Bill C-3: An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Heidi Illingworth, Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime
Bill C-3 amends the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act (RCMP Act) to rename the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as the Public Complaints and Review Commission (PCRC). It also amends the Canada Border Services Agency Act (CBSA Act) to grant the PCRC oversight authority over the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), in addition to the RCMP. Many of the CBSA Act amendments mirror existing provisions of the RCMP Act.
At the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime1 (OFOVC), experiential evidence tells us making complaints about federal government services or programs can be confusing and onerous for victims of crime. Under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR), a victim may file a complaint if they are of the opinion that their rights under the CVBR have been infringed or denied (i.e. not respected) by a federal agency or department during their interaction with the Canadian criminal justice system. When it is a federal government department or agency, about which a victim would like to complain, they should use the internal complaint system of that department or agency. If a victim has a complaint about a provincial or territorial department or agency, including police, prosecutors, or victim services, they may file a complaint under the laws of the province or territory. With multiple oversight offices in play, victims of crime do not know where they can seek accountability, and there is little recourse available to them as an outcome.
Please find below my recommendations on how best to move forward with the PCRC’s independent review and complaints function for both RCMP and CBSA.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP was established by Parliament in 2013 with the coming into force of the Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act. It was conceived as an independent agency to review and resolve complaints from the public against the RCMP. The CRCC’s mandate is to conduct reviews when individuals are not satisfied with the RCMP’s response to their complaints. The CRCC also initiates complaints or investigations into RCMP conduct when an investigation is in the public interest. The CRCC’s findings and recommendations are reported to the RCMP Commissioner and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.2 Bill C-3 proposes to add an independent review and complaints function overseeing the CBSA to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), which currently provides that function for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). To reflect these new responsibilities, the CRCC would be renamed the Public Complaints and Review Commission (PCRC). In our view, complaints from victims of crime should be red flagged and disaggregated from other general complaints (for example, complaints about officers who give someone a speeding ticket), otherwise the status quo as described below will continue with victim complaints overlooked despite the creation of the PCRC. It is also critical to capture race-based data related to the complainants’ cultural identity or ethnicity. These data tell us what happens to particular cases and whether the outcomes are linked to the characteristics of those involved, including victims and/or the circumstances of the case.
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights provides victims a right to information about the status and outcome of an investigation into a criminal offence, and they are entitled to information about their role within the criminal justice system, including any legal proceedings. Recently, it was reported by Global News that the RCMP did not provide timely or fulsome information to the families of the victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting. Some victims’ families have said they were told by the RCMP to watch the news for updates about the investigation, rather than receiving this information directly. They also said the police released statements to the public, which falsely claimed that families were notified of the details before this was the case.3
Victims of crime can make complaints about the conduct of an RCMP member to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP. However, as with so many other options that exist to support victims of crime, they may not be aware of this agency or the possibility to complain. In our view, there are also significant problems with how the CRCC currently addresses complaints from victims of crime.
Year after year, since the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights was passed in 2015, Public Safety Canada has reported that the RCMP has recorded almost zero complaints under the CVBR. Although Correctional Services Canada did forward one CVBR-related complaint to the RCMP during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the RCMP determined that the complaint was outside the realm of the CVBR. In order for victims to make a complaint to the RCMP, they must identify at a detachment or go directly to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP. Currently, the CRCC does not collect whether public complaints infringed or denied CVBR rights. The lack of ability to identify victim complaints is an urgent gap to be addressed, as it is highly unlikely that there are no complaints related to the conduct of RCMP members. Such complaints are frequently reported in the media, as above, and we note that two of the top allegation categories at the CRCC are neglect of duty or improper attitude.
In a letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, dated May 29, 2020, I recommended RCMP leadership commit to disaggregation of complaints made by victims of crime about police officer conduct relating to their rights. We have also made this recommendation directly to the Minister of Public Safety in July 2020 and in a follow up letter dated August 2020.
According to Public Safety Canada’s website, victims have a right to file a complaint related to these CVBR rights and the following RCMP responsibilities:
- general information regarding the status and outcome of the investigation;
- accessibility to victim services and programs including restorative justice;
- information on the victim’s security, privacy and identity protection from public disclosure; and
- protection from intimidation and retaliation.
It is very confusing for victims of crime to be aware of, and be expected to differentiate between, the mandates of multiple federal offices where they might be able to submit complaints. In addition, the complaints processes for agencies are hard to find and navigate. We also know, for example, that many individual victims in racialized or marginalized groups are not always made aware of their right to access formal complaint mechanisms, and that many do not have the ability to do so. To make it less complex for victims to submit complaints, I recommend the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime be named as the single authority with jurisdiction to review complaints by victims of crime in relation to how they were treated by a federal department, agency or body. This will give both victims and federal officials a clear understanding of the role of the Ombudsman as an independent official who seeks the fair treatment of victims.
