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RCMP chief breached duty by failing to respond promptly to watchdog report, judge rules

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki listens to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki flouted the law by failing to respond promptly to a watchdog report about alleged spying on anti-oil protesters, a federal judge has ruled.

In a newly released decision, Federal Court Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagne said Lucki breached her duty under the RCMP Act by not submitting a response to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission’s interim report on the spying accusations “as soon as feasible.”

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The ruling is a victory for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which argued there was a culture of complacency in the RCMP that had caused inexcusable foot-dragging on complaint files.

The association lodged a complaint with the commission in February 2014, saying the RCMP improperly collected and shared information about people and groups who peacefully opposed the now-defunct Northern Gateway pipeline project and attended National Energy Board meetings.

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The complaints commission launched a public interest investigation and completed an interim report on the spying allegations in June 2017, forwarding it to the RCMP for comment on the conclusions and recommendations.

The watchdog cannot make final findings and recommendations on a complaint until the RCMP commissioner responds to an interim report and, as a result, the complainant and the public are left waiting for resolution of the matter.

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Lucki responded to the report in November 2020, but only after the association launched its court action.

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Gagne said the Mounties waited a full three years to assign an officer to the matter, after which it took the commissioner only a few months to issue a five-page response to the interim report.

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“In my view, a three-and_a-half year delay is certainly not a reasonable interpretation of the ‘as soon as feasible’ in the Act,” Gagne said in her decision. “Nor does it mean whenever resources become available.”

Gagne said the requirement means the commissioner should have up to six months to reply to an interim report unless there are exceptional circumstances. It would be up to the commissioner to argue more time is needed, Gagne added.

The time-frame is in keeping with a memorandum of understanding signed in December 2019 by the complaints commission and the RCMP, which set a six-month target for responses.

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The RCMP had no immediate comment on the court ruling.

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“Today’s decision is a huge victory for police accountability and for communities from coast to coast who have been calling for justice,” said Paul Champ, a lawyer for the civil liberties association.

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“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 long-standing culture of complacency.”

The court decision is a step in the right direction, said Jessica Magonet, Champ’s co-counsel on the case.

“Communities have been demanding an end to the abuse of police power,” Magonet said.

“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.”

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