RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday October 21, 2020. The RCMP has agreed to revamp its policies on the collection and use of information about protesters after a watchdog expressed fresh concerns, a notable shift from the police force’s position only months ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday October 21, 2020. The RCMP has agreed to revamp its policies on the collection and use of information about protesters after a watchdog expressed fresh concerns, a notable shift from the police force’s position only months ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

RCMP commits to changes on how it collects, uses information about protesters

OTTAWA — The RCMP has agreed to revamp its policies on the collection and use of information about protesters after a watchdog expressed fresh concerns, a notable shift from the police force’s position only months ago.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki largely embraced a series of Civilian Review and Complaints Commission recommendations that could better protect the privacy of activists.

Lucki acknowledged the inadequacy of current data-handling practices in her response to the commission’s investigation into Mountie surveillance of opponents of the now-defunct Northern Gateway pipeline project.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association lodged a complaint in February 2014, saying the RCMP improperly collected and shared information about people and groups who peacefully opposed the project and attended National Energy Board meetings.

The complaints commission concluded the RCMP acted reasonably for the most part.

The commission’s long-awaited final report on the matter, made public Tuesday, said it was acceptable for the Mounties to monitor demonstrations, record video of protesters, scour social media and other open sources for information about activists, and collect licence-plate numbers for intelligence-gathering purposes.

However, the commission also found RCMP policies lacked clear guidance when it comes to collection, use and retention of such information.

It recommended the police force:

— Consider implementing a specific policy regarding video-recording protests and demonstrations;

— Develop policies that make it clear personal information related to demonstrations should be destroyed “as soon as practicable” once it is determined that there is no criminal element or that the information is otherwise no longer necessary;

— Provide clear policy guidance on collection of personal information from open sources such as social media sites, the uses that can be made of it and what steps should be taken to ensure its reliability;

— Treat such information from social media sources as a separate category of records — data that should be kept no longer than strictly necessary.

“Canadians have the right to expect that the police will not retain their personal information simply for engaging in peaceful protest,” the complaints commission’s final report said.

“From an operational standpoint, the commission acknowledges the need for the police to be able to exercise good judgment and operate with reasonable flexibility. Nevertheless, the net should not be cast wide, and the indiscriminate or widespread collection and retention of personal information of individuals exercising charter-protected rights cannot be the goal.”

The complaints commission said it hoped that Lucki would take “substantive action” based on her five-page November response to the investigation’s interim findings, in which she expressed support for several recommendations. The commission noted Lucki had rejected similar recommendations in her June response to a probe of the RCMP’s handling of anti-fracking demonstrations in New Brunswick.

In her recent response to the B.C. probe, which the commission characterized as a “striking reversal in position and tone,” Lucki cited new information including an internal RCMP audit that found room for improvement in the force’s practices concerning open-source information.

The civil liberties association said Tuesday the complaints commission report confirms its long-standing allegations of RCMP spying on Indigenous and climate activists.

It pointed to the RCMP’s collection and retention of people’s online comments and opinions as well as the compilation of notes on organizers.

The Mounties also tracked and kept records on people who took part in demonstrations, and even attended an organizing workshop in plain clothes at the Kelowna United Church, the group noted.

The association is “deeply disappointed” the complaints commission found most of these activities to be reasonable, even though the commission repeatedly expressed reservations, especially where there was no real suspicion that people might be involved in criminal activity.

The commission wagged its finger, but ultimately gave the RCMP a free pass with activities that are likely offside with the charter, said Paul Champ, a lawyer for the association.

“RCMP spying on people who are exercising their right to dissent is an attack on freedom of expression,” Champ said. “It creates a climate of fear that chills free expression and stifles public participation. This report is telling us to accept a police state.”

Added Kai Nagata of Dogwood, a B.C. group that fights for environmental and Indigenous causes: “We cannot accept the idea that anyone who criticizes the government or the oil industry becomes a target for surveillance.”

The civil liberties association and the complaints commission reiterated their concerns that it took Lucki well over three years to respond to the commission’s 2017 interim report, delaying release of the final document.

Commission chairwoman Michelaine Lahaie called the delay “incomprehensible.”

“To be effective, a public complaint system must be timely. Delays reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of the commission’s recommendations and perpetuate the underlying problems,” she said in the final report.

“Moreover, years of routine delays diminish or destroy public confidence in the RCMP and in its civilian oversight. The outrageous delays in this and the many other cases still awaiting the commissioner’s response cannot continue.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An ice sculpture of a bee with a timely message was created near the Ross Street Patio. It’s party of a Downtown Business Association initiative to draw more people downtown to support local businesses. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Ice sculptures created to draw more people to downtown Red Deer

Three sculptures can be seem at various venues

(Black Press file photo)
Police seeking suspects in Bowden armed robbery

Man was beaten and robbed of his wallet

Many students and staff at St. Joseph High School are in COVID-19 quarantine. (File photo by Advocate staff)
UPDATED: St. Joseph High School reverts back to at-home learning

Majority of students under COVID-19 quarantine

Red Deer RCMP say Alexander King was last seen about a month ago. (Contributed)
Red Deer teen reported missing

RCMP ask for public’s assistance

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says it’s not appropriate for former… Continue reading

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

pe
Too many new pet owners, not enough vets make getting animal care a problem

CALGARY — Dr. Liz Ruelle says it was a difficult decision to… Continue reading

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
RCMP officer in Alberta charged with off-duty sexual assault in Edmonton

EDMONTON — Alberta’s police watchdog says an RCMP officer has been charged… Continue reading

Canada’s 29th Governor General Julie Payette looks on alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Senate chamber during her installation ceremony, in Ottawa on Monday, October 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says GG vetting process needs improvement after Payette resigns

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s admission Friday that he might have… Continue reading

NDP member of Parliament Lindsay Mathyssen speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP warns of long delays in equal pay for women in federal pay equity rules

OTTAWA — The federal New Democrats say new rules to close a… Continue reading

President Joe Biden waves as he departs after attending Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington. Less than a week after the economic gut punch of cancelling Keystone XL, Canada is bracing for more bad news today from the White House. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Patrick Semansky
U.S. president to sign executive orders enacting stringent new Buy American regimen

WASHINGTON — Less than a week after the economic gut punch of… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

A 37-year-old man from Maskwacis has died in hospital as a result of his injuries.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a personal support worker at the Ottawa Hospital Tuesday December 15, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canadian provinces push back vaccination plans as Pfizer deliveries grind to a halt

Some Canadian health-care workers are being told they’ll have to wait longer… Continue reading

A Shell logo is seen at a petrol station in London on January 20, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Kirsty Wigglesworth
Shell buys European electric car charging firm ubitricity

Experts say easier access to charging facilities key to successful rollout of electric vehicles

Most Read