Other recommendations to improve RCMP response to victims of crime:
People who experience violence and criminal victimization are often unprepared for how seriously it will affect their lives. In most cases, victims and survivors are not aware of their rights, how the criminal justice system works, or what type of resources are available to support or compensate them and their families.
The RCMP, as Canada’s national police service, should lead when it comes to upholding the rights provided to victims under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, monitor these efforts, and publicly report on how they do so. The RCMP is uniquely positioned to connect those who have experienced victimization with victim services – leading to enhanced trust and confidence and overall improvement of quality of life and community relationships, as noted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The RCMP should embrace a philosophy that places crime victims’ interests and needs at the zenith of response to crime and community problem solving.
The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR) states that upon request, victims have a right to information about the criminal justice system, the role of victims in it, and the services and programs available to them as a victim, including restorative justice programs. I therefore recommend RCMP be required to track the number of referrals made to victim services in all jurisdictions, and report publicly on the total number of offers accepted and declined by victims. It is also critical to ask victims and survivors how they identify themselves in terms of culture or ethnicity, so that race-based data is captured about who is referred to victim services. These data tell us what happens to particular cases and whether the outcomes are linked to the characteristics of those involved, including victims and/or the circumstances of the case. We understand tracking referrals would be relatively simple data to collect across divisions, given there are existing check boxes and codes that officers are using to record this information in existing records management systems. This would allow us to better measure respect for victims’ rights by criminal justice professionals, such as police, at the federal level.
A critical link to this monitoring system to track whether RCMP members are referring victims to victim services is that it be linked to their performance evaluation. Thus, I recommend that the RCMP institute a performance appraisal system that evaluates victim response efforts. This adds accountability and a heightened sense of responsibility, as well as demonstrating the importance of victim services’ referrals.
Given the prevalence of sexual violence in Canada4 and the high rates of sexual assault allegations being recorded as unfounded by Canadian police5, external oversight led by community-based sexual violence subject matter experts into how sexual violence is investigated and cleared by the RCMP is critical. I recommend the RCMP update SAIRC practices to reflect the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) Canadian Framework for Collaborative Police Response on Sexual Violence. External reviews also help increase public trust in our justice system. Sexual assault is the most underreported crime in Canada, often because of the barriers that make victims and survivors disinclined to report the assault. Some of these barriers include societal attitudes, dismissal of the crime, or personal and potentially dangerous repercussions, like the fear for personal safety if the perpetrator is not convicted or punished (which is what happens in most cases). This risk is heightened for those who experience intersectional inequalities and discrimination. For example, the rate of sexual assault of Indigenous women is more than three times the rate for their non-Indigenous counterparts. Immigrant and refugee women, women of colour, and the LGBTQ2 community are also particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. External reviews are a tool to help us become more responsive to victim’s needs, by contributing to strengthening policing, and by helping to improve our overall response to sexual violence, which in turn can help reduce some of the barriers that victims face in coming forward.
Third party reporting of sexual assault, where victims can access support and report the details of sexual assault anonymously, is also a best practice. This is an incredibly trauma-informed and victim-oriented approach. Sexual assault is a devastating crime that harms victims physically, emotionally and psychologically. Reporting the crime can be incredibly difficult for these reasons. Having to relive the trauma in our justice system, where victims often have to tell their story repeatedly is a disincentive to coming forward. Being identified as the victim can also cause trauma.
With sexual assault, as with any crime, police play a vital role in assessing risk and protecting victims, and potential victims, from violence. Third party reporting can help police do this by encouraging the reporting of these crimes through another avenue. Victims’ identities are protected, but police can start taking appropriate actions to learn more and investigate the crime.
Third party reporting connects victims and survivors to specialized supports, gives them needed time to decide if they are ready to interact with the criminal justice system, and provides police with critical information about sexual assault crime patterns within and across police jurisdictions, allowing them to perhaps spot serial offenders earlier. Third party reporting currently exists in New Brunswick, British Columbia, Yukon and Manitoba and I recommend the RCMP continue to examine ways to implement third party reporting in a wide variety of RCMP-policed environments, where it does not currently exist.
