RCMP still missing deadlines for responding to watchdog complaints

·4 min read
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and the chair of the CRCC signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2019 which committed her to providing responses to the CRCC's interim reports within six months of receiving them. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and the chair of the CRCC signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2019 which committed her to providing responses to the CRCC's interim reports within six months of receiving them. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)

More than a year ago, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki signed a deal promising to respond to public complaints lodged with an independent oversight agency within six months.

So far, she hasn't responded to a single recommendation within that time frame, according to figures obtained by CBC News.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC) is the independent agency tasked with reviewing public complaints against the RCMP — complaints about everything from unnecessary strip searches to excessive force.

Whenever CRCC investigators are unsatisfied with the RCMP's handling of a complaint, or disagree with the force's initial take on it, they send what they call an "interim report" to the RCMP commissioner for review.

Only after the commissioner responds can the watchdog's final recommendations be made and the findings released.

That process has been plagued by delays. After a decade of complaints about the time the commissioner's office takes to respond, Lucki and the chair of the CRCC signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in December 2019 which committed her to responding to the CRCC's interim reports within six months of receiving them.

CRCC spokesperson Kate McDerby said that since Lucki signed the agreement, the watchdog has sent 69 interim reports to her office.

Of those 69 reports, Lucki has responded to just two, said McDerby — one was sent back to the CRCC after 10 months and the other after 11 months.

'Don't expect any justice'

Tom Engel, a criminal defence lawyer in Edmonton, said he's been filing public complaints against the RCMP virtually once a month. Once he received a report from the CRCC more than three years after filing his complaint.

"Sometimes the delay is so long, frankly, I've even forgotten that a complaint was made," he said.

Engel has been lobbying the government for years to give the CRCC the power to set timelines for receiving RCMP responses and to make its recommendations binding.

"It's so bad that I tell my clients at the beginning of a complaint against the RCMP, 'Don't expect any justice from this, you won't get justice from the system. You won't get it from the RCMP. And because the CRCC doesn't have any teeth, you're unlikely to get it from them,'" he said.

"But the one thing I do know — if you don't complain, you can be 100 per cent sure nothing will happen. "

Lawyer Tom Engel in his office in Edmonton.
Lawyer Tom Engel in his office in Edmonton.(Lost Time Media)

A spokesperson for the RCMP said it has been working through a backlog of reports. The CRCC said that as of May 6, it had received 113 responses from the RCMP commissioner's office dated before the MOU was signed.

"When the RCMP and the CRCC signed the MOU in December 2019, it was with the awareness that it would take time for the RCMP to clear the backlog and be able to meet the agreed-upon six-month time limit for completing responses to interim reports," said RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival.

The CRCC said that, as of Thursday, 42 interim reports sent to the commissioner's office before the MOU was signed still have not received responses. One of them has been in the queue now for four years and three months.

Percival said the RCMP recently hired full-time staffers to speed up the work and said that reports received after April 1, 2021 will be completed within the six-month service standard.

"The RCMP believes civilian review is essential for ensuring public trust and confidence," said Percival.

"Given the numerous factors to consider, the high volume of relevant material to be reviewed and the complexities of the recommendations and findings, the time required to prepare a thorough and well-founded response can be difficult to predict."

Federal oversight bill coming

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the department is looking at setting binding timelines, either through regulation or legislation.

"These delays are unacceptable. Canadians deserve police services that are accountable to them," said Mary-Liz Power.

"These delays are damaging to both the individual who lodged the complaint and the police service who is its subject. Timely, impartial and fair resolution of complaints is what Canadians deserve, and we expect the RCMP to uphold the commitment they have made to Canadians."