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Complaints about new RCMP complaints commission

The Conservative government has tabled legislation to give the RCMP watchdog more teeth. However, the NDP, which has already put forward a similar bill, says the reforms don't go far enough.

The Conservative government has tabled legislation to give the RCMP watchdog more teeth.

However, the NDP, which has already put forward a similar bill, says the reforms don’t go far enough.

“It’s a missed opportunity,” said New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen.

In November 2009, Cullen introduced a private members’ bill that would create a national independent civilian investigation service for police.

The service would investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of, or the occurrence of serious bodily harm to, any person while in police custody.

“I think we have a chance to create real and positive effects by creating public oversight of the RCMP,” he said.

“And instead this is really just putting into law what is the current policy of the police already.”

Monday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews tabled his bill, saying it would increase public confidence in the national police force.

The new legislation creates the RCMP Complaints and Review Commission, which will replace the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

Aside from the shorter name, the new complaint commission will have a few additional changes.

The budget will be doubled, from $5 million to $10 million.

The old commission had one full-time commissioner. The new commission will have one full-time chair and up to four commissioners who will be appointed by cabinet for five-year terms.

None of these commissioners can be current or former members of the RCMP.

The new commission will have the power to compel witnesses to testify - something they couldn’t do before - and have broader access to RCMP documents.

The new chair will also be able to initiate their own inquiries.

Alberta and Ontario have set up their own civilian police complaints commissions with the ability to investigate the RCMP.

Everywhere else the commission’s investigations will be conducted by police forces other than RCMP, which is already the process.

And any of the findings and recommendations coming from the commission would be non-binding, as it is now.

The new commission does virtually nothing except create false hopes, said Cullen.

“They can compel testimony, but then that testimony can never be used again in a court of law, so there goes charges.”

Both the public and police would benefit from a civilian investigation unit, Cullen added.

“The auditor general, Paul Kennedy (the former police complaints commissioner), the head of the RCMP in BC, everybody’s come on side,” he said.

“I just don’t understand why the government insists on continuing to resist and drag its feet.”

The NDP bill was introduced as a result of the in-custody deaths of Robert Dziekanski and Ian Bush.

The subsequent deaths of Raymond Silverfox and Robert Stone have added to the calls for reform.

Yukon NDP leader Elizabeth Hanson was disappointed about the lackluster changes to the commission.

“It doesn’t sound like if we were to take the Raymond Silverfox case, we would see any different outcomes from this new commission,” said Hanson.

“There wouldn’t be any clarity in terms of what went on there, nor would we know what the consequences of those actions were because there’s nothing that makes any of the outcomes binding.”

Toews did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

Contact Chris Oke at