ARCHIVED - Year End Review December 2009
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As the calendar year draws to a close, it is important to take stock of the Commission's activities for the past nine months. Much has been accomplished to help promote "excellence in policing through accountability" and assist the RCMP to attain its vision as an adaptive, accountable and trusted organization.
Chair-Initiated Complaints and Public Interest Investigations
The RCMP Act gives the Chair of the Commission the power to launch complaints and investigations on his own initiative when he believes they are in the public interest. During the 2008–2009 year, the Chair launched several new complaints and investigations, and saw a number of others reach their conclusion. Notably, these included in-custody deaths, firearm and Conducted Energy Weapon (CEW)-related incidents, and politically sensitive investigations.
Police Investigating Police
The Commission is frequently faced with allegations regarding the impropriety of police officers investigating other officers who are accused of serious misconduct. To that end, the Chair initiated a complaint and public interest investigation to examine the issue. The final report included a number of recommendations regarding procedural changes designed to reinforce best practices in such situations and the potential creation of dedicated investigation units. The Chair called for immediate action on the part of the RCMP to ensure that serious member-involved incidents are no longer investigated by the RCMP itself but rather by external agencies.
Put simply, deaths are classified as being "in-custody" when they occur proximal to contact with the police. As this continues to be an area of fundamental concern to the public, the CPC launched (Chair-initiated) complaints and investigations into several such incidents this past year.
These include the June 2008 death of Cheryl Anne Bouey, who after being arrested by the RCMP in Prince George, B.C., later died after being found unresponsive in her cell. The Chair asked whether RCMP policies regarding the proper care and safety of persons detained in cells are adequate.
The 2008 shooting death of Christopher Klim, following RCMP response to a mental health complaint, is also currently being investigated pursuant to a Chair-initiated complaint, particularly in light of concerns regarding persons being apprehended under mental health legislation. Unfortunately, the RCMP-led investigation into the Chair's complaint has been marred by unacceptable delays. These concerns have been raised with the RCMP.
In December 2008, Raymond Silverfox of Whitehorse, Yukon went into medical distress in RCMP cells after being detained and subsequently died. The Chair initiated a complaint focused on policies regarding access to medical treatment for persons detained in RCMP custody, particularly when alcohol consumption is a factor. The RCMP investigation is complete, and the Commission is awaiting the final report, expected early in 2010.
Firearm and CEW-related Incidents
Incidents involving both traditional firearms and CEWs which result in death are generally considered as being deaths in custody, but involve particular issues of training and the use of force. Those issues also play a role in incidents where no death occurs.
The particular issues at play in deaths which occur subsequent to the use of CEWs prompted a Chair-initiated complaint and public interest investigation in January 2009 regarding in-custody deaths proximal to CEW use, aimed at examining relevant incidents between 2001 and 2009 to identify systemic issues. The Commission's investigation is ongoing.
Both as part of the investigation into deaths proximal to CEW use and on its own merit, the 2003 arrest of Clay Alvin Willey, the deployment of the TASER® and his subsequent death are the subjects of a Chair-initiated complaint and investigation. The Chair took action in respect of this incident upon request of the Solicitor General of British Columbia on behalf of the residents of that province. The complaint and investigation focus on the police investigation into the death and the treatment of evidence relating thereto. A senior, former non-RCMP police officer has been retained by the Commission to conduct the investigation into this matter.
The Chair initiated a complaint and public interest investigation into the death of Kevin St. Arnaud, who was shot by an RCMP member while fleeing following a break-in at a local pharmacy. The Chair found several deficiencies on the part of members first on the scene and those who conducted the related criminal investigation. The Chair urged the RCMP to strengthen its procedures relating to use of force experts, suggested best practices for primary investigators involved in investigating police conduct, recommended the implementation of policy to provide direction to on-scene members in major cases involving the investigation of police conduct, and clarify Major Case Management policy. The RCMP Commissioner accepted the Commission's recommendations and noted that the relevant policies were in the process of being developed or reviewed. The Commission continues to monitor the RCMP's actions in this regard.
The death of Robert Dziekanski in October 2007 at the Vancouver International Airport also prompted the Chair to initiate a complaint and public interest investigation. In the report which followed the public interest investigation, the Chair made 23 findings and 16 recommendations aimed at improving RCMP training, policies and procedures in this area so that such tragedies do not occur in the future. While the RCMP Commissioner did not provide a formal response, he did note that the RCMP is making progress in the development and refinement of its CEW policies.
The Chair initiated a complaint and public interest investigation into the November 2007 death of Robert Knipstrom, an individual who was subjected to hand techniques as well as the application of oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, a TASER® and a baton. He subsequently died in hospital. The Commission completed its investigation into this matter on November 24, 2009 and provided its report to the RCMP. The Commission is awaiting the RCMP Commissioner's response.
Finally, the September 2009 shooting death of Valeri George in Fort St. John, BC, also prompted a Chair-initiated complaint. Mr. George was shot by RCMP Emergency Response Team (ERT) members as he fled his home several days after allegedly shooting at a vehicle containing his spouse and children. The Chair's complaint is particularly concerned with the use of force by the RCMP ERTs. The investigation is ongoing.
