Huge victory for police accountability as BCCLA wins lawsuit against RCMP Commissioner

THE BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) on Tuesday won a landmark court case about police accountability. The BCCLA brought this lawsuit to address the RCMP Commissioner’s extreme delays in responding to public complaints.

In 2014, the BCCLA filed a complaint against the RCMP for spying on Indigenous and climate advocates opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline. The complaint was filed with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) – the RCMP watchdog. Due to the RCMP Commissioner’s extreme delay in the complaints process, the CRCC was only able to release its report nearly seven years after the complaint was filed. In court, the BCCLA argued that systemic delays have plagued the RCMP complaints process for over a decade and it is time to hold the RCMP Commissioner to account.

The Federal Court of Canada agreed. In a decision released on Tuesday, the Court held that the RCMP Commissioner breached her statutory obligations by failing to respond to a CRCC report about the BCCLA’s complaint “as soon as feasible,” as she is required to do by s. 45.76(2) of the RCMP Act.

The Court held that the RCMP Commissioner must respond to CRCC reports within six months, absent exceptional circumstances. Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagné highlighted that “it is in the public interest to have a police oversight institution that functions properly and is unobstructed.” She noted that the BCCLA had “explained the important consequences of these delays on the public’s ability to obtain information about police misconduct and to remedy policies that can cause harm to the public.”

Paul Champ, legal counsel for the BCCLA, said: “Today’s decision is a huge victory for police accountability and for communities from coast to coast who have been calling for justice. For the first time, a court has made clear that the RCMP Commissioner must respond to CRCC reports expeditiously and it has placed a hard time limit on how quickly she must respond. We hope this decision brings an end to the RCMP’s longstanding culture of complacency.”

Jessica Magonet, legal counsel for the BCCLA, added: “Communities have been demanding an end to the abuse of police power. We believe today’s decision is a step in the right direction. The Federal Court decision shows that the RCMP Commissioner cannot continue to thwart the complaints process by sitting on reports for years on end. When it comes to police accountability, justice delayed is justice denied.”

The BCCLA was represented in this case by Paul Champ of Champ and Associates and Jessica Magonet of the BCCLA.