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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Yukon to get RCMP oversight council for public complaints, Taser use

According to a friend who sent this report to me: "Beware! this is hardly a step forward. The way this worked for years in Alberta was that if there was a hot potato issue where people kept complaining to a Minister, they appointed a committee of party faithful who acted as a barrier for the MInister, since all citizens were instructed that the only avenue of approach was the committee, which had no power whatever but could stonewall for a couple of years. And the noble committe-spawning MInister looked flawless."

January 21, 2011
By Justine Davidson, The First Perspective

WHITEHORSE A territorial police council will be formed in the coming months for oversight of the RCMP, in the wake of a sweeping review of the territory's police force.

Justice Minister Marian Horne has committed to enacting the first of 33 recommendations to come from the review, saying she will ``definitely'' create the police council.

The council will likely participate in the selection of the Yukon division's commanding officer, and have access to reports on issues such as public complaints against the RCMP and the use of shock weapons such as Tasers.

The council will not, however, be an arm's-length body with powers of investigation, inquest or prosecution. Its members will report to the minister and can make recommendations, but not binding decisions or orders, Horne said.

The council will be made up of the deputy minister of justice, who will head the group, and six members appointed by the minister, three of whom will be nominated by First Nations.

Horne said the council should be set up within a couple of months.

The oversight body was a key recommendation in the report released last week. The territorial government already announced that the RCMP holding cells will be replaced with a secure assessment centre.

With a full-time medical staff, the new facility aims to prevent tragedies such as the 2008 death of Raymond Silverfox, who died after spending 13 hours in the drunk tank, vomiting almost constantly but never receiving any help.

The assessment centre will be attached to the a new jail currently under construction. Both the jail and the holding facility are scheduled to open in the spring of 2012.

One suggestion made by Chief Supt. Peter Clark following the Silverfox affair, but not included in the review, was that the minister incorporate into the territorial policing agreement the power for the minister to dismiss officers if they lose the public's trust. A number of Canadian municipalities with policing agreements have such clauses, but Horne said it is not under consideration.

``We're more concerned with the review and going forward with the recommendations in the review,'' she said.

In report also recommends the establishment of a complaints co-ordinator, who would help walk people through the complaints process and that the Yukon call in a civilian investigation agency _ not another police force _ whenever a police officer is under investigation.

For their part, officers have said they need more government services in rural communities, where the police often fill the role of court sheriff, social worker, dog catcher and more, in addition to their police work.

``So the RCMP steps up, and we are glad to step up,'' Clark said, but often those different roles compromise the officers' professional boundaries.

Officers shouldn't be the ones with the keys to the courthouse, for instance, Clark said, nor should they be the ones to take children into custody on behalf of the territorial children's and family services branch.

``It creates tensions and confusion,'' he said.

``I am not aware of any underfunding in any of our communities,'' Horne said when asked if rural officers can expect more support ``If it were so, we would be funding. We are not underfunded in our communities or our justice department.''

Stu Whitley, the deputy minister of Health and Social Services, told a news conference last week his department will be looking at how they can better support the RCMP's work outside Whitehorse.

The RCMP may also see major changes in the way officers are recruited and trained to work in the North. Many First Nations communities say the officers who serve them need to learn about their history and their culture when they arrive. (Whitehorse Star)

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