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Police watchdog raises concerns about RCMP's handling of complaints

There are now 4,569 people working at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, more than double the number posted there in 2000

brett beadle The Globe and Mail

Noteworthy complaint files are piling up on the desk of Canada's top Mountie, and the police watchdog is hoping to blow off the dust when it brings its concerns to an upcoming sit-down with the newly-appointed commissioner.

Civil liberties advocates in British Columbia are taking a different route towards clearing the backlog, demanding the watchdog open an investigation into the unresolved investigations.

There are currently 56 outstanding files, which have an average open period of 259 days, according to the independent watchdog, called the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

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A spotlight was shone on the accumulating files Thursday when the B.C. Civil Liberties Association made allegations the RCMP is concealing investigation results and accused the watchdog of failing to take a stand.

"The ball is in their court now. Will they take it seriously as a complaint? Will they investigate it? Will they hold people responsible for holding these files?" asked David Eby, the group's executive director.

The BCCLA took action after learning one of those open files — for the Taser-related, in-custody death of a Prince George, B.C. man named Clayton Willey — has been held up for two years.

Willey died in a northern B.C. jail in 2003 after being zapped with a Taser multiple times while hogtied.

"In any event, the RCMP needs to explain why they have three files they've held for more than a year," Mr. Eby said.

A spokeswoman for the watchdog said it is "disappointed" by the manner the BCCLA has chosen in its efforts to clear the problem and suggested it would actually hinder the process.

Laura Colella said the watchdog doesn't believe the delays on the part of RCMP are deliberate or involve "malice."

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She noted the watchdog has openly stated in its two last annual reports it is concerned by the delays.

"We've raised this issue with the RCMP, we are in regular communication with the RCMP in order to try to obtain these reports," she said, adding the body does not have legislative power to compel a response. "We cannot force the RCMP to give us the reports."

She said that while the open files are concerning because timeliness impacts the integrity of the process, a number of files are returned each year.

The 2010-2011 annual report states the Commission for Public Complaints was handed back 38 files in that period, although most were initiated the previous year.

Ms. Colella also noted the RCMP appointed a new commissioner last month following some upheaval in the ranks. Bob Paulson is expected to meet with the watchdog within the next two weeks. At that time, the issue will be discussed and it's hoped a resolution will be achieved, she said.

"I believe that we will get collaboration from the RCMP if we maintain a good relationship like the commission has in the past," Ms. Colella said.

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The RCMP did not return calls for comment.

When any organization or member of the public has a beef with the RCMP, they can submit their complaint to the watchdog, which follows a well-defined process to investigate.

If the watchdog is not satisfied with the steps the RCMP took to address the complaint, it will make recommendations and issue a report to the RCMP Commissioner, along with the Minister of Public Safety.

The Commissioner must return his response to the watchdog before the matter is considered be settled, at which point a final report may be distributed to the complainant and potentially be made public.

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