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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

RCMP should limit self-investigations: watchdog

August 11, 2009
CBC News

The RCMP should not investigate its own members in cases involving death to avoid a possible conflict of interest, the head of a watchdog agency said Tuesday in Ottawa.

"In the public interest we sought to answer the following question: Can the current process of the RCMP investigating itself legitimately engender confidence in the transparency and integrity of the criminal investigation and its outcome?" Paul Kennedy, told reporters at a press conference.

"Based on the results of our research and analysis, the informed commission answer is that it cannot."

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, of which Kennedy is chair, spent 19 months studying the controversial issue of the RCMP investigating itself.

Kennedy's report called for several policy and legislative changes to avoid actual or perceived conflicts. Currently, the national police force has discretion to decide how such investigations will unfold.

28 cases studied

The commission examined 28 cases from across the country between April 2002 and March 2007, including six deaths.

The high-profile case of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who was stunned with a Taser by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 13, 2007, falls outside that time frame. An inquiry into his death wrapped up in June and a report is expected later this year.

However, several other controversial cases sparked debate over RCMP self-investigations, including the death of Ian Bush, 22, of Houston, B.C. Bush was arrested in October 2005 for having an open beer outside a hockey game and for giving a false name to the officer. He was taken to the RCMP detachment and, 20 minutes later, he was shot in the back of the head by a rookie officer.

In November 2007, Kennedy's commission found that the officer who shot Bush acted in self-defence, and the police investigation into the shooting was conducted fairly and without conflict of interest.

Scope of problem not understood

The RCMP currently has no national tracking system for investigations against its members and lacks an understanding of the scope of the problem, said Kennedy.

"There is currently no national, centralized co-ordination of member investigations," he said. "That means that no member of the RCMP, including the RCMP commissioner, can tell you how many criminal investigations have been undertaken into its own members.

"More serious is that no one can tell you how many members have been investigated for serious injury, sexual assault or death nor can they identify how many charges have been laid against their members nor what the outcome was."

The commission also found that there are no national standards or policies governing how investigations are conducted, Kennedy said.

"Of real concern is the fact that the RCMP investigative guidelines specifically tell members when undertaking a criminal investigation into another member to 'take the same action as you would for any other person,'" he said.

"We disagree strongly with this principle and believe that criminal investigations into RCMP members should not be treated the same as any other investigation. Police are held to a higher standard."

Kennedy's research also found the RCMP investigators were "free of bias" and approached their assignments in a professional and conscientious manner.

'Inappropriate' patterns

However, he identified several "inappropriate" patterns in the case files:

25 per cent of primary investigators personally knew the member under scrutiny.
In 60 per cent of cases, a sole investigator was assigned, putting the investigation at risk for potential conflict of interest or perception of bias.
In almost one-third of cases, the primary investigator was of the same or lower rank as the subject member, creating potential for intimidation.

Kennedy's report called for national standards on RCMP criminal investigations involving its own members so they are conducted the same way across Canada.

He also urged legislative changes that would allow investigations to be referred to another criminal investigative body. This would be mandatory in cases involving death.

In cases involving serious injury and sexual assault, the complaints commission and a new national registrar would decide whether to refer the case to another body.

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