Civil liberties group takes RCMP to court over delayed response to alleged spying complaint

·3 min read

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is suing RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki over delays in a police watchdog report related to alleged spying on Indigenous and environmental groups involved in opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The lawsuit filed in Federal Court is looking to the courts to force the commissioner to respond to a report from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP so that a final report can be released.

By law, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission cannot complete its report without her reply.

"The RCMP commissioner is basically sitting on this report indefinitely," said Paul Champ, an Ottawa-based lawyer working with B.C. Civil Liberties on the file.

The initial basis of the complaint, filed by B.C. Civil Liberties in 2014, was that members of the RCMP had been spying on individuals and environmental groups involved in opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

The complaint alleged that in addition to monitoring activities, the RCMP was sharing information it gathered about individuals and groups with "other government bodies and private sector actors."

B.C. Civil Liberties alleged these actions amounted to violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and privacy.

None of the allegations put forward by B.C. Civil Liberties have been proven in court.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Interim report sent to RCMP in June 2017

The CRCC agreed to investigate the complaint, but its findings and any potential associated recommendations have not been made public because the RCMP commissioner has not replied to its interim report.

Court documents state that the CRCC sent its interim report to the RCMP commissioner in June 2017.

Champ said it's not clear why the commissioner has taken so long to respond.

"We don't know if it's because the RCMP commissioner views it as embarrassing or that it might hurt the RCMP's reputation. But for whatever reason it's completely unacceptable for her to have that report sit on her desk… and basically obstruct the public complaint process."

While the legislation related to the complaints process doesn't include a specific timeframe within which the commissioner must respond, Champ said it does say a response should be made "as soon as feasible."

"So we will be arguing in court that 'as soon as feasible' is something less than three and a half years," he said.

RCMP: Aiming to respond by the end of November

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the RCMP said it wouldn't get into the specifics of the case brought forward by B.C. Civil Liberties now that it's before the courts.

However, RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Caroline Duval said the force is aiming to have a response to the CRCC by the end of November.

"The time required to prepare a thorough and well-founded response can be difficult to predict due to the high number of interim reports, the numerous factors to consider, the high volume of relevant material to be reviewed, and the complexities of the recommendations and findings," she wrote.

She said the RCMP is aware of the broader issue of report delays and "the commissioner has committed to making significant improvements and doubling the number of personnel responsible for review and analysis."

One of the recent commitments from the RCMP has been to respond to interim reports from the CRCC within six months.

Speaking generally about the complaints process, Champ said once the CRCC receives a reply to an interim report from the RCMP commissioner, a final report is typically complete within 30 days.

He said B.C. Civil Liberties anticipates finding out from a CRCC final report "to what extent the RCMP was monitoring or spying on environmentalists and how and in what ways they were doing that."