Douglas Quan (Postmedia News) – The civilian body that reviews complaints against the RCMP must have unfettered access to the agency’s files in order to be effective, says the body’s former chairman.
Paul Kennedy says the government’s proposals for modernizing the RCMP complaints process – contained in Bill C-42 – are highly inadequate. Not only do the proposed changes not allow the review body access to all the information it needs, the RCMP can take as much time as it wants to respond to complaints, leaving the potential for lengthy delays, he says.
Kennedy delivered his critique during an appearance last week before the House of Commons’ public safety committee, which is holding hearings on the bill.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has said that Bill C-42 will enhance RCMP accountability and restore the public’s confidence in a force that has been mired in scandals and cases of misconduct by its members.
One of the key provisions of the bill is replacing the current Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP with a new Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. Supporters say the new commission would have greater investigative powers, including the ability to summon witnesses, as well as the ability to examine the adequacy of RCMP policies and procedures.
But Kennedy, who chaired the commission for four years, said that the RCMP commissioner would still have the ability to withhold from the new review body certain “privileged information.”
Where there was a dispute over access to certain files, submissions would have to be made to a third party who would then decide on the relevance of the information.
Kennedy said this setup is a “repudiation” of recommendations made by Justice Dennis O’Connor in his report on the Maher Arar affair. O’Connor said an RCMP complaints review body should be given “extensive” powers to obtain information, with the only exceptions being cabinet confidences and items of solicitor-client privilege.
Kennedy noted that the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which investigates civilian complaints against Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has broad information-gathering powers.
“To be effective and credible, a review body must, as a right, be able to access any information held by the RCMP that it deems necessary and relevant,” Kennedy said. Kennedy said he is also concerned about the lack of time frames; the bill stipulates only that the RCMP respond “as soon as feasible.”
Kennedy said when he chaired the review body, it could sometimes take “years” for the RCMP to produce documents.
Candice Bergen, parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister, responded by saying that many of O’Connor’s recommendations have been incorporated into the bill and that the review body would have many new powers that it did not have before.
She also said placing time constraints on an investigation could be counterproductive and that it would be unfair to assume that delays would result.
The existing RCMP complaints review body has conducted investigations into a wide range of issues, including the use of Tasers, in-custody deaths, and police conduct during the G8 and G20 summits. It is conducting an investigation into harassment in the workplace.