Chair-initiated complaints and investigations in this area do not always involve deaths. The CPC report following a complaint and investigation into a March 2007 incident in which an RCMP member deployed the TASER® on an unruly teenaged female at the Arctic Tern Young Offenders Facility in Inuvik, N.W.T., found no justification for the use of the weapon on the juvenile. The Chair made recommendations relating to CEW policy as well as commenting on systemic issues and the need for a broad review of the handling of public complaints in the North. The RCMP Commissioner agreed with the majority of the Chair's findings and recommendations.
Politically Sensitive Investigations
The Commission's 2008 report into the RCMP's disclosure of its investigation into the Income Trust leak addressed concerns regarding politically sensitive investigations. Similarly, the Chair launched a public interest investigation into allegations that RCMP members failed to adequately investigate the alleged surreptitious and illegal taping of a national political party caucus meeting. The Commission's investigation is ongoing.
As it had previously, the Commission reviewed the RCMP's Use of the Conducted Energy Weapon as well as its Public Complaint Records for the 2008 calendar year. With respect to the CEW, the Commission's review revealed that TASER® use had shifted towards being used as a deterrent and push-stun/probe mode use had significantly decreased (by 30%). Concerns regarding TASER® use as it relates to youth and those with mental health issues continue. In February 2010, the Commission will be publicly releasing its review of the RCMP's use of the TASER® for the 2009 calendar year.
The Commission's Review of the Record report for 2008 called for previous recommendations to be implemented by the RCMP, that complaints be tracked more effectively, and that policies regarding complaint withdrawal and informal resolution be clarified. This report is an important management tool in identifying areas requiring particular attention to enhance client service delivery.
Notable Reviews and Further Investigations
This year, the Commission's reviews and further investigations dealt with such varied issues as the provision of information to foreign law enforcement bodies, criminal investigation quality, and the use of force. Listed below are a number of notable matters investigated by the Commission this year. It should be noted that in some cases the RCMP has responded to the Commission's recommendations and that such responses are addressed in the section "Recommendations Awaiting Implementation" found below.
With respect to the provision of evidence, in one instance, the RCMP provided items seized from the complainant, who was arrested pursuant to an immigration warrant, to US authorities. The Commission decried such a practice as inconsistent with the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act and recommended the amendment of RCMP policy to address such issues.
In the area of criminal investigation quality, one review was requested by the parents of a woman who was shot in her home and died after being found by a neighbour four days later.
The RCMP had been called to the area on the night of the shooting, and the Commission found that the attending members failed to properly investigate a report that shots had been fired.
With respect to the use of force by RCMP members, in one instance, after trying to choke himself, a complainant detained in cells was left naked in his cell, where he was subject to the TASER®, hit his head purposely on a toilet seat and was subsequently placed in a restraint chair for over two hours. The Commission concluded that the length of time in the restraint chair was excessive.
In another review involving the use of force, an individual stole a large commercial truck and led RCMP members in a dangerous vehicle pursuit down major roads and highways during the early morning rush hour. While fleeing the stolen vehicle, the individual was hit by an RCMP police dog service vehicle. The Commission concluded that while the pursuit was appropriate, review of the policy should be undertaken to ensure that safety concerns are addressed.
In a third review, RCMP members attempted a covert takedown resulting in injury to the complainant, who was wrongly identified as a suspect. The Commission found that the members, who were in plain clothes, had failed to identify themselves and had carried out an improper arrest. It also recommended the review of RCMP policy regarding the identification of undercover officers.
In another review, RCMP members decided to lodge a man appearing fairly intoxicated in cells until sober. The man went to sleep once in cells but it was later observed that he was not breathing and had no pulse, and he died shortly thereafter. The Commission concluded that the deceased had not been monitored in full compliance with policy.
Recommendations Awaiting Implementation
The Commission provides the RCMP with its adverse findings, and recommendations to address those findings. The Commission monitors and makes public its recommendations, and has undertaken to seek updates from the RCMP at six-month intervals, as well as correlating Commission findings and recommendations with the Commissioner's responses in order to determine the overall impact of those findings and recommendations.
There are currently several policy-related recommendations that, while progress has been made, have not yet been implemented by the RCMP. These include:
- a policy on sensitive investigations, for which a draft is being developed;
- policies regarding members' duty to account, a draft of which has been prepared and Commission comments provided;
- a policy on conducted energy weapons, for which a draft has been prepared and provided to the Commission;
- a policy on external investigations, a draft of which has been prepared and Commission comments provided;
- a policy relating to RCMP members properly identifying themselves in undercover investigations; a policy dealing with requests for exhibits consistent with the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, for which draft policy has been prepared for approval; and
- a policy regarding civil disputes to which the police have been called. The RCMP has undertaken to provide the CPC with copies of the finalized policies described.
