The time it took for RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to respond to investigations into claims of Mountie misconduct violated her obligation under the law, the Federal Court ruled today.
Critics argue the length of time the force often takes to respond to Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) findings — delays of months or even years — undermines police accountability.
“In my view, it is in the public interest to have a police oversight institution that functions properly and is unobstructed,” said Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagné in her written decision.
The Federal Court case started back in early 2014, when the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) lodged a complaint with the CRCC — the watchdog agency tasked with reviewing public complaints against the RCMP — alleging Mounties were spying on Indigenous and environmental protesters opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
The CRCC’s findings, which pointed to gaps in the RCMP’s surveillance policies, were released only in late 2020.
The Federal Court case pivoted to look at what’s meant by the part of the RCMP Act that says the commissioner must respond to CRCC reports “as soon as feasible.”
How complaints work
Whenever CRCC investigators are unsatisfied with the RCMP’s handling of a civilian 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 release its findings and recommendations.
Gagné wrote that these delays “have an impact on the CRCC’s ability to fully exercise its oversight role over the RCMP and on the RCMP’s good policing practices.”
In 2019, the force signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the CRCC — which acted as an intervenor in the case — agreeing to respond to public complaints filed with the watchdog agency within six months.
Gagné said a six-month deadline would be a reasonable interpretation of the “as soon as feasible” wording in the RCMP Act, and that it should be up to Lucki to argue that exceptional circumstances warrant longer delays.
Defined timelines promised by Liberals
The federal government pushed back in its own submission to the court, arguing that the RCMP had gotten better at responding to complaints and that the interpretation of “as soon as feasible” should be flexible.
“If the past is any indication of the future, it is likely that without judicial intervention, this situation will repeat itself,” wrote Gagné in her decision.
“In my view, a three-and–a-half year delay is certainly not a reasonable interpretation of the ‘as soon as feasible’ in the act. Nor does it mean whenever resources become available.”
BCCLA lawyer Paul Champ called the decision “a huge victory for police accountability and for communities from coast to coast who have been calling for justice.”
“For the first time, a court has made clear that the RCMP commissioner must respond to CRCC reports
expeditiously and it has placed a hard time limit on how quickly she must respond,” he said.
“We hope this decision brings an end to the RCMP’s longstanding culture of complacency.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s mandate letter, released in December, tasks him with “establishing defined timelines to respond to recommendations from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.”
Gagné awarded $30,000 to the BCCLA.