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BCCLA challenges parties at APEC hearings to put up or shut up

B.C. Civil Liberties Association today challenged parties at the APEC hearings either to pursue their concern that RCMP Public Complaints Commission Chair Gerald Morin is biased, or else work with the BCCLA to get the hearings back on track.

The BCCLA also criticized the federal government for the manner in which the information about Morin’s alleged bias was brought to the hearing, and for its failure to provide complainants with funding for legal representation.

The civil rights group is a party at the hearing, having been one of the first to complain to the RCMP Public Complaints Commission about the apparent violation of students’ freedom of expression rights, and the appearance that the RCMP were acting for purely political purposes.

“Along with all Canadians, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has a powerful interest in effective civilian oversight of the police,” said BCCLA president Andrew Irvine. “We knew when we made our complaint that the process is not perfect. Nevertheless, the RCMP Public Complaints Commission is the only oversight mechanism ordinary citizens have to hold the RCMP accountable for their actions. We continue to believe that the Commission can bring to light all the evidence about the RCMP’s conduct during the APEC conference at UBC last year, and the federal government’s role in that conduct. We want our complaints heard.”

The hearing was recently thrown into confusion by information provided by the federal government that off duty RCMP Constable Black said he had overheard Commission panel chair Gerald Morin say that he had already made up his mind about the RCMP’s conduct. Subsequently a lawyer for the RCMP, a student and others declared that the hearing had lost credibility and should be cancelled. Yet since none of these parties has pursued a formal allegation of bias against Mr. Morin, the Constable’s information has spread a cloud of suspicion over the hearing without ever having been tested.

“It’s time for those parties who believe that the hearing has lost credibility to put up or shut up,” Irvine said. “They should either make the allegation that Mr. Morin is biased and let that allegation be tested, or else join the BCCLA in getting on with the business of assessing the RCMP’s actions at the APEC conference last Fall.”

The civil rights group was also critical of the manner in which the federal government handled Constable Black’s statement. Irvine said, “The cloud of suspicion hanging over the Commission panel is made worse by the fact that federal government lawyers did not even bother to obtain a sworn statement from Constable Black, and then brought the unsworn statement secretly to the Commission. Why was the statement not sworn? And why didn’t the government bring the information openly to the attention of all parties at the hearing? This behaviour—along with the refusal to fund legal representation for the students and the BCCLA—raises serious questions about the government’s commitment to the Commission’s role in holding the RCMP accountable.”

The BCCLA has long been a supporter of civilian oversight processes, judging that they best serve citizens who wish to hold the police accountable to the citizenry. The Association made major contributions to the original complaints process under B.C.’s Police Act, and made two substantial submissions to the Oppal Commission, which in July resulted in an improved process. “Civilian oversight of the police is at the bedrock of a democratic society,” said Irvine. “Most citizens do not have the resources to pursue civil litigation, and depending on government to order a public inquiry is almost always useless. What is needed is an accessible process, with appeal to an independent body. With all its faults, the RCMP Public Complaints Commission is our best chance to get to the truth about the RCMP’s conduct at APEC.”