BCCLA urges speedy resumption of APEC hearings and focus on free speech issues

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has sent a letter to the Speakers of the House of Commons and Senate, as well as the leaders of all political parties in both chambers, reminding our political representatives that the pre-eminent issue involving APEC demonstrations in 1997 is whether the police received and followed direction from government to undermine Canadians’ rights to free speech.

The letter was accompanied by a package of APEC documents pointing to the need to focus on the free speech issue.

According to BCCLA President Andrew Irvine, “We are concerned that the focus on the use of pepper spray has diverted attention from the more fundamental issue about APEC demonstrations—whether the RCMP followed directions from politicians and bureaucrats that were aimed at preventing embarrassment to foreign visitors and that undermined Canadian speech rights, rather than sticking to their proper mandate—to provide security for leaders.”

The letter also provides a vigorous and principled defence for the need to continue with the RCMP Public Complaints Commission’s inquiry into APEC.

Says Irvine, “Like many Canadians, the BCCLA is extremely frustrated with the slow progress and legal wranglings that are sidetracking the PCC hearings. We want to see them back on track as soon as possible and have urged all legal counsel to expedite their efforts to that end.”

“However, to simply give up on the PCC hearings now is to admit that there need not be a separate process for police accountability, a process that in this case includes considering whether the RCMP permitted themselves to be used for political rather than security purposes. The Commission has said, and we believe that they have the legal mandate, to look at all the evidence including whether they received and followed political directions. We are convinced that abandoning the hearings now and hoping that the federal government might appoint a judicial inquiry would be a bad move.”

Attached is the text of the BCCLA letter. Media wishing to obtain the APEC documents which raise the issue of violation of free speech should contact the BCCLA.

The letter:

8 December 1998

Shirley Heafey, Chair

RCMP Public Complaints Commission

P.O. Box 3423, Station ’D’

Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6L4

BY FAX: (613) 952-8045

Dear Ms. Heafey:

RE: RCMP Public Complaints Commission Hearings Regarding APEC

I am writing to you on behalf of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) to indicate our position with regard to the continuation of the RCMP Public Complaint Commission (Commission) hearings into RCMP conduct at APEC.

As you know, the BCCLA was one of the first complainants to the Commission and at that time called for a public hearing. We believe that the Commission has an important mandate, as the public agency responsible for civilian oversight of the RCMP, to consider the conduct of the RCMP. Our continuing view is that Commission hearings into this matter are the best means citizens have at present of holding the RCMP accountable for its conduct at APEC.


That said, we believe that the present panel as constituted should not continue to hear this matter. Instead, we would prefer that an entirely new panel be struck.

We say so reluctantly given our past support for the current panel. We have publicly expressed our frustration and unwillingness to throw in the towel due to continuing legal challenges to the panel’s jurisdiction. However, given recent events we now believe that a fresh start is needed in order to restore the integrity of and public faith in the process.

We are also mindful of the fact that other parties have made it clear that they will contest the continuation of the hearing whether current panel members continue to sit to hear this matter or a new panel is appointed. However, our assessment is that the present panel will face a considerably more difficult time overcoming opposition than would a newly struck one in continuing the important task of getting to the bottom of the issues involving the RCMP’s conduct at APEC.

We look forward to the Public Complaint Commission carrying out its mandate in this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Irvine, President