Two off-duty RCMP officers have been charged with sexually assaulting a female in Watson Lake early Sunday morning.
They are now under investigation by their colleagues, raising fears legal action will be skewed in their favour.
Criminal charges have been laid and an investigation is being done by the Yukon RCMP’s major crimes unit.
Police are withholding the two officers’ names pending their first court appearance, which is scheduled for April 6th in Watson Lake. The officers have been suspended with pay.
An observer from the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP will soon arrive in the Yukon to ensure impartiality, and the Edmonton Police Service will conduct its own investigation.
Police-on-police investigations have a dubious history, said David Eby, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association.
When the time comes for the Crown to look at the investigation, it will be a report written, performed and filtered by the RCMP themselves.
“We don’t have any faith in the RCMP investigative processes and their ability to investigate themselves, even with separate detachments,” said Eby.
The association prefers civilian-based investigative teams trained in evaluating officers, but such a setup can be expensive and difficult in small, remote communities.
Recently, the RCMP has been criticized by the BC Civil Liberties Association for its behaviour in a number of internal investigations in British Columbia.
The Braidwood Inquiry on the death of Polish national Robert Dziekanski is a “textbook case” of what the association deals with on a smaller scale.
“RCMP statements don’t match up with video evidence and statements don’t correlate with other physical evidence,” said Eby. “Those kinds of omissions are basically overlooked in an effort to clear the officers.
“Even when officers are found to have done something inappropriate, the punishment does not fit the crime.”
A Prince George judge recently found two RCMP officers investigating a police torture allegation destroyed an incriminating videotape. A man was tasered 20 times in a holding cell and the RCMP officers claimed the tape went missing.
“The provincial court judge found that the reason it had gone missing was because the officers had disposed of it,” said Eby.
The punishment? The RCMP gave the officers some “managerial” advice.
“They were asked by their manager to please not do this again,” said Eby, adding no charges were laid.
An RCMP officer in Merritt, BC, is being investigated for driving an aboriginal man outside of town and beating him for stealing a bike that belonged to another officer, said Eby. A disciplinary hearing will take place on April 20.
The Crown can ask the RCMP to follow up on their investigation if the effort is unsatisfactory, said Eby.
The Watson Lake officers are also undergoing a disciplinary hearing to determine how they will be dealt with as employees. This will be reviewed by the RCMP public complaints commission. That review will be subjected to judicial review.
“All these reviews make it sound like there’s an incredible number of safeguards, but in practice we know that the Crown routinely accepts the RCMP reports at face value.”
Audits of the complaints process show more serious allegations against police officers are investigated less rigourously, said Eby.
“So when you’re talking about something as serious as sexual assault, the public should not have a great deal of confidence in that investigation.”
Contact James Munson at firstname.lastname@example.org.