Establishing an independent oversight mechanism for the CBSA is desperately required and long overdue. CBSA officers hold the authority of peace officers, granting them extensive powers such as search and seizure, arrest, and detention without a warrant in specific circumstances. Despite wielding such extensive powers, the CBSA remains the only police authority in Canada with no form of independent oversight.
Bill C-20, An Act establishing the Public Complaints and Review Commission, has been before Parliament since May of 2022 and we have been working hard to push our Parliamentarians to strengthen it. Bill C-20 proposes to create a “Public Complaints and Review Commission” (“PCRC”) that will have some powers in relation to complaints filed against both the Canadian Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”).
However, this bill is drastically out of step with the expectations of democratic accountability that the public has for the RCMP and the CBSA.
Under this law, complaints would continue to be investigated internally and without any timelines. The civilian oversight body would only be able to “review” the findings of the internal investigations. Even if the oversight body disagreed completely with the findings of the internal investigation, the body would have no power to overturn the decision(s).
The CBSA urgently needs oversight, but we are confident that the model underpinning Bill C-20 misses the mark. Our deep concerns are informed by our knowledge of the inability of the current Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (“CRCC”) to provide accountability for RCMP wrongdoing.
Study after study, decade after decade, finds biased and discriminatory policing, but this does not lead to change. Members of communities that are impacted by this type of policing demand to see accountability and deserve to know that their voices are being heard. But these demands are regularly ignored by governments.
Law reforms should reflect the lived experiences of people who have been impacted by the RCMP and CBSA, which is why it is so crucial for the relevant Parliamentary committees to significantly overhaul Bill C-20 to ensure the PCRC has strong legal powers and that it is safe and accessible to those who most need it. We are working in coalition with other civil society advocates to express our concerns to the relevant decision-makers, urging them to seize this exceptional opportunity to provide effective, independent civilian oversight of two very powerful federal agencies: the CBSA and the RCMP.
Read more about our current work in Volume 58 of the Democratic Commitment newsletter.