Civilian investigators
of RCMP are needed

An editorial in the Vancouver Sun, August 12, 2009

On Nov. 28, 2007, Paul Kennedy, the Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, began an investigation designed to answer the question:

“Can the current process of the RCMP investigating itself legitimately engender confidence in the transparency, impartiality and integrity of the criminal investigation and its outcome?”

And on Tuesday, the investigation report answered the question bluntly: “The informed CPC answer is that it cannot.”

Given this conclusion, it’s unfortunate that the report failed to recommend that the RCMP be relieved of investigating it members, except in cases where police are involved in the death of an individual.

The report considered 28 cases where RCMP members were investigated for assault causing bodily harm, sexual assault, and causing death. The report concluded that in all of these cases, the investigating officers acted professionally and without bias.

However, the report nevertheless found that 68 per cent of cases were “handled either partially or entirely inappropriately,” thanks to problems with the management structure, reporting relationships and level of response.

Specifically, the reports notes that in 25 per cent of cases, the primary investigator admitted to personally knowing the officer being investigated — a situation that increases the possibility of bias and unquestionably produces an apprehension of bias.

In 60 per cent of cases, a single officer was assigned to investigate, a situation that again increases potential for conflict of interest and perception of bias. And in 17 of 28 cases, a single officer interviewed the officer being investigated and the officers who were witnesses to the incident.

Finally, in 32 per cent of cases, the primary investigator was of the same or lower rank as the officer being investigated, which created the potential for intimidation and threatened to comprise the investigation.

Given these disturbing findings, the report looked at the way in which investigations of police are handled across Canada and around the world.

Three specific models are prominent: The dependent model, which involves a police force investigating itself or another police force (this is the current model with the RCMP); the interdependent model, which involves assigning a civilian observer to the investigation, or involves the collaboration between a police force and a separate review body; and the independent model, which involves a totally independent criminal investigation with no police involvement, such as that conducted by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit.

The report essentially recommends moving from a dependent model toward an interdependent one. Specifically, it suggests that in serious cases, such as those involving assault causing bodily harm and sexual assault, the complaints commission and a new National RCMP Member Investigation Registrar be granted authority to determine whether the investigation should be referred to another police force or provincial investigative body.

Only in cases involving death would such a referral would be mandatory. And in cases involving less serious offences, the RCMP would retain discretion to determine the appropriate response.

Hence, despite identifying serious concerns about the potential for, and apprehension of, bias, the report recommends only baby steps in moving away from the current dependent model. This is better than nothing, but it’s not enough.

After all, if the recommendations are implemented — which would involve both policy and legislative changes — the RCMP could continue to investigate itself in the most serious cases, except those involving death. And cases that do involve death could be investigated by another police force, which means some apprehension of, and potential for, bias would still exist.

The only way to remove possible or real bias would be to move toward an independent model, much as Ontario has done. In the case of the RCMP, it would require creation of a federal special investigations unit, or the creation of provincial ones whose jurisdiction the RCMP would have to agree to accept (Ontario’s SIU does not have authority over the RCMP.)

Development of an appropriate civilian investigative body would therefore be a significant undertaking, in terms of both time and money. But it would also be significant in that it would eliminate any possibility of bias, and in so doing, help to protect both civilians and the reputation of the RCMP.