The Commission of Public Complaints Against the RCMP is conducting a five-year review of policing in the Yukon.
The investigation is being done at the request of both the Yukon government and the RCMP, to assist with their own review of the territory’s police force.
The commission will look at all public complaints lodged against the RCMP since January 1, 2005.
“This is the first time a review of this size has ever been done,” said Jamie Robertson, the commission’s outreach manager.
“And in many respects, it may be a model for others to follow.”
The review will focus on complaints alleging improper use of force and allegations of bias based on race.
Robertson would not say exactly how many complaints there have been in the past five years.
“We’re not going to get into specifics until we’ve completed the review.”
The commission will report its findings to the Review of Yukon’s Police Force sometime next month.
“This is almost like an audit; we’re going in and pulling files with complete access to the whole thing,” said Robertson.
“Five years is a pretty significant window.”
A second complaints commission report should be coming out in July as well.
The commission is in the process of finalizing its review of the in-custody death of Raymond Silverfox, and should be releasing it next month.
Public complaints about policing can be made to the complaints commission or directly to the RCMP. The review will look at both.
Sometimes when complaints are made directly to the police, which happens about 40 per cent of the time, the problem is dealt with informally and proper records are not kept.
“That’s a big problem in the north,” said Robertson.
“Ideally, everyone would come to us directly.”
The problem is, few people know about the complaints commission.
A recent EKOS poll found there is growing preference for civil liberties over public security in Canada.
Most of those polled saw review bodies as more important than ever.
However, few could name a specific agency that conducts reviews.
Robertson hopes to change that.
The complaints review probably could have been done from Ottawa, but Robertson is in the territory to meet stakeholders face-to-face and spread the word about the commission.
He and a colleague arrived in the territory on Sunday and will be here until Thursday.
The role of the commission is not to dole out punishment.
“Our role is to identify what happened and identify whether there are systemic issues, issues related to policy, training, et cetra,” said Robertson.
“It’s about confidence, getting confidence amongst citizens that the police are effective, they’re doing their job and providing the type of policing that we expect.
“The police force needs to have the highest level of credibility possible.”
Recently, the commission has taken an in-depth look at Taser use and made a series of recommendations on how to use them more safely and effectively.
However, the commissions recommendations are nonbinding, leading some to argue that Canada’s RCMP watchdog has no teeth.
Robertson begs to differ. The commission achieves real results, he said.
“Historically, I can tell you that 80 per cent of recommendations that we present are accepted,” said Robertson.
“And if you look at the recent change in Taser policy you’ll find that essentially they’ve accepted our recommendations.”
The Conservative government has recently tabled legislation that will make a series of changes to the complaints commission.
Its budget will be doubled and the commission will now have the power to compel witnesses to testify, and have broader access to RCMP documents.
However, investigations will still be conducted by the RCMP themselves or other police forces.
A New Democrat bill tabled in November 2009 calls for the creation of a national independent civilian service to investigate police.
Similar civilian investigative services already exist in Ontario and Alberta. BC is looking to follow suit, but it is unlikely smaller jurisdictions like the Yukon will be able to do the same.
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