Wellness checks should not involve the use of force. When violence is perpetrated against citizens with deadly consequences this leads to a loss of trust and confidence in the RCMP. As these incidents are sometimes correlated to systemic racism, addressing systemic racism within the RCMP is vital. According to CBC research, Indigenous peoples and black Canadians are over-represented as victims of police use of deadly force. We must reflect on the history of the RCMP as an organization, whose job it was to clear the Prairies of Indigenous people. It was created for a specific purpose: to assert sovereignty over Indigenous people and their lands. The RCMP was there to displace Indigenous people, to move them onto reserves whether they were willing to go or not. Discrimination and oppressive practices are thus deeply embedded into RCMP culture.
I highly recommend cultural competence and humility training for all RCMP officers. However, the training delivered must be evaluated to measure its effectiveness, and whether members are changing their thought processes and practices in accordance with what they have learned. Black, Indigenous and people of color should not feel uneasiness or unsafe when police are around. No Canadian parent should ever have to tell their children to hide from the police.
Taking a trauma and violence-informed approach to policing means being aware that victims need help and support to heal. My office hears consistently from victims of crime that they lack confidence in our criminal justice system. This is because interactions with the justice system can lead to secondary victimization. Victims face confusing processes, they lack clear information, and they do not know whom to turn to for help and support. The reality is that traumatized victims do not know who is responsible for providing what information, or when it should be provided.
The Family Information Liaison Units are an important best practice as they exemplify the trauma and violence-informed and victim-centred approach. They address a critical need for culturally sensitive victim support. They are funded by the Department of Justice and are available in every province and territory, building on existing victim service frameworks. These units provide dedicated supports for family members of Indigenous women and girls who are going through the loss of their loved one. They inform the families about the criminal justice system, police procedures, child and family services, and the health and social services that exist to support them. The FILUs gather and share up-to-date information with the families about police investigations, coroners’ reports, and court proceedings. They act as a “one-stop” culturally safe information service, so that families are relieved of having to seek out who can give them what information.
In order to ensure the RCMP is providing culturally safe responses to victims, I recommend the implementation of multidisciplinary teams to support victims of crime, incorporating non-investigative personnel to provide a holistic and compassionate response.As OFOVC has previously recommended in missing persons’ cases, a multidisciplinary team would consist of dedicated investigators, analysts and social workers who work with victims (family members and associates). This approach would free up investigators to investigate while providing trained personnel to perform other tasks, such as updating files, extracting and compiling data, and communicating with and supporting family members/victims. The infusion of victim services into the law enforcement response, as recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) may help prepare victims to participate in the criminal justice system more effectively and empower them to engage with professional services aimed at responding to their unique needs. Multidisciplinary teams can also help to enhance the RCMP’s service to underserved populations of victims. Such teams can provide a needs assessment of crime victims, and develop more effective approaches for reaching groups such as, young men of colour, transgender people, the elderly and those who are deaf or hard of hearing, as examples.
The IACP developed the Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims (ELERV) organizational strategy that introduces law enforcement leaders to the benefits, challenges, methods, and responsibilities for enhancing their response to victims of crime. Implementation of the ELERV strategy includes a role for all branches and levels of law enforcement in enhancing responses to victims, rather than simply creating a separate victim services unit. The benefit of ELERV is enhanced response to victims and community members that can lead to broader community-wide trust and confidence in the police, foster the healing process for victims, and produce stronger, more comprehensive cases for law enforcement.6 I recommend the RCMP adopt a similar organizational strategy.
Victim services facility dogs make a difference for victims of crime by providing a compassionate and trauma-informed resource. There are now close to 50 working facility dogs in Canada who calm, comfort and help those experiencing crisis and trauma. There have been studies on the positive role of dogs in therapy for victims of child sexual and physical abuse, and on patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies have also shown the psychological benefits of support dogs in areas such as depression, aggression, stress and anxiety. The presence of a support dog can divert the victim’s attention away from what is causing the stress or anxiety. They can bring joy and create a more positive environment in what can be a trying situation. This is especially important in terms of supporting victims of crime during interviews or at other key stages in the criminal justice system, such as testifying, as such I recommend the RCMP acquire and utilize victim service facility dogs where possible.
In South Carolina, police officers are provided with pocket cards that cite victims’ rights. They are a simple way to encourage officers to talk to victims about their rights, the way that officers are required to do for suspects in custody. Having these pocket cards was found to build awareness among police officers about victims’ rights and needs, and increase their knowledge about the services available to meet them. We understand that the RCMP K Division in British Columbia has created similar cards for officers to provide to victims that outline their rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. I recommend the RCMP make their victims’ rights wallet card standard practice in each Division. Victims who encounter RCMP members must be informed of their rights and how to assert them. I recommend RCMP members be required to track how many cards are given out annually to victims and senior executives be required to report on how they hold members accountable for providing this information to victims.
