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'Urgent need' for oversight of municipal jail guards, B.C.'s ombudsperson says

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After an "unacceptable" incident in Prince George where an injured man being held in custody was left "screaming in agony for hours," B.C.'s ombudsperson is again calling for change.

In a statement issued this week, Jay Chalke cited a recent review by the Independent Investigations Office of the case as the most recent example of the need for independent oversight of municipal jail guards.

The report into that case said a man's hip was broken when he pulled out a weapon and was thrown to the ground during an arrest in May 2019.

On his way to jail, he complained of a broken leg, but was placed in a cell without getting health care. The arresting officers were cleared of any wrongdoing, with the report saying there was no evidence excessive or unnecessary force was used during the arrest.

It also found the jail guard – an employee of the city – may have committed a criminal offence by failing to provide the man with medical care, suggesting this failure could have constituted torture.

However, the IIO does not have the authority to submit a report to Crown council for the consideration of charges unless the person involved is an officer.

That, Chalke says, is what needs to change.

"Currently there is no independent oversight body where allegations of misconduct in these situations can be brought forward," he wrote in a statement.

"I have raised this issue several times over the past four years and have again written to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General to highlight how this case is a vivid reminder of the urgent need to close this gap.”

Cities with a population of over 5,000, Chalke explains, are required to have detention facilities. In jurisdictions with municipal police forces, he continues, the guards in those lockup facilities are "special municipal constables" and complaints about their conduct can be submitted to the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner.

That is not the case in places policed by the Mounties.

“Too many years have passed with no significant movement on this issue. In light of the IIO’s recent report, I am reiterating the urgent need for action on this matter. No person should be in custody without recourse to independent oversight,” Chalke said.

In his statement, he also provided two other examples of complaints his office has been made aware of where those alleging misconduct had no recourse.

First, he says a young woman who was menstruating was denied period products and a shower. Second, he says a male guard tried to subject an immigrant woman who was a victim of domestic violence to a strip search.

"These serious allegations were not investigated because there is no independent body able to investigate them," Chalke wrote.

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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