Bill before Commons could be tweaked to improve RCMP oversight, says Goodale
Adding timeline limit and an appeal process could help transparency, says former cabinet minister
Former public safety minister Ralph Goodale says a bill now stalled in the House of Commons could be augmented to improve RCMP oversight — a suggestion that comes as calls to reform the national police force increase.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (the CRCC) is the outside body tasked with reviewing Mounties' behaviour based on public complaints.
The Liberals introduced a bill earlier this year — before the COVID-19 crisis halted non-pandemic business — that would expand the agency's mandate to also cover complaints involving the Canada Border Services Agency.
But Goodale, who served as public safety minister between 2015 and 2019, said the bill could be strengthened further.
"With the legislation before the House, it might be a good idea to add some additional things to it other than the original intent to cover also the CBSA," Goodale told CBC News.
"For example, you could establish a timeframe within which the commissioner would be required to respond to any report or any recommendations that come from the review body."
Whenever the CRCC isn't satisfied with the RCMP's handling of a complaint, it sends its findings to the RCMP commissioner for review. The CRCC's final reports can only be released once the commissioner weighs in.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who was appointed during Goodale's time in office, has been criticized recently for the length of time it sometimes takes her office to weigh in on the CRCC's reports. Those delays ultimately stall public release of those reports — but Lucki hasn't contravened the act because it imposes no limit on the amount of time she can take to respond.
A number of CRCC's high-profile investigations have been stalled for months — in some cases for more than a year. One of those delayed reports looked at the RCMP's response to Indigenous-led anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick 2013. Another examined the RCMP's handling of the Colton Boushie investigation.
Boushie, a 22-year-old man from Red Pheasant Cree Nation, was shot and killed during an altercation with Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley in August 2016. A jury at Stanley's trial acquitted him of second-degree murder in February 2018.
More representation needed, said Goodale
Goodale, who lost his Saskatchewan seat in the 2019 election, said adding an appeal mechanism to the law could improve the integrity of the review process.
"One other thing that might be done is to establish some method of review or appeal, if you have a situation where the review body and the commissioner are at odds with one another," he said.
"There needs to be a way to resolve that dispute or that disagreement, and having some kind of review or appeal process might also strengthen the credibility of the process so people can trust that this is truly transparent, truly accountable, and that that justice is being done."
The longtime Liberal cabinet minister also said more could be done to make sure specific communities are represented in the review process.
"Could you have, for example, a panel of experts that represent the diversity of the community and they could rotate into the process when a particular community is involved ?" he said. "So the people affected by the by the processes will be able to trust those processes and see themselves reflected in those in those processes."
Goodale says Bill C-3 should pass soon
Calls for changes to the RCMP have ramped up in recent weeks following a number of high-profile and controversial arrests and takedowns caught on camera. Those calls are part of a broader debate in this country about police use of force — stirred up both by incidents in Canada and by the continent-wide wave of protests triggered by George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis.
The oversight legislation, Bill C-3, is at second reading in the House and likely won't be looked at again until the fall.
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While parliamentary procedure prevents anything novel from being added to a draft bill, Goodale said he believes his recommendations fit within the original scope of the legislation.
"That legislation should be adopted as quickly as it can be," he said.
"The important thing is for the review bodies to have the resources and the expertise to be able to do the job that the public expects them to do, to deliver answers in a timely way, to include the communities that are affected so that they can they can trust the process, and for accountability to be seen to be done."
Goodale introduced an identical bill in early 2019 during his time overseeing the portfolio. While it had bipartisan support, it failed to make it through Parliament before the election, inciting questions about why it wasn't introduced earlier in the Liberals' first mandate.
The CRCC receives, on average, more than 2,000 complaints from the public every year, ranging from allegations of wrongful arrest and improper use of force to reports of bad driving.