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Civil rights group reaffirms support for public inquiry into RCMP conduct at APEC

In the wake of the withdrawal of several student complainants in the RCMP Public Complaints Commission inquiry into RCMP conduct during APEC, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, itself a complainant before the Commission, today reaffirmed its support for the inquiry.

According to BCCLA spokesperson Andrew Irvine, the ruling by Chair Ted Hughes not to subpoena Prime Minister Chretien and the PM’s decision not to testify do not detract from the important role that the inquiry will play in promoting police accountability.

“Among other issues, at stake in the inquiry is whether the police succumbed to attempts by persons at the political level to curb protesters’ free speech, not for security reasons but for improper political motives such as reducing embarrassment to foreign heads of state. Though Commissioner Hughes does not have the legal mandate to determine who specifically, if anyone, was ultimately responsible at the political level for seeking to improperly influence the RCMP, he does have the mandate to examine the RCMP’s complicity, if any, in managing its affairs for reasons other than security interests. We need an answer to that critical question and the present inquiry can provide it. The sooner the inquiry completes its work, the better.”

The BCCLA was one of the first complainants to call for an inquiry by the Public Complaints Commission and has been a strong supporter of the process throughout its checkered history. Citizen oversight and accountability of police conduct are necessary elements in a free and democratic society and should not be left to ad-hoc arrangements.

The Association has also been concerned that some complainants may have been motivated to use it more for their own political goals than for ensuring police accountability, the clear mandate of the inquiry under the RCMP Act.

However, if Chairman Hughes ultimately finds that officials at the political level sought to influence the RCMP for political reasons, the BCCLA also recognizes the critical need for political accountability.

“There are really two parts to the APEC controversy. The compelling focus of the present inquiry is police conduct. For better or worse, that is the limit of this inquiry under the law. But if there is a finding from Chairman Hughes that officials at the political level sought to direct and influence the RCMP for political reasons, then there will be great demand for political accountability as well. Canadians will not tolerate political interference in the affairs of the RCMP that undermines our freedom of expression.”