Sunday, March 21, 2010

RCMP open to independent oversight agency in B.C.

Kim Bolan, Canwest News Service

VANCOUVER -- RCMP Commissioner William Elliott says he thinks the force will be able to work out a deal with the B.C. government that includes an independent agency overseeing all the police in the province.

And Commissioner Elliott said he expects there will be a draft agreement of a new contract for RCMP in British Columbia by the end of 2010.

The comments, made by Commissioner Elliott in a wide-ranging interview, opened the door to potentially resolving some of the issues between the province and the national police force, which has seen its image tarnished in recent years, especially in B.C.

Commissioner Elliott said the RCMP welcomes greater independent oversight of allegations against Mounties both in B.C. and elsewhere.

"We are very willing to work with the province and with Public Safety Canada and others to come up with a tailor-made solution that works for the people of British Columbia."

In January, B.C.'s solicitor general said the RCMP might have to submit to civilian oversight or face the consequences.

Kash Heed has said he wants the RCMP to be governed by the B.C. Police Act as part of any renewal of its contract with the national force, which expires in March 2012.

Commissioner Elliott said it would be hard to enforce provincial legislation on the federally regulated RCMP, but that a separate contract or voluntarily agreement could be reached.

"The way to provide for us to be, for example, subject to investigations by an independent agency that might be set up for police more broadly in British Columbia is for us to do that either by contract or voluntarily," Commissioner Elliott said.

"It is in our best interests to participate. Frankly it saves us real problems. It turns the heat down considerably when one of our officers is accused of doing something that they should not have done, for us to be able to say we have turned over this investigation to someone else."

He said negotiations for a new 20-year contract for the 9,500 RCMP employees in B.C. are going well.

"My expectation is that the contract in British Columbia will be renewed and that we will find ways to accommodate the interests of the government of British Columbia and British Columbians in the new contract," Commissioner Elliott said.

"I think the way we have gone about these negotiations is very much principle-based. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and I am optimistic that we will get to a resolution generally and specifically on this issue of our accountability that will work and be acceptable for everyone."

Commissioner Elliott said a civilian review agency may be the "gold standard" of investigation, "but that is not practical everywhere."

Already the RCMP has responded to public concern over high-profile cases like the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski, after he was Tasered by Mounties at the Vancouver International Airport, by implementing new tougher policies, Commissioner Elliott said.

"We have introduced a new policy that makes it clear -- that's our External Investigation or Review Policy -- it makes it very clear that we would like to not have to investigate any employee of the RCMP for any serious wrongdoing in future," he said.

"We are encouraged at a number of developments with respect to those areas which are critically important to us because really, at the heart of this, is the public's faith in their police force. And that's an absolutely essential requirement."

A report by retired judge Thomas Braidwood into Dziekanski's death is expected this June. Around the same time, the report on the failings of the 1985 Air India bombing investigation is expected to be released by inquiry commissioner John Major. The RCMP is expected to be criticized in both reports.

Commissioner Elliott admits public confidence in the RCMP has taken a hit with recent scandals, particularly in B.C.

Just this year, allegations surfaced that a leading investigator on the Surrey Six murder file had an affair with a witness. And during the Olympics, 12 Mounties were sent home because of inappropriate conduct.

"We are never, unfortunately, going to get to a situation where no Mountie ever missteps again. I think we have to work very hard to instil in our officers and our employees the importance of appropriate behaviour and the importance of the values of the RCMP," Commissioner Elliott said.

"We are only going to be able to gain and maintain the trust of Canadians if we can demonstrate that we are serious about continuous improvement."