Chair of N.S. shooting inquiry worries budget constraints could tether RCMP watchdog

·3 min read

HALIFAX — The chairman of Nova Scotia's mass shooting inquiry raised concerns Wednesday that budget constraints could end up tethering investigations by the watchdog agency that reviews complaints against the RCMP.

Michael MacDonald asked whether it was a "blatant affront" to the independence of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP that before opening a probe it has to notify the minister of public safety about available funding.

While the oversight agency has the power to start its own inquiries, agency chairperson Michelaine Lahaie confirmed that as part of the process she must first send a letter assuring the minister there are sufficient resources.

MacDonald asked if this raised the possibility "police misconduct can go unaccounted for, because there's not enough money left in your budget," and then he added that it "sounds a little concerning to me."

Lahaie said ensuring enough funding "is an issue of concern," and it's something she's also spoken about at the parliamentary committee that oversees public safety and national security.

The panel discussion on police accountability held Wednesday was part of the Mass Casualty Commission's look into how to improve policing after a shooting that saw 22 people killed by a gunman driving a replica patrol vehicle on April 18-19, 2020.

Lahaie, one of the panellists, said her agency mainly handles civilian-initiated complaints, but it also has the power to start its own investigations and carry out reviews of systemic problems.

The agency can agree with the police findings about complaints, or produce an interim report with findings and recommendations, which is sent to the RCMP commissioner for a response. Following that response, the commission produces a final report that may call for changes in policies, procedures and training.

Lahaie confirmed to the commission there's currently no requirement that the RCMP tell her agency if its recommendations are carried out, adding "that is a failing in the system that we identified."

However, she noted that legislative changes being contemplated by the government would require the RCMP to provide an annual report to the minister of public safety that would indicate the status of her agency's recommendations.

Worries over this issue have also come up earlier in the inquiry, when RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was asked on Aug. 25 why the police force hadn't implemented recommendations from a Jan. 13, 2020, review by the complaints commission of the homicide of Colten Boushie, a Cree man who was shot and killed on a rural farm in Saskatchewan in 2016.

The 2020 review had noted delayed attendance at the crime scene by major crime investigators and specifically recommended that in future RCMP investigators attend crime scenes in a "timely fashion."

Lucki was asked by a lawyer representing a victim's family why this recommendation hadn't filtered down to the Nova Scotia RCMP by the time of the mass shooting, when it took more than 18 hours for major crime investigators to visit the scene where Peter and Joy Bond were murdered in Portapique, N.S.

"Maybe we have a responsibility to be better at communicating these policies," Lucki conceded.

Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor and author of a book calling for Canadian policing reform, said during the panel discussion that the current federal RCMP Act may not give the federal minister enough power to direct the commissioner to carry out reforms.

Roach argues that for policy changes to take place, it will require "an active (federal) minister who is committed to seeing that the recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commission and other inquiries are implemented.”

He also argues that these ministerial directives must be made public, to reduce the chance of political interference with the police force.

Roach told the inquiry that while "on paper" the RCMP appears to be answerable to advisory committees in rural areas of Nova Scotia, these bodies lack influence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press