Canada’s Federal Court has told the RCMP it must be more responsive to complaints.
The Jan. 11 guidance came as part of a ruling saying the force’s commissioner had breached the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act.
It took the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) going to court to get the warning against the national police force, with a decision coming more than seven years after the association filed a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) — the RCMP watchdog.
That complaint against the RCMP was for spying on Indigenous and climate advocates opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline. It also said the RCMP had unlawfully shared collected information with other government bodies and private sector organizations.
The CRCC completed its report on the complaint in June 2017 and sent it to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki for her response.
The BCCLA repeatedly asked the commissioner for a response.
When none was forthcoming by November 2020, the BCCLA filed for a judicial review in Federal Court.
Lucki issued a response shortly after and argued the BCCLA case had become moot.
The court, however, said the CRCC has noted for years concerns about RCMP response time delays.
Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagné said a three-and-a-half-year delay is not a reasonable interpretation of the “as soon as feasible” in the legislation.
Gagné noted parties to the case believed a six-month turnaround for a response was reasonable for the force.
The court also noted the director of the RCMP National Public Complaints Directorate said in February 2021 that there were 140 interim reports from the CRCC awaiting.
A response from the RCMP commissioner said the directorate was in the process of hiring and new staff was needed to clear the backlog,
“If the past is any indication of the future, it is likely that without judicial intervention, this situation will repeat itself,” Gagné said.
BCCLA lawyer Jessica Magonet said the decision comes after years of people demanding an end to police abuse of power.
“The Federal Court decision shows that the RCMP commissioner cannot continue to thwart the complaints process by sitting on reports for years on end,” Magonet said. “When it comes to police accountability, justice delayed is justice denied.”
Colleague Paul Champ said the court made it clear that the RCMP commissioner must respond to CRCC reports expeditiously.
“We hope this decision brings an end to the RCMP’s longstanding culture of complacency,” Champ said.