Feds announce new RCMP watchdog,
critics say it lacks bite

Mike Blanchfield, Canadian Press, Lethbridge Herald, June 14 2010

Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, right, and Denis Lebel, Minister of State
(Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec) speak to reporters
during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, June 14, 2010.
Photo: Sean Kilpatrick, Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The federal government is creating a new watchdog over the RCMP, but at least one critic says it lacks real bite.

The enhanced civilian review body, which replaces the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, will have new powers to subpoena witnesses and compel the production of documents.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews introduced legislation Monday to create the new oversight agency. He called it a step toward rehabilitating the tarnished image of the Mounties in the wake of the Robert Dziekanski tragedy and other incidents.

However, the NDP says it doesn’t go far enough to prevent another case like Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died after being Tasered by Mounties.

The new legislation would entrench into law an RCMP oversight policy that went into effect in February that calls on an outside organization to investigate the conduct of a Mountie involved in a death.

“All of us are concerned that the RCMP continues to be a premier law enforcement agency, not only in Canada but all around the world,” Toews said. “Giving this commission these types of powers will ensure that that reputation can be maintained and strengthened.”

There will be limitations to the oversight body’s new powers. The recommendations of its investigations are not binding and are subject to the final say of the RCMP commissioner or the public safety minister.

If recommendations are ignored on a regular basis, Toews said, “that would then call for some kind of political intervention, and that is in fact allowed for under the statute.”

The Conservatives originally announced the new oversight agency for the Mounties in March when they tabled their last budget. The budget earmarked $8 million over two years to set up the body.

Toews said the new commission will receive $10.2 million a year, of which $5 million will be new funding that will help it hire independent observers, conduct joint investigations with other review bodies, and policy reviews of the RCMP.

New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen called the announcement a lost opportunity to create meaningful oversight of the RCMP. He said the new bill would have made little difference in the Dziekanski case or the fatal shooting of a constituent, Ian Bush, in his B.C. riding five years ago.

“This is a bigger watchdog, but (it) still has no teeth.”

Cullen and Toews clashed over the fact that the recommendations of the new body would be non-binding. Cullen said the government should have created an independent special investigations with its own investigators, while Toews pointed out that even the auditor general’s recommendations are not binding on the government.

“While the minister says this is giving increased powers, it’s increased powers to make suggestions rather than to change things. And what we need to do is change things,” Cullen said.

Justice Dennis O’Connor, whose commission examined the role Canadian officials played in the Maher Arar case, had called for an overhaul of the Mounties’ complaints commission to give it new powers to monitor RCMP intelligence activities. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was deported to Syria by U.S. authorities in 2002, where he was tortured.

O’Connor’s inquiry concluded that the Mounties provided inaccurate information to the U.S. that very likely led to Arar being sent to Syria.

Toews said the new commission would still be subject to national security exemptions, particularly Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act that allows the government to withhold evidence or information in the name of national security.