RCMP's disciplinary review body struggling with a 'significant backlog of files'

The RCMP's disciplinary review body — the independent committee that investigates things like internal harassment complaints and member misconduct — says it’s drowning in casework.

Liberals pledged $8.1M over four years to address the backlog

The RCMP refers internal grievances, disciplinary cases and harassment allegations to its External Review Committee to ensure its processes are fair and transparent. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The RCMP's disciplinary review body — the independent committee that investigates things like harassment complaints and Mountie misconduct — says it's drowning in casework.

The RCMP External Review Committee's warning came in its annual departmental plan, recently tabled in the House of Commons.

"The ERC will face continued operational pressures in delivering its case reviews in 2018-19 due to the need to manage a significant backlog of files and increased workload projections," noted the report.

It's not the first time the committee has warned the government about the backlog. It told Parliament it was being swamped back in 2016.

The independent body used to receive an average of 35 new cases per year, said Jamie Deacon, the committee's executive director.

The caseload exploded to 101 cases in 2016, following legislative changes to the Mounties' disciplinary process. The Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act, which came into force in 2014, set up a new framework for investigating members accused of wrongdoing.

"The backlog has been increasing as we have been receiving more files than we've had the capacity to process," Deacon told CBC News.

Liberals pledged $8M to unclog backlog

The RCMP refers disciplinary cases — which include dismissals, medical discharges and pay stoppages — to the external committee for review to ensure the process is fair and transparent.

The backlog means the committee's rulings are often delayed, putting Mounties' lives in limbo.

"The ERC is very aware of that and recognizes the impacts that delays can have on the concerned RCMP members, on RCMP management and on the RCMP as an organization," said Deacon.

Last fiscal year, the committee received 95 referrals from the RCMP — and it's expecting more.

"Current rates of referrals from the RCMP are now exceeding initial projections by 50 per cent for current legislation cases," said the annual departmental plan.

A year ago, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced $8.1 million over four years to address the committee's workload problem. So far, though, the backlog isn't dwindling substantially.

A spokesperson for the minister said the money has allowed the unit to more than double in size, from eight full-time employees in 2017 to a projected 19 in the 2019-2020 year.

"All Canadians have the right to a healthy and productive workplace," said Scott Bardsley. "The work of the ERC contributes to an effective national police force for Canadians."

The external committee's report said hiring and training new staff members, and keeping existing staff, are key to unclogging the pipeline.

The RCMP referred CBC's questions about the case delays to the Department of Public Safety.