Chairperson Statement on the RCMP's Use of Strip Search
- Systemic Review of RCMP's Policies & Procedures regarding Strip Searches Report
October 1, 2020
- Commissioner's Response
October 1, 2020
- Systemic Review Terms of Reference
- Final Report into Policing in Northern British Columbia (2017)
February 16, 2017
List of Detachments Reviewed
- Prince George
- North Battleford
- Prince Albert
Strip searches are inherently degrading. Regardless of the circumstances that may sometimes warrant such action by police, without appropriate policy, training and supervision, strip searches can easily violate protections guaranteed to each of us under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Those were the sentiments expressed in R v Golden, when the Supreme Court of Canada outlined in 2001 the conditions, limits and guidelines to which all police, including the RCMP, must adhere when conducting such searches.
Today, I have publicly released the CRCC's report Systemic Review of the RCMP's Policies and Procedures regarding Strip Searches.
This report, in part, follows up on related recommendations in the CRCC's 2017 Final Report into Policing in Northern British Columbia.
The CRCC's 2017 report found significant shortcomings in the RCMP's personal search policies, which included strip searches; inadequate training; and insufficient means of tracking strip search data.
Overall, our 2020 review highlights that the RCMP has undertaken a number of changes, including several that have resulted in noteworthy improvements to its personal search policies in British Columbia and nationally. The RCMP's national policy now better distinguishes between personal searches and strip searches and the requirements for supervisory oversight are clearly articulated.
The RCMP Commissioner's Response to our findings and recommendations is available here.
Areas of Improvement
In its 2017 report, the CRCC's public interest investigation focused exclusively on the North District, headquartered in Prince George, British Columbia.
Our 2020 report expanded to review compliance with national and divisional strip search policies across seven RCMP divisions. Click here to see the full list of detachments.
As part of our most recent review, the CRCC identified improvements in "E" Division (British Columbia) that comply with national policy and offer guidance to RCMP members. For example:
- Burnaby cell block sergeants, with good knowledge of the personal search policy, must authorize all strip searches in advance;
- Surrey has created and displayed posters in its booking area to serve as a reference for members conducting strip searches;
- Prince George has developed an operational manual to help members in the cell block better understand and follow the personal search policy, including what information to collect from a strip search.
In fact, our 2020 report recommends that the RCMP consider the implementation of this manual as good practice for the entire organization.
I am encouraged that the RCMP has implemented seven of the CRCC's ten recommendations from the 2017 report, demonstrating the value of independent oversight in prompting positive change that better serves Canadians.
At the same time, a number of concerns remain in critical areas, such as documenting and tracking strip searches and shortcomings in training.
Areas of Concern
In spite of the strides made by the RCMP, the CRCC found that further clarification on national policy is required.
The rationale and documentation for strip searches is often lacking.
Routinely removing or searching a prisoner's undergarments is inconsistent with policy and law. The removal of a detainee's undergarments (including their bra) constitutes a strip search and therefore must be conducted in accordance with RCMP policy, including properly documenting the grounds for the search.
The RCMP's inability to evaluate and report on policy compliance has a chilling effect on public accountability, self-evaluation and independent review.
The Commission's review also revealed that many members of the RCMP are not sufficiently aware of personal search policies, yet no mandatory training exists beyond basic instruction to cadets at the RCMP academy.
The need for adequate supervision is also apparent, and specialized supervisory training on personal searches forms one of our most pressing recommendations.
There are indisputably instances where the RCMP's use of personal searches have ensured the safety of persons detained and taken into custody. However, the CRCC has recently published two notable case summaries on its website where it found that the women were subjected to unwarranted strip-searching, including the forcible removal of their undergarments.
In an incident dating back to 2015, RCMP members forcibly removed a woman's bra and left her topless in cells. The woman's arm was broken as she resisted the seizure of her undergarment and medical care was not provided within a reasonable period.
The RCMP's investigation did not support any of the woman's public complaint allegations. However, following the Commission's review of the incident, the RCMP agreed to revisit the policy, provide further guidance to its members, apologize to the woman and conduct a restorative justice meeting.
Unfortunately, the RCMP took just under four years to provide its response to the CRCC's findings. Such delays erode public trust in the process and can diminish the impact of recommendations on member conduct. As a case in point, the involved cell block supervisor retired before this complaint was finalized. A summary of this report can be found here.
The Commission undertook a separate investigation into the conduct of RCMP members involved in a similar incident from 2017, following a complaint from a woman who had had her bra forcibly removed and seized following her arrest.
The Commission found that RCMP members had conducted a groundless and unreasonable search and recommended, among other things, that the RCMP amend its "Cell Block Searches" policy to ensure consistency with strip search policy and provide clarity for RCMP members on acceptable removal and search of detainees' bras.
The RCMP agreed to revisit the policy, provide further guidance to its members and apologize to the complainant. A summary of this report can be found here.
Women, both cisgender and transgender, taken into police custody are often from marginalized groups, survivors of gender-based violence and in Canada, they are disproportionately from Indigenous communities. When these already vulnerable women are forced to remove their bras, there is heightened risk that they will be further traumatized, as evidenced in the two incidents noted above. Failure to comply with national and divisional personal search policy can result in gender inequality for detained persons. As noted in our review, there remain a number of detachments where the removal of women’s bras prior to placing them in cells remains commonplace, in spite of the fact that the ruling in Golden occurred 19 years ago.
I commend the women who have come forward for their courage. I urge the RCMP to implement the CRCC’s recommendations without delay.
I remain committed to providing effective civilian oversight on this crucial topic through the Commission's review and investigation functions.
Canadians have the right to expect timely responses from their public institutions, particularly those with powers as great as those we give to police.
The CRCC and the RCMP signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in late 2019. This MOU includes agreed‑upon timelines for both organizations.
While I will continue to raise concerns over delays of RCMP responses to CRCC reports, I want to acknowledge the RCMP Commissioner's timely response to today's publicly released report.
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