B.C. ombudsperson wants better oversight of guards in municipal lockups


B.C.’s ombudsperson is asking legislators to make oversight for all guards in municipal lockups mandatory.

Every municipality in B.C. with more than 5,000 people is expected to run its own detention facilities, even if the services of the RCMP are contracted for police work. But there’s no agency to look into complaints about the guards at those facilities.

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Jay Chalke said it’s an anomaly that RCMP guards in detention facilities operated by municipalities aren’t under the jurisdiction of any independent agency that can investigate misconduct.

“I think it’s unique in British Columbia to have people who are involved in the deprivation of liberty, in the custody of individuals, that are not subject to independent oversight,” Chalke said.

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That means if people feel they’ve been mistreated while in custody, there’s no agency that can legally investigate it.

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He said his office has received complaints from citizens about their experiences in lockups — and there was nowhere to send them.

“Even if people come to us about something that’s outside our jurisdiction, we’re able to guide them to the oversight body that can help them,” Chalke said.

“But in this case we weren’t able to do that, because there really is nobody.”

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Chalke said one instance he heard about involved a woman who was detained while menstruating, and denied feminine hygiene products and access to a shower.

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“Another complaint came from a woman who identified herself as an immigrant and victim of domestic assault who said she experienced an attempted strip search and assault by a male guard in a municipal lockup,” reads a press release from the ombudsperson’s office.

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“These allegations were not verified or investigated because there is no independent body able to investigate them.”

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Chalke said the only solution right now is for legislation that changes that — and he brought the issue to BC’s legislative assembly on Monday.

“I have been encouraged by the response so far, but it’s not complete until there’s a change in the law,” Chalke said.

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