Municipal police officers want RCMP forces doing contract police work in British Columbia to be accountable to the same civilian-oversight process as they are for public complaints in the province.
Tom Stamatakis, founding president of the 2,500-member B.C. Police Association, noted in a phone interview that the existence of two separate mechanisms dealing with public grievances is “problematic”.
“What we would say is that all police officers in the province of British Columbia should be subject to the same type of oversight, the same type of legislative framework, and the ownership of that oversight should belong to the province of British Columbia,” Stamatakis told the Georgia Straight.
The BCPA was launched in September of last year. It represents officers from the province’s 11 municipal police departments, as well as the transit police. (Stamatakis is also the head of the Vancouver Police Union.)
Under the current setup, complaints against local police are handled by the Victoria-based Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, an independent agency created under the Police Act. Those relating to the RCMP are dealt with by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, a body that is based in Ottawa.
However, Stamatakis pointed out that the federal complaints commission can only make recommendations and that it is ultimately the RCMP commissioner who decides cases filed against Mounties.
“Whereas in this province and in most other provinces in the country, when it comes to municipal or provincial police”¦the oversight is independent of the police agencies,” Stamatakis said.
According to figures provided to the Straight by Nelson Kalil, spokesperson for the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, complaints against Mounties doing contract police work in B.C. make up more than half of all cases nationwide.
For the period from April 1, 2003, to March 31, 2008, RCMP officers in B.C. accounted for 2,418 out of the total of 4,493 complaints filed against Mounties across the country.
Kalil explained in a phone interview that because of the volume of complaints against RCMP officers in the province, the commission decided to put up its national intake office for cases in Surrey.
Bruce Brown is a former RCMP officer and a deputy commissioner at the provincial Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. Brown told the Straight that putting the RCMP under a provincial oversight process is a complicated matter because the RCMP is a federal agency. However, he acknowledged that having two separate complaints processes is “confusing” to the public.
“Whether or not it’s possible to have one system, that remains to be seen,” Brown said. “That’s something that will have to be decided by the politicians.”
The B.C. Mounted Police Professional Association counts about 500 members across the province and is independent of the RCMP brass, according to its president, Patrick Mehain.
According to Mehain, the association’s members wouldn’t have any problem being under the same oversight process as local police forces. He even went further by suggesting that B.C.–based Mounties may even switch uniforms if Victoria decides to pass legislation creating a provincial police force.
“If they go to a provincial force or a regional police force, they’re going to need a certain amount of members right off the bat,” Mehain told the Straight. “I’m not speaking for the RCMP, but I believe the members who I have spoken to would be willing to cross over.”
In 1992, the province struck a commission of inquiry into policing. It was headed by then-judge Wally Oppal, now the province’s attorney general.
One of the issues tackled by Oppal was the split complaint process for municipal police and RCMP forces, which he himself described in his 1994 report as “clearly unacceptable”.
“Clearly there should be one process for complaints against all police officers,” Oppal wrote. “There are several ways in which this can be accomplished. The first would be to have the RCMP, by moral suasion, consent to compliance with the provincial complaints systems. This could be effected by reopening the contract with the RCMP. This seems highly unlikely. The second way would be to enact provincial legislation which would be applicable to all police officers in the province.”
Both these options remain open to the province. The RCMP contract with the province expires in 2012. According to Stamatakis, the matter of having a single civilian-oversight authority should be on the table when the contract is renegotiated.