A recurring area of concern continues to be the lack of adequate notes being taken by RCMP members involved in incidents subject to complaints. The absence of thorough and contemporaneous note taking by members hampers the Commission's ability to review incidents and is an area that the RCMP Commissioner agrees ought to be improved.
A major challenge for the Commission had been a chronic and growing backlog of review cases. Lengthy delays were eroding the credibility of the Commission and severely restricting its capacity to exercise the review and investigative powers established by Parliament. There were 363 review cases in the Commission's inventory in November 2005. With the appointment of a new Commission Chair and Vice-Chair in October 2005, eliminating the backlog became a priority and continued to top the Commission's priority list throughout 2006–2007. In the 14 months between November 1, 2005, and December 31, 2006, the Commission processed about 490 reviews, eliminating its case backlog for the first time in more than 15 years.
To prevent the recurrence of the backlog, the CPC implemented performance-based service standards for each step of the complaint and review process. Although both the number of complaints initiated with the CPC and the number of reviews requested by complainants has increased substantially, the CPC has consistently met its performance targets for all of these service standards. In addition, the CPC has improved its systems for the tracking of work done by both the CPC and the RCMP throughout the public complaints process. These improvements have enhanced the ability of complainants, RCMP members and Canadians to hold the CPC and the RCMP accountable for a timely response to public complaints.
Independent Observer Program (IOP)
This innovative program, which sees Commission staff observing and assessing the impartiality of the investigations conducted by the RCMP in British Columbia ("E" Division) and the Yukon ("M" Division) involving high-profile and serious incidents such as in-custody deaths, was engaged a total of seven (7) times to date this fiscal year. The IOP is aimed at enhancing public confidence in RCMP-led investigations into its own members with respect to the impartiality of the RCMP team conducting the investigation.
The Chair appeared before the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence in May 2009. He discussed the need to enhance the existing external review mechanism for the RCMP and the specific powers that would enable the review body to better respond to the concerns of Canadians, including the need for an audit power which is key to identifying issues before they become problems, as well as serving as a deterrent.
Stakeholder Engagement/Community Outreach
One of the main goals of the Commission over the past few years has been to become more adept at outreach efforts, whether to local governments, aboriginal community leaders, or provincial/international oversight bodies all of which have a role to play in promoting more accountability from law enforcement and facilitating a dialogue with the citizen to inspire greater confidence in the police.
To that end, the Commission participated in the annual conferences of the National Association of (Aboriginal) Friendship Centres, the Canadian Association of Police Boards, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Union of BC Municipalities, the Alberta Association of Urban Municipalities and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities to explain the mandate of the Commission and the services that the CPC provides. In November 2009, representatives of the Commission undertook a series of meetings with mayors of BC municipalities policed by the RCMP, including Richmond, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Chilliwack, Langley, North Vancouver, Coquitlam and Prince George. The CPC also met with officials from the Native Women's Association of the Northwest Territories and held a workshop at the Yellowknife Tree of Life Friendship Centre. Overall, there was a high degree of interest in the work of the Commission, complaint trends, and the enhancement of police accountability.
As part of its outreach program, the CPC created a short video using its staff to explain the Commission's role, intake and appeals processes and how to access its services. This tool is available on the CPC's website which has been updated to be more user-friendly. In December 2009, in collaboration with the National Association of Friendship Centres, the CPC produced a companion video, using staff from both organizations, to explain the complaint process in more detail. The video is specifically designed for aboriginal audiences and should be available for distribution early in the new year.
One of the initiatives sponsored by the Commission was to create a forum of heads of police review bodies across Canada to meet annually to share best practices, identify emerging issues and enhance working relationships. This is a practitioner's forum offering practical advice, strategies and information on the civilian oversight of police touching on criminal, complaints and disciplinary processes. The fall 2009 session covered such issues as the need for protocols for complaints flowing from the 2010 Olympics, police interaction with aboriginals, and the importance of effective communications.
On the international front, the Commission met with counterparts at the UK Independent Police Complaints Commission in the fall of 2009, as well as the Home Office and the Professional Standard Directorate of the Metropolitan London Police. CPC representatives presented at the Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference 2009 and were subsequently invited to share best practices with the New Zealand Independent Police Conduct Authority. Commission staff also made presentations at the annual conferences of both the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement and the Canadian Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. In addition, the Chair of the Commission spoke at the following events:
- The Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa Conference
- The Canadian Criminal Justice Association Congress
- The Ottawa Roundtable on Security and Intelligence
- A Forum co-sponsored by Simon Fraser University and the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General on Investigation Complaints Against the Police: Models, Options and Issues
- The Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association of Police Boards
The goal of the Commission is to provide civilian review of RCMP members' conduct in performing their policing duties so as to hold the RCMP accountable to the public.
The additional funding that the government has provided to the CPC over the past few years over and above its base budget of $5.2 million has permitted the organization to fully realize its existing mandate. We have been able to reach out to marginalized communities, improve our processing times, identify and make recommendations in relation to systemic issues and attract committed individuals to the organization who believe in making a difference for the Canadian public. Our hope is that the momentum will continue into the new year and beyond.
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