Cullen introduces RCMP oversight bill

The Northern View, Prince Rupert, Nov. 10, 2009


Skeena-Bulkley MP Nathan Cullen hopes that his new Private Member’s Bill will help restore faltering public confidence in the RCMP.

The Civilian Oversight Act would create a Civilian Investigation Service that would be responsible for conducting investigations into cases involving death or serious bodily harm occurring in RCMP custody.

“A special investigations unit is what we imagine creating, and it would be made up of forensics and other experts. It will have some former police officers, but not former RCMP officers,” said Cullen.

The bill is an attempt to respond to an increasing demand for an independent civilian investigating body, a concern expressed by all corners of society. Civil liberties groups have long called for an end to police self-investigating procedures because of the problems involved, a concern echoed by many police forces, Cullen says.

“We’re hearing this from a lot of police officers and people associated with the force now, that in order to maintain and actually rebuild some of the public trust there needs to be greater openness and accountability. Police investigating police has always been problematic, and I think it’s been problematic for the force and the public...Paul Kennedy, the police complaints commissioner, found that, in more than one fifth of the cases he reviewed, officers doing the investigation knew personally the person they were investigating.”

Cullen was joined in Ottawa by Linda Bush, mother of Ian Bush, who was killed in RCMP custody in 2005 following his outside a hockey game in Houston. Mrs. Bush has devoted herself to reforming the system in the years following her son’s death. Recent high profile cases such as Ian’s and that of Robert Dziekanski have underscored the public need for an impartial, independent investigating body.

Apart from helping to restore public trust in the RCMP, the envisioned Civilian Investigation Service would also allow the RCMP to concentrate more fully on police work rather than diverting valuable resources to internal investigations.

“It’s been a real sea of change, frankly, in terms of the opinion leaders in the country, and now we’re just waiting on the Conservative government to see if they’re truly interested in an issue that I think, well I know, affects everybody. Certainly the ability of the RCMP to do their job. That trust is essential, you know, living in a place like Prince Rupert, the trust between the local force and the community is absolutely critical.”

On the same day as Cullen was holding his press conference to announce the bill, the RCMP held a press conference of its own to offer their support of the idea.

“I’ve never seen anyone the level of the commissioner of the RCMP hold a press conference on a private member’s bill, and nobody else has either,” he said.

“It’s a lot less controversial than I thought it may be...We might be on the edge of something here.”