Much ado about the RCMP

Media buzz notwithstanding,
proposals to make the Mounties more accountable
amount to almost nothing. Meanwhile B.C.’s biased
complaint system for municipal cops escapes media scrutiny.


Months of talk resulted in RCMP Commissioner William Elliott’s widely publicized Feb. 4 announcement that the RCMP will change its self-investigation policy. Probably coincidentally, the announcement followed Solicitor General Kash Heed’s vague ruminations about bringing B.C.’s Mounties under provincial control. But the RCMP’s new policy will change very little.

Police will still investigate police, except for provinces like Ontario that have an independent investigative unit. Elsewhere the Mounties will try to have their officers investigated by a different police force. When that’s not possible, they’ll try to bring in Mounties from another region or province.

The changes apply only to cases involving death or serious injury, or when “sensitive matters of public trust and confidence are raised,” Elliott said. That leaves a wide range of other serious offences unaffected by the new procedures.

Elliott described the changes as an interim step until the federal government establishes a more independent investigative process. Given federal intransigence, however, the interim step might prove to be permanent.

The changes differ little from a number of other limited proposals made recently — those suggested last August by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, last September jointly by the RCMP and the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, and last November by MP Nathan Cullen. While the changes will improve accountability to some extent, they might really be a pre-emptive strike against a more thorough reckoning.

A few days before Elliott’s announcement, B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed talked vaguely about putting B.C. Mounties under some kind of provincial control. His vagueness was probably deliberate. As a BC Liberal cabinet minister, Heed has no say in policy.

Heed was understandably angry after the RCMP failed to inform him about their latest scandal, which he learned about on TV. It was just the most recent insult in Heed’s ineffectual career.

But if anything were to come of Heed’s talk, it would probably mean putting B.C. Mounties under the “oversight” of B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which currently oversees the province’s municipal forces. B.C.’s system of police complaints is at least as bad as that of the Mounties, with the additional problem that it lacks media scrutiny.

Key OPCC figures like Stan Lowe and his employees Rollie Woods and Bruce Brown each have a record of covering up for police misconduct. Yet they hold unaccountable positions. They answer to absolutely no one.

Both the BC Liberal government and the NDP opposition support this biased system and the dishonest characters who run it.

That makes media scrutiny all the more important.

But there isn’t any.

In December 2008, when Stan Lowe was appointed police complaint commissioner, only two media outlets that I know of (CBC’s Web site and the Victoria Times Colonist) mentioned his Dziekanski decision — and then, only in passing.

Last October, when both sides of the legislature united to preserve a seriously biased Police Act, the media ignored the act’s limitations, focusing instead on Heed’s embarrassment over a previous police complaint. (He’s an ex-cop.) Some media even praised the act’s minor amendments, claiming they gave “the watchdog more teeth.”

On Jan. 29, when Stan Lowe actually told a news conference that the police complaint process is “impartial,” no one, as far as I’ve heard, challenged that whopping lie.

The journalists who were present might not have known how Woods and Brown handle police complaints. They might not have known that the OPCC is stacked with ex-cops and that it hires cops directly from the police forces it oversees. But at least some of those journalists must have known about Lowe’s Dziekanski decision. I sent them a reminder the afternoon before the news conference.

As far as I’ve heard, no one mentioned it. But Lowe’s Dziekanski decision shows he’s anything but impartial.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Pivot Legal Society do good work on the issue of police accountability. But I think they miss the issue of the OPCC’s bias. Even if B.C.’s Mounties were brought under provincial oversight, even if B.C. were to implement civilian investigations, Stan Lowe and his crew of ex-cops would be exactly the wrong people to do that kind of work.

Yet the OPCC answers to no one — absolutely no one at all.

Without media scrutiny there’s nothing to stop the OPCC from operating with its usual bias and complacency.

But there is no media scrutiny. So, unlike the RCMP, Lowe and his crew aren’t even pretending to clean up their act.

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