Report on policing in northern British Columbia – Backgrounder
Why did the Commission carry out an investigation into policing in northern British Columbia?
The RCMP serves as British Columbia's provincial police, providing local police services to municipalities in BC and many First Nations communities.
For a number of years, concerns have been raised by individuals and various human rights and civil liberties organizations about RCMP policing practices in northern British Columbia and a number of reports on this subject have been released. These reports, along with specific RCMP‑related incidents in northern British Columbia, have garnered significant public and media attention.
On May 15, 2013, in consideration of these concerns, the Commission initiated a public interest investigation into the conduct of RCMP members involved in carrying out policing duties in northern British Columbia.
What did the Commission investigate?
The investigation focused exclusively on the RCMP's North District, as many of the concerns expressed involved this region.
The investigation examined RCMP member conduct relating to the following specific areas:
- the policing of public intoxication;
- the incidence of cross-gender police searches;
- the handling of missing persons reports;
- the handling of domestic violence reports;
- use of force; and
- the handling of files involving youth.
Member conduct was assessed in accordance with the following criteria:
- Whether the conduct of RCMP members was consistent with the applicable policies, guidelines, training and legislation;
- Whether RCMP members discharged their duties in a thorough and impartial manner; and
- Whether the conduct of RCMP members was consistent with section 37 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act.
Commission investigators reviewed over 100,000 pages of documentation—including RCMP policies, procedures, occurrence reports, and use of force reports—and conducted numerous interviews. While the Commission made findings and recommendations of general application as a result of its investigation, it did not make determinations with respect to individual cases or complaints.
What did the Commission's investigation find?
The investigation did not result in any findings of systemic misconduct by RCMP members in northern British Columbia. However, the investigation did find policy and reporting weaknesses, issues with policy compliance by members, and the need for more robust training and supervision.
The investigation identified deficiencies or lack of clarity in policies related to personal searches, policing of public intoxication, and missing persons. In addition, the Commission found room for improvement in domestic violence and use of force reporting policies. Generally, the Commission's 45 findings noted the following issues in all lines of inquiry:
- Inadequate supervision;
- Inadequate training;
- Unclear, inconsistent, unreasonable and/or inadequate RCMP policies; and
- Insufficient reporting.
In reviewing occurrence reports and use of force reports, the Commission also found many instances of inadequate notation by members, resulting in the Commission being unable to determine if policy was followed.
The Commission made 31recommendations:
- 10 recommendations regarding personal searches;
- 6 recommendations regarding public intoxication;
- 4 recommendations regarding use of force reporting;
- 5 recommendations regarding domestic violence; and
- 6 recommendations regarding missing persons.
In general, most of the Commission's recommendations are aimed at enhancing transparency and accountability through:
- Enhanced supervisory review;
- Improved training;
- Improved national and divisional policies and procedures to eliminate ambiguity and ensure consistency with current jurisprudence, particularly around personal searches; and
- Thorough reporting.
How did the RCMP respond?
The RCMP Commissioner agreed with 30 findings and generally agreed with 11 others. He did not express either agreement or disagreement with 4 of the Commission's findings; however, he accepted the recommendations associated with these 4 findings related to inadequate missing persons investigations.
Of the 31 recommendations, the Commissioner supported 26, generally supported 4, and did not express either agreement or disagreement with 1.
What did the Commission's outreach efforts reveal?
Given that much of the information gleaned from the community and RCMP member engagement was anecdotal and unsubstantiated, the Commission made no findings or recommendations based on the outcomes of community engagement.
However, the results are important to note, as they represent the views and suggestions of many northern British Columbia residents, as well as RCMP members policing the region.
The Commission's community engagement efforts in northern British Columbia reflected a certain level of satisfaction with the RCMP, particularly in smaller, rural communities. However, there remained a perception by many community members that the RCMP is biased against Indigenous people.
The largely positive impression was often attributed to the efforts made by RCMP members in smaller communities to develop relationships with the residents and integrate into the community. The same was not said of the RCMP in larger, urban communities, where the perception was that RCMP members do not dedicate the necessary time to relationship‑building.
Community and RCMP members also commented on police leadership as a significant determining factor in the quality of relationships between the community and the RCMP.
The Commission recognizes the need to build more effective relationships with communities served by the RCMP. In an effort to do so, the Commission has opened an office in British Columbia to enhance its presence, increase public awareness of its role, and ensure that it is positioned to respond to public concerns and complaints about RCMP policing in British Columbia, particularly with respect to Indigenous peoples and communities.
A closer relationship with communities in British Columbia will assist the Commission in detecting trends and systemic problems within the RCMP.
