Yukon targeted by RCMP complaints commission

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is paying special attention to the Yukon. We've just become the only jurisdiction in Canada with our own public complaints commissioner.

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is paying special attention to the Yukon.

We’ve just become the only jurisdiction in Canada with our own public complaints commissioner.

The Yukon also has the highest percentage of complaints against the RCMP concerning “improper-use-of-force” of any jurisdiction in Canada.

But that’s not why the public complaints commission is going out of its way to set up shop here.

“We are not trying to generate more complaints against the Yukon RCMP,” said commission complaints analyst Lorraine Blommaert, who was in the territory last week.

“But we think complaints against the RCMP are underrepresented here.”

The Yukon averages 47 complaints a year against the RCMP, said Blommaert.

That’s not a lot, she said.

The commission faced criticism for not having a Yukon presence.

“And we’ve responded to this criticism by being here now,” she said.

Blommaert will be spending every third week in the territory responding to complaints and offering public information sessions she refers to as “Complaints 101.”

With only 50 employees working across the country, outreach has been hard, she said.

“But it’s something we want to expand.

“I invite any individual, group or government agency to call my local number and I will walk them through the process.”

It’s relatively straightforward.

If someone has an issue with the local RCMP, all they need to do is call the complaints commission.

“It can be a youth picking up the phone, it can be anyone,” said Blommaert.

“And it doesn’t have to be formal, we can just have a discussion about what you can complain about.”

Often people are intimidated about calling the RCMP to complain to the very people who caused the problem in the first place, she said.

That is where the commission comes in.

“We hear people; we’re not rushed, and we hear every issue in its entirety.”

Blommaert gets everything from people complaining about impounded cars and parking tickets to child custody complaints, unfair treatment in domestic abuse calls and police brutality.

And all of it is important, she said.

“We have a ‘No wrong door’ approach.”

While many of the complaints are resolved informally – like getting a car out of impound – charges of assault or corruption by RCMP officers are lodged as formal complaints.

The RCMP does its own investigation into these complaints, said Blommaert.

But the commission also has access to all relevant information, including video and audio recordings from police cells, interview transcripts, medical reports and supporting documents.

“So we can quickly see if there are any gaps in their investigation,” she said.

If police missed an important piece of evidence, “we ask them to supply it,” added Blommaert. “And if they don’t, we dispatch someone to do a further investigation.”

Complaints that aren’t resolved go all the way to the top, to the federal police commissioner, and if they still aren’t resolved, a letter is sent to the minister of Public Safety, who has the last say, she said.

Usually, the RCMP agrees with every recommendation made by the complaints commission, following an investigation, said Blommaert.

In the case of Raymond Silverfox – a Carmacks man who died in police custody in 2008 after being left in his own vomit and excrement for more than 12 hours in police cells – the RCMP agreed with every recommendation the commission made, she said.

“And they have agreed to a three-year follow-up to make sure they are following them.”

Still, when the commission comes to the RCMP with complaints, the police are left to investigate themselves.

Sometimes they get a police officer from a different division, said Blommaert.

“The RCMP does quite well at not being biased,” she said.

“And many police have said over the years they’d rather not investigate themselves.”

To get away from internal biases, the Yukon RCMP is teaming up with the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, a special investigative team that is not part of the RCMP, although it is comprised of some former officers as well as civilians.

“There are not enough highly trained civilians with expertise, which is why ex-RCMP and regional police end up on these teams,” she said.

Over her last two decades with the commission, Blommaert has heard some pretty shocking complaints about RCMP.

“But after 24 years, I’m not anti-police,” she said.

“Our communities need police and we need to build better communication.”

Blommaert encourages anyone with questions or complaints to pick up the phone and call her at 334-7865 or 1-(800)-665-6878.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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