RCMP shouldn’t probe itself

The RCMP should not be put in a position where it must investigate itself in serious matters.

The RCMP should not be put in a position where it must investigate itself in serious matters.

Such situations taint the evidence-gathering process, cast doubt on the outcome, and potentially compromise everyone involved, from the accused to the investigators to the prosecutors. Ultimately, it unnecessarily puts the justice system under a cloud.

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has just released a report that maintains that all cases involving RCMP members and a death should be investigated by an outsider. Commission chair Paul Kennedy also wants national guidelines established for the examination of all cases where RCMP officers could face charges.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott concedes as much. In a letter to Kennedy after receiving a draft of the commission’s report last month, Elliott said: “As I have stated elsewhere, my personal preference would be for the RCMP never to investigate our members and for such investigations to be carried out by another agency.”

Essentially, then, Kennedy and Elliott agree: there must be a better way.

But how do both Kennedy and Elliott get what they want, what the thousands of RCMP officers in this country deserve and what Canadians in general should demand?

A new RCMP policy is being prepared, says Elliott, that will address some of Kennedy’s concerns — but not all. The current system has “no national, centralized co-ordination of member investigations,” says Kennedy. He was also unable to discern an established investigative model for such cases.

Will the RCMP’s new policy address this shortcoming?

Perhaps, but as long as the RCMP establishes the standards, and administers them, questions will remain.

It would be far better if the new policy was drafted elsewhere and imposed on the national police force. And it is essential that the new standard mandate outside investigators for all cases involving RCMP officers.

Elliott says logistics make it impossible for anyone but another RCMP officer to investigate many allegations. He blames isolation in many cases, manpower issues and the need for timely examination of evidence. In the question of first response, he’s right. Any new model would require initial work to be done by the RCMP, particularly in isolated situations. But those cases should be handed off quickly to investigators at arm’s length.

In Alberta, this no small matter. Of the 600 cases involving RCMP officers in the five years that the commission studied, 339 occurred in Alberta. They include allegations of assault causing bodily harm, sexual assault or death. No other province had more than 95 cases (Manitoba) in the period from April 1, 2002, to March 31, 2007.

The commission only examined 28 of the total 600 cases, but in those cases it found: a single investigator assigned to 17; one-quarter of investigators personally knew the officer being investigated; many investigators had little experience (in Alberta, nearly half of all RCMP officers have been on the job for less than five years); and the subjects of investigation often outranked or shared the rank of the investigator.

Two new models are possible to handle complaints against the RCMP and other police:

• Establish a civilian investigative arm in each province (Manitoba and Ontario have them now) that is responsible for investigating all charges against police (including municipal and provincial forces). In this model, the results would be uneven unless national standards are adopted.

• Establish a national body to do the same work, with provincial branches. This model would allow the movement of investigators and ensure that methods are shared and refreshed.

In either case, the result would be the same: police forces could be assured that their errors are examined without fault, and Canadians could be assured that their police are accountable.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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