The Commission's Findings and Recommendations
Finding No. 1: The RCMP National Headquarters Operational Manual definitions of "body search" and "strip search" are unclear and do not provide sufficient guidance for members to clearly differentiate between the two.
Finding No. 2: The definition of "strip search" provided by the RCMP's national policy is not consistent with the definitions provided by current jurisprudence.
Finding No. 3: The RCMP's national policy requirement that members obtain the approval of a supervisor for a strip search "when one is available" is insufficiently stringent to ensure that such approval will be sought in all but exigent circumstances.
Finding No. 4: Sections 4.3. and 4.4. of RCMP National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 21.2. lack clarity with respect to when strip searches by a member of the opposite sex are permitted.
Finding No. 5: Section 3. of RCMP National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 21.2. does not provide clear direction to members on the required grounds to conduct an internal search, the necessary approvals or reporting requirements.
Finding No. 6: As written, section 5.2. of RCMP National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 21.2. is unclear and creates ambiguity regarding the section 2.4. requirement to articulate the reasons for and manner in which a search was conducted, and where this information should be recorded.
Finding No. 7: The British Columbia RCMP policy mandating the removal of bras is contrary to common law principles. Absent reasonable grounds to conduct a strip search, the removal of a prisoner's bra is unreasonable.
Finding No. 8: By limiting training on strip searches to a review of relevant policies, procedures, law and written assignments, the RCMP Cadet Training Program fails to provide adequate training to cadets on what constitutes a strip search.
Finding No. 9: Relying on member or detachment initiative to request training, rather than mandating ongoing practical training in body searches or any training in strip searches in the Division, fails to ensure that members have adequate knowledge and experience in these areas.
Finding No. 10: From an accountability perspective, the Commission finds that the RCMP's National Headquarters and British Columbia divisional personal search policies and practices are not adequate.
Finding No. 11: The RCMP's personal search policy does not provide special measures to ensure the protection of a young person's rights consistent with the spirit of the Declaration of Principle in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and police practices in some other jurisdictions.
Policing of Public Intoxication
Finding No. 12: Between 2008 and 2012, members failed to articulate on the occurrence report any reason for arresting an intoxicated person in 22.6% of cases and only provided a description of the person's level of intoxication in 55.8% cases.
Finding No. 13: Given the high proportion of files that were not compliant with policy guidelines, the Commission finds that supervisory review of public intoxication occurrence reports was inadequate.
Finding No. 14: The factor outlined in section 18.104.22.168. of RCMP National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 18.1. "Arrest and Detention," referring to a person's ability to prevent injury to himself/herself or to others, is not entirely consistent with current jurisprudence and does not adequately reflect the broader range of risks captured under the concept of "danger to himself/herself and/or to others."
Finding No. 15: RCMP National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 19.2. "Assessing Responsiveness and Medical Assistance" provides clear guidance to members and provides accountability by requiring members to document details of their assessment and actions taken.
Finding No. 16: RCMP National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 19.9. "Release of Prisoners" aligns with section 497 of the Criminal Code yet fails to capture the complete list of exceptions listed under this provision.
Finding No. 17: RCMP National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 39.2. relating to the arrest of young persons is consistent with the notification requirements set out in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, but it does not provide guidance to members regarding notifying parents when a young person is arrested without a warrant and held in RCMP custody without being charged.
Finding No. 18: Section 22.214.171.124. of British Columbia RCMP Operational Manual chapter 100.5., in relation to the consideration of alternatives to detention and the release of intoxicated persons, is not consistent with national policy and the Criminal Code.
Finding No. 19: The RCMP training on policing public intoxication is consistent with national and divisional policies and procedures.
Use of Force
Finding No. 20: Despite modest improvement in 2012, a significant proportion of Subject Behaviour/Officer Response reports failed in various ways to articulate use of force interventions according to policy and training requirements.
Finding No. 21: The RCMP's national policy clearly establishes a member's responsibility for reporting use of force interventions.
Finding No. 22: The RCMP's national policy on Subject Behaviour/Officer Response reporting does not provide clear direction to supervisors with regard to identifying, reporting and tracking use of force issues in the reports.
Finding No. 23: The lack of information in the Subject Behaviour/Officer Response database on the identification and disposition of issues in use of force reporting reduces the value of the database as an accountability tool.
Finding No. 24: Supervisor training does not further inform national policy regarding the identification of issues in use of force reports.
Finding No. 25: Training materials and user guides related to the Incident Management/Intervention Model and Subject Behaviour/Officer Response reporting are consistent with national policies and comprehensive in setting out expectations for articulating use of force interventions.
