The B.C. Civil Liberties Association said on Tuesday it is launching a lawsuit against RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki over what the organization calls inexcusable delays in the release of a report from the force’s civilian watchdog.
The BCCLA said it filed a complaint in February, 2014, alleging the national police illegally spied on democratic activities of organizations and Indigenous people opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline, a proposed project that would have delivered 520,000 barrels a day of oil sands bitumen to the B.C. coast.
The complaint also alleged the RCMP improperly shared the information it collected with oil companies and the National Energy Board. The association said it believes the RCMP’s surveillance created a chilling effect and violated constitutional rights.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) launched an investigation in 2014 and completed an interim report in June, 2017, that was given to the RCMP Commissioner. But the watchdog cannot release a final report to the public until the force responds, the civil liberties association said.
The CRCC is an independent agency to which individuals can bring complaints about RCMP members. It conducts reviews when complainants are not satisfied with the RCMP’s handling of their complaints.
Jessica Magonet, a lawyer for the association, said on Tuesday the complaints commission’s most recent annual report highlighted serious and systematic delays in responding to its reports, and these “undermine transparency, accountability and trust in our national police force.”
RCMP Corporal Caroline Duval said in a statement that the RCMP is aware of the lawsuit and it would be inappropriate to discuss the specifics because it is before the court.
Cpl. Duval said the force considers all public complaints to be important and its initial target of Nov. 7 to respond to the interim report has been revised to the end of the month.
Commissioner Lucki has acknowledged delays responding to CRCC reports, Cpl. Duval added, noting that she has committed to doubling the number of staff responsible for review and analysis.
The federal RCMP Act requires the Commissioner to provide a written response to CRCC interim reports as soon as it is feasible to indicate further action that has or will be taken. If the Commissioner decides not to act on findings or recommendations, reasons are to be provided.
In December, 2019, the RCMP committed in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to timelines that include providing the chairperson of the CRCC with a written response within six months of receiving a report.
In a statement on Tuesday, Kate McDerby, the director of strategic communications for the CRCC, said the commission is aware of the civil liberties group’s legal action, and shares the concerns about delay in the response to its interim report from 2017.
“While the CRCC is concerned with the RCMP’s delay in providing a response to the BCCLA file, it is equally concerned with the 149 interim reports awaiting a response from the RCMP,” she said.
As of Tuesday, Ms. McDerby said one file has been outstanding for more than four years, 14 files for three to four years, 44 files for two to three years, 49 files for one to two years and 41 files for less than one year.
In July, the chairperson of the CRCC, Michelaine Lahaie, told a House of Commons committee the MOU is not binding, and that solid timelines within the RCMP Act would increase accountability “exponentially."
NDP public safety critic Jack Harris said the memorandum is clearly not effective in ensuring the RCMP responds in a timely fashion. He said the RCMP Act should be strengthened to include a reasonable deadline for responses, and the commission should be free to publish reports if the force fails to respond.
Conservative public safety critic Shannon Stubbs said on Tuesday that Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have a responsibility to ensure the RCMP civil complaint process works in a fair and timely manner.
Mr. Blair’s office said it could not comment on the BCCLA case specifically because it is the subject of continuing litigation. Spokeswoman Mary-Liz Power said the CRCC’s role is to support accountability and ensure transparency in the resolution of civilian complaints.
“Timely, impartial and fair resolution of complaints is what Canadians expect and deserve," she said.
The force has also been criticized for failing to respond to other CRCC reports, including one on its investigation into the 2016 shooting death of Colten Boushie. Last week, Mr. Trudeau said he would ask Mr. Blair to follow up on the status of the response, which is now months late.
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