RCMP boss responds to watchdog report about alleged spying on anti-oil protesters

OTTAWA — RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has responded to a long-delayed watchdog report on alleged surveillance of anti-oil protesters after a civil liberties group went to court to force her hand.

The submission of Lucki's comments on the interim report by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP means the watchdog can now prepare a final report for public release.

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Paul Champ, lawyer for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, received a letter Friday from Lucki confirming her response to the commission.

The association has accused the Mounties of sitting on the 2017 interim report for more than three years, prompting the group to recently ask the Federal Court to order Lucki to complete her input.

Champ said although part of the court case is now moot, given Lucki has responded, the association plans to continue seeking a declaration that the commissioner's delay violated the RCMP Act.

"Hopefully, we can improve the system for others and shine a light on this clear gap in the law."

The association lodged a complaint in February 2014 with the complaints commission, saying the RCMP improperly collected and shared information about people and groups who peacefully opposed the planned Northern Gateway pipeline project and attended National Energy Board meetings.

The association also said monitoring, surveillance and information-sharing with other government agencies and the private sector created a chilling effect for those who might wish to take part in hearings or other public discussions on petroleum issues.

The complaints commission launched a public interest investigation and completed an interim report into the matter in June 2017, forwarding it to the RCMP for comment on the conclusions and recommendations.

The commission cannot prepare a final report until the RCMP commissioner responds, which also means the findings can't be disclosed to the civil liberties association or the public.

In a June 23 letter to Lucki, Champ noted the RCMP Act imposes a legal duty to provide a response to the commission's interim report "as soon as feasible."

The civil liberties association's notice of application, filed earlier this month, asked the court to order Lucki to respond to the interim report within 14 days, something she has now done.

It also requested an order declaring the "extensive and unconscionable delay" of the report has interfered with the association's ability to speak about important public matters, breaching its charter right of free expression.

"We believe it's important for the Court to provide some guidance and parameters about how long is 'feasible' to complete a response," Champ says.

"The RCMP’s systematic disregard for the public complaint process is a serious and deeply rooted problem and needs to be addressed."

The complaints commission is seeking the court's permission to intervene in the case.

Nika Joncas-Bourget, general counsel for reviews with the commission, said in an affidavit filed with the court last week that the unreasonable delay of the RCMP commissioner's response has thwarted the watchdog in carrying out its mandate.

"The delay also undermines the legitimacy, fairness, and efficacy of the public complaint process. Both the complainants and the RCMP members who are the subjects of the complaint must live with the stress and uncertainty of an unresolved complaint," she said.

Any remedial action, such as training or policy changes, that the complaints commission recommends must also wait, she added. "This means that important lessons and systemic changes may wait for months or years past the time when they would be most useful and relevant."

The complaints commission has a total of 148 interim reports awaiting a response from the RCMP commissioner, including 134 that have been outstanding for more than six months. In 119 of those cases the commission has been awaiting a response for at least one year. In one case, it has been waiting for over four years.

The RCMP acknowledges delays in replying to interim complaints commission reports and the police force has committed to doubling the number of personnel responsible for review and analysis.

The force says it intends to typically provide a written response within six months of the issuance of an interim commission report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2020.

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