Home / BCCLA calls for independent audit of internal investigations conducted into police complaints

BCCLA calls for independent audit of internal investigations conducted into police complaints

The BC Civil Liberties Association calls on the Provincial Government to initiate an independent audit of internal investigations conducted into police complaints. Internal police investigation are an integral aspect of the police complaints and public accountability process.The integrity and efficacy of internal police investigations has been called into doubt by recent events. It is time for an objective assessment of whether internal investigations provide a reliable and unbiased form of police accountability.

The proposed audit would review the intake of complaints to ensure accessibility to the complaints process and would review the conduct of investigations including police contact with witnesses and complainants. The oversight function of the Police Complaints Commissioner would be reviewed where an investigation is shown to be inadequate or substandard.

The Association suggests that an effective audit has four essential characteristics:

1.     Independent from Police. The auditor must be sufficiently independent of the policing community for the public to have confidence in the results.  Regardless of who performs the audit, there must be a commitment in advance to publish the results of the audit without interference or revision.

2.     Credible to the Police.  The auditor should also be perceived within the policing community as fair and reliable.  The auditor must also have sufficient competence and expertise with respect to policing and investigative work to assess the information that will form the basis of the audit. The audit should review internal investigations conducted by at least three separate police forces (eg. Victoria, Vancouver, and New Westminster) to allow for inter-department comparisons and to avoid allegations that any given police force is receiving special attention.

3.     Comprehensive. The audit must ensure that all relevant issue are examined and that the audit cover a representative sample of complaints from all municipal police forces in B.C. that are subject to the Police Act as well as the work of the Office of the Police Complaints Commission.

4.     Broad Powers and Resources. The auditor must have the legal authority to undertake a substantive review and make findings and recommendations.  The auditor should be granted unrestricted access to evidence and witnesses to facilitate a full review of internal investigations. The mandate of the audit must be legally binding on the auditor, government, and policing agencies.

The BCCLA has met with the Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police, representatives of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, and BC’s Police Complaints Commissioner to promote the idea of an audit.  These discussions have been productive and we believe that there is significant support in principle for the initiative. 


The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has over forty years experience in defending civil rights. For much of that time, the Association has been an strong advocate for mechanisms to ensure adequate civil oversight of policing. While the police are generally deserving of public support given the important role they play in our democratic society, they are imbued with tremendous powers, powers that can be misused or abused. Police accountability to civil society is a necessary principle in a free and democratic society.

One important aspect of civilian oversight and police accountability is a credible and fair system for evaluating complaints of police wrongdoing. Most citizens simply do not have the financial means to engage in civil litigation when they believe that they have been the victim of police misconduct. Therefore, police accountability requires an effective complaint system so that misconduct by officers can be identified and corrected.

The Province of British Columbia has had an Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner since 1998.  The Commissioner is responsible for overseeing the system for complaints against municipal, but not RCMP, police officers in the Province.The Police Complaint Commissioner is an independent officer of the legislature appointed by an all-party committee of the legislature and reports to the entire legislature. However, the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner has no authority to conduct investigations of police misconduct.

Under the current system, the first stage of the process for processing complaints by citizens against the police requires that the police investigate the complaint internally. Most often, the investigator is an officer of the same police force as the officer who is the subject of the complaint. In rare circumstances, the Commissioner can order that the investigation be conducted by an external police force, as occurred, for example, when the New Westminster RCMP investigated the 50 PIVOT complaints against the Vancouver Police Department.

Responsibility for the investigation rests with the Chief Constable of the force under investigation. The Chief Constable determines whether there was any wrongdoing, and imposes discipline if there was wrongdoing.  The Commissioner’s role is to either affirm or disagree with the decision of the Chief Constable. If the Commissioner disagrees, he can order further investigation, order a public hearing into the matter, or call on the Solicitor-General initiate a public inquiry.

In comparison, the Provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have independent investigative bodies: so-called SIUs or Special Investigative Units. Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have recourse to civilian investigators when internal police investigations are deemed unsatisfactory.

Under section 50 of the Police Act, the BC Police Complaints Commissioner has the power to periodically conduct reviews of the police complaint process and publish the results in his or her annual report. Although the PCC’s involvement in any audit of internal investigations is highly desirable, the Commissioner’s Office currently lacks the resources to conduct a full review.   

The Case for an Independent Audit:

An independent audit of internal investigations of police complaint is necessary to provide an objective factual basis for a rational public policy that will apply Province-wide. When the police complaints system was created in 1998, it was hoped that there were sufficient checks and balances to guard against biased, incompetent and inadequate internal investigations.  Nonetheless, allegations of systemic bias in the system are extremely troubling. With respect to some police forces in the province, there have continued to be highly publicized allegations of wrongdoing that have been both upheld and that have identified inadequacies in the internal investigation. Representatives of the BC Civil Liberties Association have first-hand experience with deficient and biased internal investigations.

The current Police Complaints Commissioner, Dirk Ryneveld, QC, called for legislative amendments to allow his office to conduct investigations when necessary. Court of Appeal Justice Wally Oppal, recommended in his 1994 Commission of Inquiry Report entitled “Closing the Gap: Policing and the Community” that the Commissioner be granted the power to conduct investigations when necessary.

The BCCLA agrees with Justice Oppal and Commissioner Ryneveld that, at a minimum, the Commissioner should be granted the power to conduct investigations when an internal investigation is shown to be inadequate.

However, the larger question of whether the internal investigation system is generally dysfunctional remains unanswered. Arguments both for and against the overall efficacy of internal investigations are to some extent anecdotal or theoretical. The BCCLA believes that the time has come to obtain empirical information in order to evaluate whether the current system is working well or is deficient and needs to be improved or fundamentally overhauled.

To achieve this empirical foundation, the BCCLA is recommending that an independent audit be conducted of internal investigations of police complaints. Such an audit should be (1) Independent from the Police, (2) Credible to the Police, and (3) Comprehensive and (4)granted Sufficient Powers and Resources to conduct a full review of the efficacy of internal investigations.