A federal judge says the RCMP Commissioner must respond to public complaints within six months of receiving them after a court challenge was launched over delays coming from the top of the national policing agency.
Civil liberty groups say they now hope the decision by Federal Court Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagne that was handed down Jan. 11 will bring about changes.
“There have been reports piled up on the RCMP commissioner’s desk for years without a response,” Paul Champ, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association tells APTN News. “In our view, that was in violation of the act, and now with this ruling, it’s made it crystal clear the RCMP shouldn’t be taking any longer than six months to respond to complaints.
“This is now going to improve that entire process for complaints for Canadians across the country.”
He adds that this should improve police accountability in First Nations and rural communities.
“In Indigenous communities, it’s mainly RCMP who are responsible for policing on many reserves and rural areas, and there are big gaps of accountability, and I think this judgment will enhance that public complaint system,” Champ says.
RCMP commissioner breached duty with slow response to watchdog report, judge rules.
Gagne also says RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki flouted the law by failing to respond promptly to a watchdog report about alleged spying on anti-oil protesters.
Gagne says Lucki breached her duty under the RCMP Act by not submitting a response to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission’s interim report on the spying accusations “as soon as feasible.”
The BCCLA argued that there was a culture of complacency in the RCMP that had caused inexcusable foot-dragging on complaint files.
The association lodged a complaint with the commission in February 2014, saying the RCMP improperly collected and shared information about people and groups who peacefully opposed the now-defunct Northern Gateway pipeline project and attended National Energy Board meetings.
The complaints commission launched a public interest investigation and completed an interim report on the spying allegations in June 2017, forwarding it to the RCMP for comment on the conclusions and recommendations.
The watchdog cannot make final findings and recommendations on a complaint until the RCMP commissioner responds to an interim report and, as a result, the complainant and the public are left waiting for resolution of the matter.
Lucki responded to the report in November 2020, but only after the association launched its court action.
Gagne says the Mounties waited a full three years to assign an officer to the matter, after which it took the commissioner only a few months to issue a five-page response to the interim report.
“In my view, a three-and-a-half-year delay is certainly not a reasonable interpretation of the ‘as soon as feasible’ in the Act,” Gagne says in her decision. “Nor does it mean whenever resources become available.”
Gagne says the requirement means the commissioner should have up to six months to reply to an interim report unless there are exceptional circumstances. It would be up to the commissioner to argue more time is needed, Gagne adds.
The time frame is in keeping with a memorandum of understanding signed in December 2019 by the complaints commission and the RCMP, which set a six-month target for responses.
The RCMP had no immediate comment on the court ruling.
The court decision is a step in the right direction, says Jessica Magonet, Champ’s co-counsel on the case.
“Communities have been demanding an end to the abuse of police power,” Magonet says. “The Federal Court decision shows that the RCMP commissioner cannot continue to thwart the complaints process by sitting on reports for years on end. When it comes to police accountability, justice delayed is justice denied.”
With files from the Canadian Press