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Ombudsperson renews call for oversight of municipal jails in RCMP policed communities

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Victoria – In the wake of a recent investigation by the Independent Investigations Office into a case that identified serious concerns about the conduct of a civilian jail guard who failed to provide adequate care to a man in custody, the Ombudsperson is renewing calls for independent oversight of jail guards in municipalities policed by the RCMP.

“The recent IIO report describes a man screaming in agony for hours who was later diagnosed with a fractured hip. This is unacceptable,” said Ombudsperson Jay Chalke. “Currently there is no independent oversight body where allegations of misconduct in these situations can be brought forward. I have raised this issue several times over the past four years and have again written to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General to highlight how this case is a vivid reminder of the urgent need to close this gap.”

Municipalities in BC with a population over 5,000 must provide detention facilities for individuals in police custody. However, the oversight of these municipal staff responsible for running detention facilities varies depending on whether the municipality has established a municipal police force or contracts with the RCMP.  Where there is a municipal police service, detention centre staff are designated as special municipal constables under the Police Act meaning they are subject to discipline by their police chief and their conduct is subject to oversight by the provincial Police Complaint Commissioner. However, in lockups in communities policed by the RCMP, there is no independent agency with legal authority to investigate a complaint about such municipal jail guards. The RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaint Commission only takes complaints about RCMP officers. The Ombudsperson, the Police Complaint Commissioner and Independent Investigations Office do not have legal authority to exercise such oversight over these municipal employees.

Chalke says he has received a number of complaints about guards in municipal lockups in RCMP policed municipalities. For example, one was from a young woman who was menstruating while detained who said she was denied feminine hygiene products and access to a shower. Another complaint came from a woman who identified herself as an immigrant and victim of domestic assault who said she experienced an attempted strip search by a male guard in a municipal lockup. These serious allegations were not investigated because there is no independent body able to investigate them.

“We were not able to investigate these complaints as the Police Act specifically excludes my office’s oversight of matters that arise under that Act,” said Chalke. “Unfortunately, there was no other independent oversight body where we could refer these individuals.”

In 2019, the report of a legislative committee, the Special Committee to Review the Police Complaint Process, recommended the initiation of a review of this issue. “Too many years have passed with no significant movement on this issue. In light of the IIO’s recent report, I am reiterating the urgent need for action on this matter. No person should be in custody without recourse to independent oversight,” Chalke said.