We are pleased to note that many of the concerns the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association raised in its submission to the Inquiry relating to Public Complaints, Internal Discipline and Grievance Procedures (February 1975) have been acted upon. We note with agreement, for example, that the language of “trials” and “punishments” has been removed, that members of the force will be provided with adequate avenues of appeal regarding a wide range of decisions, and members will be allowed counsel at appropriate stages of the discipline and appeal procedure. In general terms then our Association welcomes the amendments to the Act. There are some specific items of concern, however, and these will be presented in summary form.
a) While we welcome a citizen Review Committee which will hear grievances and act as a review board in some discipline matters, we feel the Act should go a step further and give this committee some power. We note, for example, that the Commissioner is obligated to refer grievances to the Review Committee but he is under no obligation to act on their recommendations. We can only hope that he will use this discretion wisely but this situation could be avoided by making the recommendations of the Review Committee binding.
b) Failing this, the Review Committee would be replaced with an officer or Ombudsman which would be able to hear grievances and complaints by members of the force and citizens at any time.
c) We note that the Minister may prescribe the types of grievances that may be referred to the Review Committee It is our opinion that as wide a range of matters as possible should be permitted to go to the Committee and we would recommend that such a statement be included in the Act, or perhaps a broad, suggestive list of matters be included.
While we are again impressed with the language and provisions of this section we would raise the following specific issues.
a) We can see no good reason why informal discipline (a), counselling, is not covered by the appeal procedures. While this action is presumably seen as a minor disciplinary response, it is open to arbitrary use as it now stands and should be covered by the appeal process (at least to the Deputy Commissioner level).
b) Some statement should be included in the Act indicating which discipline actions will be recorded in the member’s personnel file. For example, if the member is found not to have committed an infraction of the Code of Conduct will the incident still be entered on the file? We would recommend that only those infractions which have been substantiated be entered on the record.
c) We note that if a member has been charged with an offence which has been heard by the courts, the Commissioner may initiate discipline procedures against the member even if he has been acquitted.
The regulations under the B.C. Police Act, for example, say:
Where a member has been prosecuted in respect of an offence punishable on indictment or on summary conviction and has been acquitted, no disciplinary proceedings shall be taken under these regulations arising out of the same facts and circumstances.
We would recommend a position such as this.
d) While there are many safeguards included in the amendments we are of the opinion that these may be too cumbersome and may work against the spirit of the Act. There is, for example, a Review Committee, an Adjudicator, a Review Board, A Discharge and Demotions Board. On some matters a member may first appeal to a Review Board and then to a Review Committee. We recommend that an attempt be made to simplify the appeal procedures in particular.
3. Public complaints
We feel strongly that for the promotion of positive community feeling towards the police and for citizen input to maintaining standards of discipline, the public should be provided with a simple and efficient procedure for making a complaint. it is also in the interest of everyone that investigations hearings, appeals, and discipline for citizen complaints (as well as internal discipline) must provide adequate and just treatment for both parties. For these reasons we feel this section of the Act should be more specific and provide a more detailed framework. The B.C. Police Act provides a reasonable model.
a) We feel that there should be consistency in the handling of all complaints against the police within the province. The existence of municipal forces and of the RCMP presents difficulties for the citizen if there are differing procedures and may lead to the appearance, if not the existence, of inconsistencies. We would then recommend that the Provincial Police Commission be the final appeal authority for all complaints within this province. Failing that, we would recommend that a complaint procedure be adopted which would be consistent with that provided under the B.C. Police Act. Having said that we would make the following specific recommendations:
b) The Act should contain a general statement which can be taken to provide the intent of the provisions for responding to public complaints. Such a statement by offering the spirit of the procedures will help to ensure that a strict bureaucratic stand is not taken.
c) We do not feel that the Commissioner should be given the discretion to stop complaints because he feels they are “trivial”, “frivolous” or in “bad faith”. From our experience this kind of provision leads to the screening out of too many complaints. It is our opinion that it is worth the difficulty of dealing with the few “crank” complaints which arise in order to insure that all legitimate complaints are adequately heard.
d) Some appeal procedure should be provided for both the police member and for the citizen who feels that the recommendation of any formal investigation is inadequate, inappropriate, unfair, or mistaken.
e) Further, we would recommend the provision of some form of public inquiry into complaints where the citizen (or the police member) is dissatisfied with action taken on a complaint. The citizen Review Committee or the office of an Ombudsman could serve this function.
f) What range of actions will be taken if a public complaint is founded? Should one read the Act to suggest that if a complaint is founded that the regular discipline provisions will then be enforced? We recommend that the Act clarify this matter.