New powers proposed as B.C.'s police complaint system faces audit
B.C.’s Police Complaint Commissioner is proposing new powers to call public hearings into police misconduct earlier as a way to jump-start a process that can, in some cases, drag on for years.
The last audit of the police complaints system found that more than half of them took longer than the legal maximum of six months – a problem that can be particularly acute for internal sexual harassment complainants, who sometimes have to work side-by-side with those they are complaining about.
“One of the areas in which this office can assist in the area of timeliness is for the commissioner to have the ability to call a public hearing much earlier in the process. That’s an area we will be canvassing with the special committee,” said Deputy Commissioner Andrea Spindler.
A special legislature committee is examining B.C.’s police complaint process and will include an audit done by consulting firm MNP that will examine a sample of complaints in a system that has one municipal force investigating a complaint against another, with oversight from the civilian Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, an independent office of B.C.'s legislature.
“An audit is being done and I would like to know what they come up with, and whether this timeline has been reduced or not,” said committee chairperson and NDP MLA Rachna Singh.
It’s part of a routine review with a report expected on Oct. 1, 2019, Singh said.
The length of time was a particular problem for sexual harassment complainants within the Vancouver police, one of whom told CTV News in June she found it strained her mental health to have her investigation – which was deemed unsubstantiated -- go on for more than a year.
In another case, an investigation into the relationships two Vancouver police officers had with Vancouver Const. Nicole Chan had been going on for months before she killed herself in January.
One of the officers was disciplined for discreditable conduct in late 2018, but the complaint against the other officer is still in process.
And in Delta, an inspector suspended in September 2018 amid accusations he used his position to make sexual advances on at least one would-be recruit retired in May – even as the process against him continued.
Around 1,100 files were opened in the 2017-2018 year, with 628 allegations concluded, according to the most recent annual report. The OPCC does not publish statistics about the length of cases, but does publish some information about each case, which can be used to gauge the length of time the case lasted.
CTV News examined a sample of published, substantiated complaint results in the Vancouver Police Department in the last two years.
The shortest case, about a firearm discharge, was resolved in about two weeks.
The longest case, relating to an abuse of authority, took just over five years.
And our estimate of the average length of these substantiated complaints is just over one year.
Criminologist Rob Gordon told CTV News that letting complaints last too long can also lead to memories fading and justice delayed.
“Going on for months and months, there is something very bizarre about that. When you start to get to years you’re into disengaging that complaint,” he said.