RCMP to get new watchdog agency

The federal government introduced legislation Monday to create a civilian watchdog agency for the RCMP with "enhanced investigative powers."

The federal government introduced legislation Monday to create a civilian watchdog agency for the RCMP with "enhanced investigative powers."

The new oversight body would be called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Review and Complaints Commission.

"This commission would have significantly enhanced investigative powers over those of the existing body, as well as a more streamlined complaints process and the authority to work hand in hand with other review bodies," said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

It would consist of a chair and four other members, none of whom can be a member or former member of the RCMP.

Members would be able to investigate any matter they wish with powers to summon witnesses and compel them to provide evidence or documents.

Members of the public would be able to submit complaints to the commissioner, as long as they do so within one year of the alleged misconduct, although there is some ability to get an extension.

The move follows the Conservative government's promise earlier this year to bring in a more independent watchdog agency to investigate complaints against the Mounties.

Right now, the RCMP often investigates complaints against itself. There is an independent Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, but its recommendations are non-binding.

Under the new regime, Toews said "the recommendations of the commission are not binding, as is the standard practice with these types of investigations. They report to the RCMP and they also report ultimately through statute to the minister of public safety."

The bill would also formalize an interim policy where, in most cases of death or serious injury, Mounties will not investigate other Mounties, he said.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen wasn't impressed, saying the commission is a bigger watchdog but it still has no teeth.

"The evidence they're compelling and the conclusions that they make based on that evidence only becomes a recommendation to the head of the RCMP. The RCMP is not bound to take any of those recommendations and make them real."

In 2007, the federally appointed Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP told the government that the current system lacks transparency. The task force recommended a model where one body could review any incident or aspect of the operations of the RCMP, and all of its findings would be binding.

Task force members also said the agency should have the power to summon witnesses and compel testimony.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott has repeatedly said he welcomes more oversight.

Earlier this year, he announced that until such an agency was created, the RCMP would have independent agencies investigate cases where Mounties were accused of breaking the law or where they were involved in a serious injury or death.