Finding No. 26: The Commission's review found that 34.6% of the reports did not include the mandatory Domestic Violence Supervisor Quality Assurance template.
Finding No. 27: While the divisional policy requires the completion of the Domestic Violence Supervisor Quality Assurance template during the shift that the file was received, less than half of the templates reviewed (46.3%) were completed within three days of the reported occurrence date.
Finding No. 28: Section 1.6.1. of the national policy on violence in relationships fails to clearly differentiate between offences under the Criminal Code and those under other federal, provincial or territorial legislation.
Finding No. 29: Section 2.2.4. of the national policy on violence in relationships requiring members to obtain victim and witness statements if practicable appears insufficiently rigorous in light of the policy's requirement to investigate and document all complaints of violence in relationships.
Finding No. 30: Section 2.2.7. of the national policy on violence in relationshipsis unclear and does not adequately reflect the Criminal Code provisions for search and seizure.
Finding No. 31: The divisional policy does not provide clear direction to members making highest risk designations in violence in relationships cases.
Finding No. 32: The divisional policy emphasizes the importance of supervision and provides for adequate quality assurance and oversight of violence in relationships investigations.
Finding No. 33: The RCMP Cadet Training Program provides members with the basic required skills and competencies to deal with situations involving violence in relationships as well as to understand the legal authorities in this regard.
Finding No. 34: The training provided to RCMP members in British Columbia appears to cover the essential elements of violence in relationships investigations.
Finding No. 35: Nearly half (46%) of the occurrence reports failed to show that the RCMP in the North District investigated missing persons cases promptly and thoroughly contrary to policy.
Finding No. 36: Nearly half (49.4%) of the occurrence reports from 2008 to 2012 for missing persons cases identified by the RCMP in the North District as "high-risk" failed to show that the cases had been investigated promptly and thoroughly.
Finding No. 37: Missing persons cases involving youth identified by the RCMP in the North District as habitual, repeat or chronic were more likely than other cases to have deficiencies in the documented investigative actions, including unexplained gaps in the investigative timelines and failures to document risk assessments or missing persons debriefs on file.
Finding No. 38: Over half of the files reviewed showed that North District supervisors failed to comply with the policy requirements to document observations and directions on file, and showed no indications of follow-up on member compliance with directions.
Finding No. 39: The RCMP in the North District appears to have made inappropriate use of the coding "Query to Locate" on missing persons files.
Finding No. 40: The definitions and guiding principles of the revised national policy on missing persons address concerns raised by the 2012 Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.
Finding No. 41: The national implementation of the Missing Persons Risk Assessment form addresses concerns raised in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, but the content of the form does not fully reflect new definitions in the 2014 national policy.
Finding No. 42: The revised national policy on missing persons does not require members to fully articulate risk assessments on file.
Finding No. 43: The national policy on missing persons does not explicitly require supervisors to document their observations and directions to members on the occurrence report.
Finding No. 44: The Lost/Missing Person Report and Search Results provides a comprehensive and standardized method of collecting pertinent information at the outset, but the voluntary nature of its use by members detracts from the goal of standardizing the approach to missing persons investigations.
Finding No. 45: The RCMP does not have any mandatory training on missing persons investigations for members at Depot Division, at the Pacific Region Training Centre or in the Field Coaching Program.
Recommendation No. 1: That the RCMP update its National Headquarters Operational Manual policy definitions for "body search" and "strip search" to eliminate ambiguity and ensure that the definitions are consistent with current jurisprudence.
Recommendation No. 2: That the RCMP amend chapter 21.2. of its national policy regarding personal searches to ensure more robust supervisory oversight by explicitly requiring a supervisor's approval prior to conducting a strip search unless exigent circumstances exist.
Recommendation No. 3: That the RCMP amend chapter 21.2. of its national policy regarding personal searches to clarify if and when a strip search of a person of the opposite sex is ever permitted. Further, the policy should articulate the circumstances or criteria that must be met prior to conducting or overseeing a strip search of a person of the opposite sex (i.e. if immediate risk of injury or escape exists and/or in exigent circumstances).
Recommendation No. 4: That the RCMP amend its internal search policy to ensure that it clearly specifies the necessary grounds required prior to conducting an internal search as well as the required approvals.
Recommendation No. 5: That the RCMP amend chapter 21.2. of its national policy regarding personal searches to ensure that the policy addresses the member's requirement to articulate the reasons and manner of the search in writing, including the information members are required to document and where it must be recorded.
