Presentation to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security

Ottawa - 2013-11-21

Delivered by Ian McPhail, Interim Chair of the CPC

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Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I have come before this committee on several occasions over the past few years as interim chair of the CPC to contribute to your deliberations on issues relating to the performance of the RCMP and the need for effective oversight of this important Canadian institution. I am very pleased to be here today to assist you in your examination of the economics of police service delivery across Canada.

I am accompanied by Mr. Richard Evans, senior director of operations for the CPC.

Thank you for inviting me to joining you today.

It is a universally accepted principle that public trust of the police is essential to the effective and efficient delivery of any police service. Even a strong and economically viable law enforcement service cannot operate without public support. The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP provides an important role in the accountability framework of the RCMP and its delivery of policing services at the federal, provincial, municipal, First Nations, and international levels. It is a large, diverse, and complex organization in both its mandate and its jurisdiction.

The integrated nature of its operations with other law enforcement agencies adds to this complexity, and its presence in virtually every corner of this country and abroad is unique in law enforcement circles. All of this serves to increase the visibility of the RCMP and its members' contacts with the public.

The Commission's mandate includes investigating, reviewing, and conducting hearings into public complaints concerning the conduct of the RCMP and its members in the execution of their duties. As the chair, I can also institute a complaint and investigation into any matter relating to RCMP member conduct when I believe it is in the public interest to do so.

While discussions about the economics of policing, for the most part, rightly focus on the tangible elements of front-line policing service delivery, the less obvious cost associated with public discontent with police conduct must also be considered in the overall cost of public policing. We are all familiar with the increasing frequency of public inquiries and lawsuits resulting from public complaints about the conduct of the police. These mechanisms are labour-intensive and protracted. They consume significant resources and add to the overall costs of delivering policing services.

There are many recent examples of such forums, the cumulative cost of which would be considered staggering by most. In contrast, the Commission, supported by an annual budget of roughly $8.2 million, responds to roughly 2,000 public complaints per year about the conduct of RCMP members. The Commission employs both informal and formal dispute resolution processes to address public concerns. In so doing, it conducts approximately 240 in-depth, independent, fact-based complaint reviews and reports on a yearly basis.

In recent years, the Commission has also conducted numerous high-profile public interest investigations into matters that could have otherwise resulted in costly public inquiries. Some recent examples that you may be familiar with include the public interest investigation into the conduct of RCMP members regarding the handling of allegations of harassment within the workplace; the review of the RCMP's seizure of firearms from residences following flooding in High River, Alberta; and the public interest investigation regarding policing in northern British Columbia following the concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch in its February 2013 report on this issue.

Through such public interest investigations the Commission establishes facts, reports on its findings, and makes constructive remedial recommendations that are aimed at correcting and preventing recurring policing problems. The RCMP accepts and implements the vast majority of these recommendations.

As you are no doubt aware, this mandate will be expanded with Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, which received royal assent this past June and is expected to come into force in 2014, and once a new civilian review and complaints commission with additional authorities and enhanced effectiveness is established.

Included in these enhancements are the authorities to address public complaints through an enhanced alternative dispute resolution process; establish an integrated public complaint intake system with provincial police review agencies, effectively creating a no-wrong-door process for anyone wishing to make a public complaint about police conduct, and a standardized complaint intake process; conduct joint reviews of public complaints with provincial police review agencies; and conduct reviews of specified RCMP activities on the initiative of the Chair at the request of the Minister of Public Safety, or at the request of a province that contracts for RCMP services.

On this last point it is important to note that the ability to conduct such strategic, forward-looking analysis of RCMP activities will allow the Commission to assist the RCMP in pre-empting potential problems. The goal is to reduce or avoid incidents of police conduct that could give rise to public complaints, and by consequence, lead to calls for lengthy and costly public examinations, which add to the cost of police service delivery.

As front-line policing services continuously adapt to the complexities of public safety and security in today's global reality, so must the strategies and practices of the bodies that oversee their activities.

I recently attended the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement meeting in Salt Lake City. This is an organization that brings together individuals and agencies working to establish or improve oversight of police officers in the United States. I was struck by how advanced our oversight regime is in Canada when compared to systems in place in most U.S. jurisdictions. There appears to be little consistency from one area to the next in terms of how to approach civilian oversight of the police, or on what the accountability, framework, and standards should be. Civilian oversight of law enforcement in the U.S. seems to be largely left in the domain of municipal governments, some of which place little emphasis on it. The contrast to the Canadian experience is quite striking.

I am pleased to inform you today that the CPC has just completed two days of meetings with the heads of police review agencies and special investigations units from every province. We focused on how we can work together to implement and make the best use of the new authorities set out in Bill C-42. Together we have laid the foundation for a more coordinated and collaborative community of practice. By leveraging each other's experience and resources and by streamlining our practices, we will be able to provide a coordinated oversight regime that effectively addresses police conduct and accountability issues coast to coast.

I look forward to continuing to contribute to a trusted, accountable, and economically viable RCMP.

I am happy to expand on these points with you and respond to any questions you may have.

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