Commissioner Brenda Lucki has ordered a review of RCMP records policy after a watchdog report found that police destroyed recordings and transcripts of their communications from the night Colten Boushie died.
The Commissioner said in testimony before a recent parliamentary committee that the force will re-examine its records retention policy to ensure that “it is in line with reality.” The national police force is facing calls from Indigenous leaders and the federal NDP to explain why records were destroyed.
A report into police handling of the case by the independent Civilian Complaints and Review Commission expressed “disappointment and frustration” with the police decision to destroy recorded communications between the officers who responded to the fatal shooting.
Mr. Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, was shot to death in August, 2016, when he and four companions drove onto property owned by Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley. Mr. Stanley was eventually found not guilty of second-degree murder in a case that sparked protests across the country.
A CRCC report released last week found that the RCMP racially discriminated against Mr. Boushie’s family members when they were notified of his death. The report also revealed that when the CRCC requested records of police radio and telephone calls, the RCMP said the records had already been destroyed.
The recordings were deemed to have no evidentiary value to the criminal investigation, the RCMP told the CRCC, and were disposed of in August, 2018, two years after the events in question, in keeping with records retention policy.
However, the CRCC investigation was announced in March, 2018, five months before the two-year disposal date. A civil suit launched by Mr. Boushie’s family was also filed before August, 2018. Both of those matters should have created an obligation to retain all relevant records, according to counsel for Debbie Baptiste, Mr. Boushie’s mother.
In her committee testimony on Wednesday, Commissioner Lucki insisted that the destruction of the records was a routine matter.
“In no way was it a coverup,” she said.
She added that when the request for the records came from the CRCC, the records had already been destroyed. She said that the major-crimes investigators handling the investigation into Mr. Stanley in Saskatchewan had determined that the recordings had no evidentiary value to the criminal case.
“They were just left where they get stored in their usual manner and within two years, as per the retentions act, it got destroyed. And then the CRCC asked for them and that’s why we couldn’t produce them,” Commissioner Lucki said.
NDP public safety critic Jack Harris said there seems to have been a policy failure.
“Clearly it is not appropriate for them to use the standard of whether it was relevant to the criminal investigation,” Mr. Harris said. “They should not have destroyed those records.”
Chris Murphy, a lawyer for Ms. Baptiste, also said Commissioner Lucki’s response is not sufficient. She must initiate an investigation to find out who decided those records didn’t need to be retained and what they knew of their contents, he said.
“If the records painted the RCMP in a bad light and the officer knew they’d be destroyed, that’s pretty close to the definition of a coverup,” Mr. Murphy said.
He said the family has maintained from the beginning that the records of police communications would have proved that the RCMP did not have reasonable grounds to search Ms. Baptiste’s home on the night her son died.
Ms. Baptiste’s brother, Alvin, initiated a complaint in late 2016 about RCMP conduct that night, long before the records might have been up for destruction, he added.
“At that point it was clear that what the RCMP knew and when they knew it was going to be questioned,” Mr. Murphy said.
Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde said he was encouraged to see that Commissioner Lucki has announced plans for a policy review with respect to the preservation and protection of evidence.
“The AFN strongly urges that First Nations be fully involved in any review,” he said, adding that “Commissioner Lucki’s comments remain devoid of any meaningful statement of wrongdoing.”
It is “completely ridiculous and embarrassing” that the RCMP has denied it did anything wrong by destroying the records, said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron.
“They did do wrong. Stop defending what you’ve done.”
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