Civil liberties group argues RCMP violated Rule of Law at APEC

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The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has made its final argument before Ted Hughes, Commissioner of the RCMP Public Complaint Commission that is examining the conduct of RCMP officers during APEC in 1997. In its submission, the BCCLA argued that the RCMP individually and collectively acted in violation of professional standards of conduct for the RCMP, violated the law generally and breached the free expression rights of citizens under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In addition, the BCCLA argued that some of the RCMP misconduct was due to the improper influence of the federal government, in particular, staff of the Prime Minister’s Office.

An edited version of the opening of the BCCLA’s argument appears below.

In November 1997, the leaders of the eighteen Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (“APEC”) economies met in Vancouver. Security for their meeting was provided, in part, by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”). In addition to the legitimate performance of their security function, some members of the RCMP engaged in actions that were not legitimate and in some cases not lawful. Those actions included assaults, threats of assault, arrests without warrant or Criminal Code authority, arrests for improper purposes, unlawful confiscation of property, unjustified surveillance, unlawful confinement, confinement without adequate food or warmth, verbal abuse, defamation, and deceit. Those actions deprived members of the public of rights guaranteed to them under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter), including their right to freedom of expression pursuant to s. 2(b), their right to liberty under s. 7, and their right to freedom of peaceful assembly under s. 2(c). Those Charter violations were, in part, attributable to the intervention by central agencies of the Government of Canada—particularly the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)—in the planning and operations of the RCMP.

As a result of the conduct of the RCMP at APEC, the BCCLA wrote letters of complaint to the RCMP Public Complaint Commission seeking a public hearing. The actions into which the BCCLA asked the Commission to inquire were “those which prevented students and others on the UBC campus from carrying out peaceful protests, where the individuals were not inside, or threatening the integrity of, security fences around official APEC sites and motorcade routes on the campus”. Specific examples cited included, but were not limited to:

  • arrests and threats of arrest for refusing to take down signs of protest;
  • removal of protest signs;
  • unacceptable conditions for release from custody;
  • broad security zones around APEC sites and motorcade routes to prevent signs and sounds from being visible and audible to APEC delegates;
  • unacceptably small official protest sites.

Two immediate concerns prompted the complaint of the BCCLA. First, there were indications that the RCMP was motivated in its conduct not by legitimate concerns about the security of Internationally Protected Persons (IPPs) or by its duty to enforce the law, but by the influence of the executive branch of government. Whether because of direct orders from political actors or because the RCMP, either correctly or incorrectly, believed that those political actors desired a particular result, it appeared that the RCMP had accepted political direction to prevent embarrassment to visiting IPPs.

Second, it appeared that the always difficult position of police in a modern democracy had been compromised. That is, although police themselves are part of the government, they are expected to remain sufficiently independent of the representatives of the governing political party that they never become simply the “palace guard”, exercising the coercive power of the state for political goals. There were indications that this independence had not been maintained at APEC.

These two concerns are both subsumed within one principle, the apparent violation of which necessitated this hearing: the Rule of Law. Without an understanding of the Rule of Law, it would be impossible to understand why the actions of the RCMP and the Prime Minister’s Office around the APEC conference were so objectionable. In particular, the Rule of Law underlies objections to the RCMP functioning as an enforcement branch of the Government of Canada rather than as an enforcer of the law.

Michael Doherty, a lawyer with the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre and legal counsel for the BCCLA throughout the hearings, wrote and delivered the final argument to Commissioner Hughes.