Time for civilian oversight

Time for civilian oversight Together with our New Democratic Party colleagues in Ottawa and a growing number of other people, we believe the time has come for changes to how the RCMP investigates potential wrongdoing by its members. Restoring the Yukon p

Together with our New Democratic Party colleagues in Ottawa and a growing number of other people, we believe the time has come for changes to how the RCMP investigates potential wrongdoing by its members.

Restoring the Yukon public’s trust and faith in the national police force will take a lot more than launching a citizens’ task force to review its policies and procedures, although we commend you for taking this important first step in the right direction.

It will take more substantive changes, and these must include the creation of an independent civilian agency to oversee any investigation of the RCMP. To us, this is the best way to ensure investigations are done without any appearance of bias. Only this will give the public the confidence it needs in the outcomes.

Put simply, we believe that police should not be investigating police. And we are not alone in saying this. We have heard this now from the auditor general, the national head of the RCMP, frontline officers, local and national aboriginal leaders, those who have lost loved ones while in the custody of RCMP and everyday Canadians.

In late 2009, NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley) introduced a private members bill that would create a national civilian investigation agency for the RCMP. Bill C-472, An Act to Amend the Royal Mounted Police Act, would establish the Civilian Investigation Service.

Its role would be to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of, or the occurrence of serious bodily harm to, any person while that person was in the custody of the RCMP. Currently, Ontario is the only Canadian jurisdiction with a civilian investigation service for its police forces.

While Cullen admits his bill is not perfect, he says it is a good place to start the conversation we need to have to create such an oversight body. However, the only thing preventing this from happening right now is the lack of political will.

“We think the public is onside; we know the RCMP is onside; we know the auditor general is onside,” he said at a recent news conference in Ottawa. “There’s nobody else (but the federal government) resisting this.”

Given the central role the RCMP plays in small, northern communities, there is an “extra emphasis on the need for members of the force to be not only seen to uphold the values of the RCMP but to be able to demonstrate that in every way,” Yukon NDP Leader Elizabeth Hanson said at this same event.

Deanna-Lee Charlie, the daughter of Raymond Silverfox, took part by telephone from her home in Carmacks. She spoke with anger and sorrow about losing her father so tragically, and needlessly.

She also said she did not want to see any more deaths like his, and hoped that all her questions about the circumstances surrounding his death would be answered at some point to the satisfaction of the members of her family and her community through a public inquiry and/or criminal proceedings.

Although a civilian oversight agency won’t bring Raymond Silverfox back to life, I would like to urge you to champion this cause on behalf of the people of Yukon by raising it with your federal, provincial and territorial counterparts at the earliest opportunity.

Yukon has seen five in-custody deaths of First Nation citizens since 1999, fuelling concerns among members of the aboriginal community. As well, a recent controversial sexual assault trial involving two off-duty members of the Watson Lake detachment has left many women feeling vulnerable, fearful and anxious.

Incidents like these, coupled with a suspect investigation process, undermine the relationship of the RCMP with the community. Governments can do much to help repair the broken trust by showing leadership and acting decisively.

Although there is no guarantee an independent civilian investigation agency will prevent in-custody deaths in the future, it would do much to help restore the public’s confidence in the members of their national police force.

Todd Hardy, MLA

Whitehorse Centre