Finally, I recommend the recognition of victims’ rights as human rights that must be respected and implemented. Survivors need to be believed when crime and violence are reported to the RCMP and to be treated with sensitivity and compassionate understanding of the trauma and violence they have experienced. In order to respect victims’ rights fully, the RCMP must provide the following:
Safety – Provide victims with protection from perpetrators, retaliation and intimidation.
Support – Connect victims to assistance and support services, such as victim services, counselling and compensation programs that can help to repair the harm.
Information – Provide concise, timely and useful information about justice system processes and victim services.
Access to justice – Provide victims with the opportunity to participate in justice system processes, speak out, and be heard on specific case processing issues and larger policy questions. Victims have a need to hold offenders accountable for their actions.
Reparations – Provide victims with the opportunity to seek recovery for the financial losses brought on by victimization, as they have a right to seek restitution under the CVBR.
Prevention – Provide assistance and support to avoid re-victimization.
Members of the RCMP have a challenging profession in that every day they see how victims of crime suffer and are disenfranchised. Working on the frontlines, they know that crime violates a person’s bodily integrity, their right to security of the person and sometimes their right to life. Crime is not actually committed against the state. It is committed against individuals. Victims need recognition of the indignities they have suffered and they need supports to help them in their healing. The RCMP has clear obligations under federal legislation to inform victims of their rights and to provide information.
Working collaboratively with community-based services, the RCMP can increase trust among the public. We know that many victims are not comfortable dealing directly with the police, but will report when third party reporting is an option for them. Police can also support initiatives run by community-based agencies, like Homicide Support Groups as an example, which allow victims to make social connections with their peers who have suffered similar loss. Federally, we have an obligation to examine ways to bring a more compassionate trauma and violence-informed approach to law enforcement. If we do so, we can humanize the criminal justice system, which benefits all Canadians.
Summary of recommendations
- Complaints from victims of crime should be red flagged and disaggregated from other general complaints. It is also critical to capture race-based data related to the complainants’ cultural identity or ethnicity.
- The RCMP should commit to disaggregation of complaints made by victims of crime about police officer conduct relating to their rights.
- The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime should be named as the single authority with jurisdiction to review complaints by victims of crime in relation to how they were treated by a federal department, agency or body.
- The RCMP should be required to officially track the number of referrals made to victim services in all jurisdictions, and report publicly on the total number of offers accepted and declined by victims. It is also critical to ask victims and survivors how they identify themselves in terms of culture or ethnicity, so that race-based data is captured about who is referred to victim services.
- The RCMP should institute a performance appraisal system that evaluates victim response efforts.
- The RCMP should update SAIRC practices to reflect the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) Canadian Framework for Collaborative Police Response on Sexual Violence.
- The RCMP should continue to examine ways to implement third party reporting in a wide variety of RCMP-policed environments, where it does not currently exist.
- All RCMP officers should receive cultural competence and humility training. The training must be evaluated to measure its effectiveness, and whether members are changing their thought processes and practices in accordance with what they have learned.
- The RCMP should implement multidisciplinary investigative teams to support victims of crime, incorporating non-investigative personnel to provide a holistic and compassionate response.
- The RCMP should adopt an organizational strategy similar to that developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP); that is the Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims (ELERV) organizational strategy that introduces law enforcement leaders to the benefits, challenges, methods, and responsibilities for enhancing their response to victims of crime.
- The RCMP should acquire and utilize victim service facility dogs where possible.
- The RCMP should make the victims’ rights wallet card currently used by E Division in British Columbia a standard practice in each Division. Further, RCMP members should be required to track how many cards are given out annually to victims, and senior executives should be required to report on how they hold members accountable for providing this information to victims.
- Victims’ rights should be recognized as human rights that must be respected and implemented.
1 The mandate of my office is to help ensure that the rights of victims and survivors of crime are respected and upheld and that the federal government meets its obligations to victims. This includes ensuring that victims and their families have access to federal programs and services specifically designed for their support. In addition to our ongoing efforts to help individual victims, we also have a responsibility to identify and bring forward emerging and systemic issues that impact negatively on victims of crime at the federal level. In doing so, we work closely with victim service providers and a host of other government and non-government stakeholders on our common goal of building a justice system that better serves everyone in Canada.
4 More than 11 million Canadians have been physically or sexually assaulted since the age of 15. This represents 39% of women and 35% of men 15 years of age and older in Canada, with the gender difference driven by a much higher prevalence of sexual assault among women than men (30% versus 8%) - https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2019001/article/00017-eng.htm