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RCMP ‘substantiated’ 1.6 per cent of allegations of excessive force by officers over three years

By Peter Mazereeuw      

Nearly two-thirds of the complaints were investigated and found to be ‘not substantiated’ by Canada’s national police force.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki is leading Canada's national police force amid widespread calls for reform to the way police use force on civilians. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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The RCMP finished investigations into 1,511 allegations of excessive use of force by its officers against civilians over the past three years, but the force found that less than two per cent of those claims were legitimate. 

The RCMP “substantiated” just 1.6 per cent of the allegations of excessive force by officers made through the public complaint process over the past three years. It decided that another 63 per cent were “not substantiated.” 

Another 22 per cent of the allegations were resolved between the complainant and the force informally, while 10 per cent were withdrawn. The RCMP also has the right to “terminate” an allegation from a public complaint, which it did in six per cent of the cases. 

Those figures exclude some of the most serious cases of proven or alleged police brutality by RCMP officers, which are dealt with through special investigative bodies in each province. Those bodies—including B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office, and Alberta’s Serious Incident Response Team—investigate cases where someone has been seriously injured or died during an interaction with police, including RCMP officers working in that province.

Complaints about RCMP officers that aren’t taken up by a provincial police investigation body are directed to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. The CRCC directs them back to the RCMP, which conducts its own investigation into the complaints, and makes a finding. That finding can be appealed for further investigation by the CRCC itself.

RCMP policies allow officers to use varying levels of force on civilians, depending on the circumstances. When an allegation of excessive force is made through the complaint system, the officer against whom the allegation is made is called on to explain their actions, and how they were justified under the RCMP’s use of force policies. 

“The information gathered through the public complaint process is examined and determinations are made on whether or not the actions or inactions of the subject member were consistent with RCMP policy and procedures,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Caroline Duval said in a written statement in response to questions from The Hill Times about how the force determines if a complaint should be substantiated.

“Each case has unique circumstances and is assessed individually based on the totality of the circumstances,” she wrote.

The most allegations of excessive use of force occurred in the largest provinces that do not have provincial police forces—British Columbia and Alberta. RCMP officers do much of the policing in those provinces that is done in Ontario and Quebec by provincial forces.

Complainants can choose to appeal the RCMP’s decision about their complaint to the CRCC. Only about 10 per cent do so, according to the CRCC. That figure applies to all complaints, not just those centered around allegations of excessive use of force. 

When a complaint is appealed, the CRCC investigates, and decides whether it is satisfied with the RCMP’s decision. If not, the CRCC will draw up a report that recommends that the RCMP change the way it deals with similar complaints or actions in the future. The public complaint process is designed to be “remedial,” not to discipline officers.

In the majority of appeal cases, the CRCC finds that it is “satisfied” with the RCMP’s decision: 64 per cent of the appealed complaints ended in a “satisfactory” finding in 2018-19. 

The CRCC does not reveal the content of the vast majority of public complaints about the RCMP, citing a desire to protect the privacy of complainants. 

Allegations of RCMP misconduct can also be dealt with a third way, through the force’s code of conduct. That process is designed to deal with incidents that appear to violate the force’s rules governing officers’ behaviour, but aren’t serious enough to go to one of the independent investigative bodies. The most serious cases dealt with through the code of conduct can result in an RCMP officer being fired.

Code cases for excessive force rare

Section 5.1 of the code of conduct requires that officers “use only as much force as is reasonably necessary in the circumstances.”

The RCMP examined 56 allegations of excessive use of force through its Code of Conduct process over the last two years. Data courtesy of the RCMP

The RCMP investigated 29 and 27 code of conduct allegations related to use of force in 2018 and 2019, respectively. It “established” the allegations in 12 of those cases. However, the RCMP does not make public the details of code of conduct investigations unless they are serious enough to warrant a formal hearing.

One RCMP officer is currently awaiting a formal code of conduct hearing over allegations that include excessive use of force. Two more officers were put through formal code of conduct hearings over allegations that included excessive use of force in recent years. 

Constable Simon Bigras was fined 12 days pay for using excessive force when he helped Edmonton Police to arrest an individual in 2017. According to the hearing summary, Cst. Brigas kicked a man in the head or upper body while the man was voluntarily laying on the ground waiting to be handcuffed. 

Constable Mark Potts was fined 45 days of pay for punching a handcuffed man in the back of a police cruiser in 2016, after the man had spat in his eye.

Conduct board hearing reports do not reveal the identity or ethnicity of those who are mistreated by officers. 

peter@hilltimes.com

@PJMazereeuw

Peter Mazereeuw

Peter Mazereeuw is a deputy editor for The Hill Times covering politics, legislation, and the Senate.
- peter@hilltimes.com


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