Recommendation No. 6: That the RCMP in British Columbia amend its policy regarding personal searches (Operational Manual chapter 21.2.) to reflect current jurisprudence.
Recommendation No. 7: That the RCMP enhance basic training at Depot Division to ensure that cadets are cognizant of the legal requirements, and relevant policies and procedures for all types of personal searches.
Recommendation No. 8: That the RCMP enhance training in personal searches to ensure that Division members are cognizant of the legal requirements and relevant policies and procedures for body, strip and internal searches, and that such training also be included in the Operational Skills Maintenance Re-Certification.
Recommendation No. 9: That the RCMP amend its National Headquarters and British Columbia divisional Operational Manual personal search policies to enhance transparency and accountability by ensuring the policies include an appropriate means of recording, tracking, and assessing compliance, thus facilitating independent review.
Recommendation No. 10: That the RCMP amend its national policy on personal searches to include specific guidance and direction in relation to strip searches of youth.
Policing of Public Intoxication
Recommendation No. 11: That the RCMP remind North District supervisors of the requirement to be thorough in their review of occurrence reports and, in particular, of the importance of ensuring that all occurrence reports are properly documented, especially those involving the arrest and detention of a person.
Recommendation No. 12: That the RCMP incorporate mandatory review of public intoxication occurrences in North District unit-level quality assurance and management reviews.
Recommendation No. 13: That the RCMP amend the National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 18.1., section 7.2. to reflect current jurisprudence.
Recommendation No. 14: That the RCMP amendNational Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 19.9 to capture the complete list of exceptions listed under section 497 of the Criminal Code.
Recommendation No. 15: That the RCMP amend National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 39.2. relating to the arrest of young persons to include guidance to members on notification requirements in instances where a young person is arrested and held in custody without being charged—particularly in cases involving public intoxication.
Recommendation No. 16: That the RCMP amend section 126.96.36.199. of divisional Operational Manual chapter 100.5. to outline conditions for release that mirror the guidance provided in the Criminal Code and to be consistent with national policy, which directs members to consider "alternatives to detention," thereby allowing for the consideration of a broader range of release options.
Use of Force
Recommendation No. 17: That the RCMP in British Columbia's North District ensure that articulations of use of force interventions are clear and comprehensive, and fully align with policies, guidelines, and training requirements.
Recommendation No. 18: That the RCMP establish criteria and reporting thresholds to aid in the identification of "issues," and provide clear direction on reporting and tracking use of force issues identified in reports.
Recommendation No. 19: That the RCMP modify the Subject Behaviour/Officer Response database and reporting policies to enhance accountability by ensuring issues identified through the reporting process can be monitored, tracked, and independently reviewed.
Recommendation No. 20: That the RCMP modify supervisor training to provide guidance on the identification and reporting of issues in use of force reports.
Recommendation No. 21: That the RCMP ensure that yearly unit-level quality assurance and/or management reviews always include a review of violence in relationships investigations.
Recommendation No. 22: That the RCMP amend section 1.6.1. of National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 2.4. to correctly reflect the distinction between Criminal Code offences and provincial and territorial statutes.
Recommendation No. 23: That the RCMP amend section 2.2.4. of National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 2.4. to enhance accountability by requiring members who do not obtain victim and witness statements to document the reasons they were not obtained.
Recommendation No. 24: That the RCMP amend section 2.2.7. of National Headquarters Operational Manual chapter 2.4. to make it consistent with the search and seizure provisions in section 117.04. of the Criminal Code.
Recommendation No. 25: That the British Columbia RCMP ensure that the divisional policy adequately addresses the process for making highest risk designations.
Recommendation No. 26: That the RCMP review and amend its Missing Persons Risk Assessment form to ensure that it contains questions that assist members in assessing the full range of risks that pertain to high-risk persons, including runaways and individuals with a high-risk lifestyle.
Recommendation No. 27: That the RCMP amend its national policy on missing persons to include a clear requirement to fully articulate risk assessments on file, and to update the risk assessment on file as a case progresses.
Recommendation No. 28: That the RCMP amend national policy on missing persons to ensure that it requires supervisors to fully document observations and directions to members on file.
Recommendation No. 29: That the RCMP update its national policy on missing persons to require members to complete the new Lost/Missing Person Report and Search Results form atthe outset of an investigation.
Recommendation No. 30: That the RCMP review and amend the divisional missing persons policy in British Columbia to ensure that it is in line with the revised national policy.
Recommendation No. 31: That in the interest of promoting a standardized approach, and to support effective, comprehensive and coordinated responses to missing persons investigations, the RCMP consider making training on the revised national missing persons policy requirements mandatory for members in contract policing.
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