The RCMP’s federal watchdog has found that nearly half of the missing persons reports in northern British Columbia fail to show that Mounties investigated cases quickly or thoroughly.
It’s one of the findings of the self-initiated report by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, which is looking into how Mounties do their jobs in the 35 detachments in B.C.’s North District.
The watchdog took an in-depth look at how officers handled cases involving public intoxication, strip searches, domestic violence, missing persons, use of force and files including young people between 2008 and 2012.
“We did find significant areas where members failed to articulate the reasons for their actions, that the policies of the RCMP in many instances were outdated and not in conformity with the common law and current jurisprudence and records were simply incomplete,” commission chair Ian McPhail told CBC News.
In many instances, he said, it was “difficult to determine exactly what had happened.”
Of the 20,985 calls to report someone as missing, the commission found one-quarter of the files contained no notes about what police had done to investigate the case.
McPhail said supervisors have failed in their duties to provide guidance and oversight.
“To the extent that we cast blame, it’s not so much on the [rank and file] members, but on the leadership that is responsible for policies for the supervisors and the senior authorities within the RCMP who should be insisting that this be done,” said McPhail.
New training expected in April
The commission found that when it came to a person’s ethnicity, there was no significant difference in the way the RCMP recorded steps detailing what police had done to investigate a missing persons case.
For Indigenous women and girls reported missing, investigators found there were no articulated investigated steps in 24 per cent of reports. The number was slightly higher, 26 per cent, when the women and girls were not Indigenous.
The report said it was a concern that its findings were consistent over all four years, despite amendments to policy in 2010 compelling the RCMP to instruct members to make “a diligent initial response.”
The report’s authors said the RCMP has assured the commission that by April it will be ready to roll out new curriculum for RCMP cadets on investigating missing persons — as well as a new national training program for all officers.
The commission also touched on what it feels is a lack of transparency in how the RCMP has followed up on its 2014 report Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women.
“In light of the RCMP’s failure to provide the requested unresolved missing persons files in a timely manner, and the lack of detail regarding the followup reviews of unresolved cases, the commission will request an update from the RCMP,” the report says.
Use of force
The report also expresses deep concerns about the integrity of the RCMP’s “subject behaviour/officer response” database introduced in 2009 to track use of force.
Shortly after they use force, officers are supposed to record information about what threat they perceived, explain how they responded and describe their decision-making.
“Any database is only as reliable as the consistency of the information entered into it. And in some cases, where we found half of all incidents weren’t recorded, then that’s clearly not reliable,” said McPhail.
Based on the incomplete data available for review, the commission found when it came time to use force, Mounties most often pulled out a firearm.
And in 78 per cent of all instances where Mounties used force, the officer explained they had reason to suspect the subject was intoxicated.
When it comes to public intoxication, the commission found Indigenous people made up roughly 80 per cent of all people stopped by police in northern British Columbia. An intoxicated person who was white, investigators say, was far more likely to get a drive home instead of landing in a cell.
“It might be a social issue, was there a safe place for an Indigenous person to be returned to. That we don’t know,” said McPhail.
He said that without good record-keeping, trust erodes. Although the commission found no evidence of systemic discrimination or wrongdoing on the part of the RCMP, there was a lack of trust in Indigenous communities when it came to the force.
Poor record-keeping also thwarted the commission’s efforts to review the use of cross-gender strip searches, as it found the RCMP has largely not tracked the practice except in Saskatchewan.
“The commission believes that the Saskatchewan RCMP procedures for strip searches set a high standard,” reads the report. Municipal services such as the Toronto police report annually on the frequency of personal searches, the reasons for conducting them and the results of each search.
Investigators also discovered confusion among rank and file officers about the difference between a pat-down and a strip search, which could be explained by how they are trained.
“Neither the cadet training program nor the divisional training provides adequate practical training on conducting a strip search or evaluating and articulating whether reasonable and probable grounds to conduct a strip search exist,” the report notes.
An investigator who contributed to the report told CBC News that the RCMP says it has completely overhauled its personal search policies and is now tracking the practice, although investigators say the Mounties have not yet shared the new policy with them.
According to the report, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson supports, or generally supports, 30 of the 31 recommendations and did not agree or disagree with one of the recommendations contained in the report.