. There are limited exceptions like imminent threats to safety.
'No legal basis' to make arrests
In six of the 12 Campbellton-area cases, "there was no legal basis to effect the arrest" because police lacked a required warrant, the review found.
That and other issues relating to arrests were attributed to "a lack of policy knowledge, and resistance to required protocols, taking shortcuts when knowing better."
Not correcting the problems, the report says, can lead to the loss of cases in court, risk to victims, limited knowledge growth among officers, civil litigation and loss of public confidence.
The report doesn't say what happened in the cases with warrantless arrests.
A poorly executed police investigation can affect the court process.
During criminal proceedings, police cases are disclosed to a person facing charges. Charter violations can result in charges not being laid or being withdrawn.
Lemieux said he's had clients facing charges where police haven't collected certain evidence or canvassed to find witnesses who may offer a different view of events.
"It's hard to explain to a client that he has to go to trial and that the evidence doesn't support it," Lemieux said.
"He's acquitted, he or she is acquitted. They've gone through the system and come out the other end acquitted, but certainly not unscathed. And that's difficult."
Irwin Lampert, a provincial court judge in Moncton who retired last year, said he would be surprised if some of the issues found in the older reports continued to this day.
"I saw very very few examples of police officers who would obviously violate an accused's rights under the charter," Lampert said of his time on the bench, referring to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"Some were through inadvertence rather than malfeasance. In some cases they just didn't realize that they were doing something wrong and it would be pointed out to them and you would hope that it wouldn't happen again."
New Brunswick is among three provinces where Crown prosecutors must approve charges before they are laid in court.
A 2017 review of the Hampton detachment is generally favourable, but describes prosecutions abandoned or dropped.
In three of 45 cases brought to the Crown by police, the evidence didn't support the charges. Issues with arrests in two of the 45 cases led to the Crown not prosecuting. The report pointed to a lack of supervision as a contributing factor.
"When supervision is not taking place, solvable, prosecutable cases could result in acquittals or charges forwarded when not warranted, bringing liability to the organization and members," the report says.
Rogers-Marsh, the RCMP spokesperson, said "in recent years" there's been a formalized training program for anyone in a supervisory or managerial role. The statement wasn't clear whether that deals with the issues identified in the reports.
Several former Crown prosecutors approached for interviews declined to comment. The province's director of public prosecutions wouldn't provide an interview.
"The issue you have inquired about is a law enforcement matter, therefore it would be inappropriate for Public Prosecutions Services or the Department of Justice and Office of the Attorney General to comment," Paul Bradley, a spokesperson for the department, wrote in an email.
Lampert said most cases he presided over were well prepared given screening provided by the Crown pre-charge approval process.
"There are those checks and balances," Lampert said. "Most of the time we didn't have much problem with that."
In Moncton, a file reader/case manager position cut seven years ago was reestablished because of issues with case files after it was eliminated. The position had been cut in 2013 and the work done by RCMP officers instead.
"However, in the past 2 years, the CROWN has seen an increase in court files that lack the necessary investigational requirements (not court ready) and thus cannot proceed with charges," a 2020 budget says.
"The CROWN indicated they can no longer provide operational guidance on files and that court files will only be approved if the files are court-ready from the outset."
A 2015 review of Codiac, one of the largest RCMP detachments in the country, found that almost half of suspects, including some in custody, were not approached for an interview. Files, the reviewers noted, didn't say if a second attempt was made.
When statements were taken, "almost all" complied with policy, the review found.
It found that in cases where police deem there's little chance of conviction, statements weren't being taken.
The areas identified within the review of this activity, which are problematic, have the potential in some instances to jeopardize court proceedings and may call in to question statement validity.- 2015 Codiac Regional RCMP management review
In about 20 per cent of cases examined, a statement should have been taken in what the review describes as the first instance instead of passed along to someone else to take. The report points to a lack of supervisory oversight and policy awareness.
"The areas identified within the review of this activity, which are problematic, have the potential in some instances to jeopardize court proceedings and may call in to question statement validity."
Charles Léger chairs the policing authority board and hadn't seen the reports before CBC News provided a copy of the 2015 report. Léger said reviewing it, he saw issues that later led to police implementing changes and making budget requests.
Lampert, who retired from the bench in February last year, now serves on the Codiac Regional Policing Authority, which oversees Codiac RCMP. He said he hadn't heard of the management review reports before and would like to see them in his role on the board.