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Monday, December 14, 2009

RCMP watchdog, N.W.T. clash on public complaints handling

December 14, 2009
CBC News

An independent police watchdog says RCMP in Inuvik, N.W.T., should not have tried to informally resolve a serious public complaint that police used a Taser on a girl.

However, the territory's justice minister says that's how complaints about the Mounties should be handled.

The clash of opinion comes after the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP identified a number of problems with police handling of the 2007 incident, in which an officer jolted the teenage girl with a Taser at a youth correctional facility in Inuvik.

In a report released Friday, commission chairman Paul Kennedy concluded the officer was not justified in using the stun gun on the girl, then a 15-year-old inmate at the Arctic Tern Young Offenders Facility. The girl cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Among the problems Kennedy highlighted in his report was that RCMP failed to properly investigate a complaint about the incident filed by the girl's mother, instead attempting to resolve her complaint informally.

Not appropriate to 'talk it out'
Kennedy said there are cases when a public complaint against RCMP can be dealt with simply by talking it over, but the Taser incident in Inuvik was not one of those cases.

"If it's a minor matter — rudeness and things like that — of course, please go and talk it out. But there are also limits. This was beyond the limit," Kennedy told reporters Friday in Yellowknife.

Kennedy's commission has maintained that serious complaints against police, such as allegations of improper use of force, should not be resolved informally. Instead, he said, a formal investigation should take place.

In his report, Kennedy noted RCMP in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut most often tried to resolve "use of force" allegations informally.

Government has own approach
But N.W.T. Justice Minister Jackson Lafferty believes otherwise, saying in a letter to MLAs that complaints against police should only be brought to the attention of Kennedy's commission if all else fails.

In the letter, obtained by CBC News, Lafferty talks about a protocol the territorial government and RCMP have developed for handling public complaints.

Lafferty's approach suggests three stages for handling such complaints:

1.Try to resolve it by talking to the RCMP detachment or district commander.
2.If that fails, bring the complaint to Lafferty's office, where it would be assessed based on information provided by the RCMP.
3.Start an investigation if needed. RCMP would brief Lafferty and the complainant's MLA on the outcome.
If all else fails, Lafferty says the complaint can then be brought to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

"So we're the final resort, which means that you're having a system which is outside of the normal system," Kennedy said. "That, for me, merely compounds the problem I'm talking about."

A major part of the problem with RCMP resolving complaints informally is that there's often no record of how that complaint is handled, he added.

In his response to Kennedy's findings, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott agreed that the Inuvik complaint should not have been dealt with informally.

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