A number of RCMP observers say there are loopholes in the government's new legislation for a new watchdog agency for the Mounties. The Public Safety Minister unveiled plans Monday for what he called a more "robust" RCMP review and complaints commission.
"This commission would have significantly enhanced investigative powers over those of the existing body, as well as a more streamlined complaints process and the authority to work hand-in-hand with other review bodies," said Vic Toews.
But those who have been at the head of the existing RCMP public complaints commission do not agree.
Paul Kennedy chaired the commission from 2005 until the end of 2009 when he was released from the job before releasing his report on the RCMP's actions with regards to the death of polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.
Kennedy says he has an issue with the requirement that the chairperson seek ministerial approval for self-initiated investigations.
"I would bristle at having to go to the minister before I launched my own public interest hearing or my own complaint. For what purpose? To justify to him to do it? If you're independent and you're acting on behalf of the Canadian public, you justify it to the public."
Kennedy says it is good that the new body has the authority to summon people, force them to appear and compel them to give evidence. But he says there is a lot of wiggle room in the new legislation. He says there are several caveats that would allow the RCMP commissioner to veto the release of information.
Shirley Heafey, who preceded Kennedy in the job, says the chairperson should report to Parliament, not to the minister and RCMP Commissioner.
"Where is the really big change that is going to make a difference in RCMP accountability across the country? I don't see it. I really don't see it."
The new body will consist of a chair and four other members, none of whom can be a member or former member of the RCMP.
Members of the public would be able to submit complaints to the commissioner, as long as they do so within one year of the alleged misconduct, although there is some ability to get an extension.
Recommendations not binding
The move follows the Conservative government's promise earlier this year to bring in a more independent watchdog agency to investigate complaints against the Mounties.
That came after a 2007 federally appointed Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP told the government that the current system lacks transparency. The task force recommended a model where one body could review any incident or aspect of the operations of the RCMP, and all of its findings would be binding.
Opposition MPs say they can't believe the government has chosen not to make the new agency's recommendations binding on the Mounties.
But in that instance, Heafey and Kennedy say the government has it right; they say it was sometimes too costly or cumbersome for the RCMP to implement their suggestions.