British Columbia’s system for processing complaints about municipal police officers is seriously flawed and needs to be reformed if it is to have any effectiveness. That is the gist of a letter we have sent to the province’s Premier, Solicitor General, Police Complaint Commissioner and others.

After giving the new system some six years to iron out its kinks, we have reluctantly concluded that, from the point of view of civilian complainants, it is simply not working. We have found fundamental flaws at each stage of the process.

After a complaint is lodged, it is investigated by police themselves, who often take over a year to reach the conclusion that the complaint is “unsubstantiated”. The investigative report is then delivered to the Police Complaint Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the police force involved, but kept secret from the complainant and the public. In the few cases where a public hearing is ordered, the complainant faces a completely one-sided and unfair hearing process. The complainant must deal with a battery of publicly funded lawyers representing the police interests and the Police Complaint Commission. No legal aid funding of any kind is available to the complainant, who is effectively excluded from participating as a result.

Effective civilian oversight is essential in any society that wants to ensure that police do not abuse their substantial powers. That oversight must be patently independent, transparent and effective. Right now, it has none of those attributes.

Read our letter to the Premier