B.C.'s ombudsperson renews calls for oversight of municipal jail guards after IIO investigation

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B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke at a news conference in Victoria on April 6, 2017. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press - image credit)
B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke at a news conference in Victoria on April 6, 2017. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press - image credit)

B.C.'s ombudsperson is renewing calls for independent oversight of jail guards in municipalities policed by the RCMP, after an investigation found one guard's conduct — in leaving a prisoner crying for help overnight — may have amounted to torture.

Jay Chalke says people currently have no recourse if they experience abuse or lack of adequate care in a jail located in a municipality policed by the RCMP.

"There is independent oversight in communities where there's a municipal police service such as West Vancouver," he explained to Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast.

"But over in North Vancouver, where the policing is done by the RCMP, there's no independent oversight of the municipal jail guards who provide the detention services for people who are arrested by the police until they appear before a judge or are released."

Getty Images
Getty Images

Last month, the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) — which reviews police actions that result in death or serious harm — alleged a jail guard in a Prince George RCMP detachment cell ignored the screams of an inmate for eight hours. The inmate was later diagnosed with a fractured hip.

The IIO did not recommend charges, because the guard is an employee of the City of Prince George and not a police officer.

The Prince George RCMP said its own investigation identified "clearly unacceptable behaviour, but did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate recommending criminal charges."

Gap leaves people in jail without recourse

It's one of many "disturbing" examples of the gap in oversight in municipalities policed by the RCMP, Chalke said.

The Office of the Ombudsperson — responsible for investigating complaints from members of the public about the administration of government programs and services — often receives complaints but can do little to investigate allegations, Chalke says, because they do not have the authority to compel people to speak with them and to gather records under B.C.'s Police Act.

One complaint, he says, came from a young woman who alleged she was denied access to feminine hygiene products and a shower while she was on her period. Another came from a female victim of domestic assault who said a male guard attempted to strip search her.

"Those are serious allegations," he said. "And they're only allegations, but we weren't able to investigate, nor was anybody else, because there's no independent body around that has the authority to look into them."

Municipalities in B.C. with a population of over 5,000 must provide detention facilities for individuals in police custody, according to the Office of the Ombudsperson.

In cities where there is a municipal police service, detention centre staff are designated as special municipal constables under the Police Act, and are overseen by the provincial Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

LISTEN | Ombudsperson Jay Chalke on why B.C. needs independent oversight of municipal jail guards

However, there is no independent agency with legal authority to investigate a complaint about jail guards in communities policed by the RCMP.

Chalke says inmates in federal penitentiaries have recourse in the Office of the Correctional Investigator, those in provincial facilities operated by B.C. Corrections can complain to the Office of the Ombudsperson, and those in locked psychiatric hospital units have recourse in independent oversight.

'Very capable oversight bodies ... exist already'

Oversight bodies, such as the federal Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the IIO and the Office of the Ombudsperson, exist to investigate complaints against police, Chalke says.

He believes a statutory amendment to the Police Act could assign any of these bodies to oversee jail guards in municipalities policed by the RCMP.

"I wouldn't suggest any new entity be created," he said. "We've got very capable oversight bodies that exist already."

He says he has raised the issue several times over the past four years, and has again written to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, who he says is responsible for making changes to the Police Act.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the ministry said it is reviewing the recommendations of the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, which released its report in April.

The report found a gap in oversight of jail guards and recommended, among others, the development of a new independent oversight agency and corresponding legislation that would apply to all police and public safety personnel with powers or authority, they said.

They also said complaints against RCMP members who may have committed misconduct in their supervision of jail guards can be submitted to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.

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