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BCCLA demands funding for APEC complainants

Public hearings begin September 14th into the actions of the RCMP during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference at the University of British Columbia in 1997. The hearing was ordered by the RCMP Public Complaints Commissions (PCC), an independent civilian oversight body.

Yet those complaining against the RCMP, many of them students arrested or pepper-sprayed during peaceful protests, have not yet heard whether the federal government will fund their legal counsel. Without legal counsel, complainants will be at a disadvantage and the fairness of the hearings may be in serious jeopardy.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association wants an immediate response from the federal government to the PCC’s July 31 letter to the federal government requesting funding for complainants’ legal counsel.

Initially, the PCC declined to request funding for complainants despite the fact that the RCMP, individual RCMP members and government witnesses all have publicly funded legal counsel. In a review of this decision, the Federal Court held that the reasons given by the PCC for declining to request funding from the federal government had no legal basis:

There is considerable support for the proposition, however, that without state funded legal representation the complainants/applicants will be at a great disadvantage—there will not be a level playing field.

The Federal Court also recognized the PCC’s legal obligation to ensure that all parties have ample opportunity to present evidence, cross-examine witnesses and to make representations. However, the PCC requested funding only for “complainants who were directly involved in confrontation with RCMP members” (since their credibility or reputation may be attacked).

The BCCLA will be represented by legal counsel from the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre for the duration of the hearing. Regrettably, the PCC did not request funding for BCCLA counsel. We have made a direct request to the federal government for this funding.

It is anticipated that the hearing will canvass such allegations as:

  • the RCMP used excessive force against APEC protesters
  • the RCMP illegally restricted the expression rights of APEC protesters
  • the RCMP allowed itself to be used for purely political purposes.