The issues of police monitoring and accountability are fiercely discussed topics of discourse these days, and it is no surprise. One of the basic human needs is the need for safety. Several incidents of police misconduct or a failure to hold officers accountable have led to a lot of controversy about the police force that is supposed to help people get what they need.
In Canada, there are independent civilian institutions in existence responsible for ensuring that police officers are held accountable for any type of misconduct. “New visibility” results from the widespread use of cell phones with cameras and the Internet (Hope, 2021). It provides citizens with the ability to share images of police misconduct through video-sharing platforms like Instagram and YouTube and social networking sites like Tiktok, Facebook, and Twitter. These tendencies have led to the mobilization of organizations in response to the issues they are raising (Goldsmith, 2010). The case of Robert Dziekanski, tesered by several police officers in Vancouver in October 2007 may help us better understand police wrongdoing and accountability in an era when more people speak out against police misconduct and duty.
Is it the police or the government’s responsibility to ensure that the police are adequately supervised in Canada? When a police officer causes physical damage or death to a civilian, who is responsible for launching an investigation into the incident? A separate investigative division is established in certain provinces, tasked with conducting investigations. In other circumstances, a different police agency is called in to assist. The Canadian police are subjected to civil monitoring that is both contradictory and non-existent. Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia are home to independent civilian oversight organizations. These investigate incidents involving police officers and members of the public.
In contrast, the rest of Canada does not have independent civilian oversight organizations. The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario, established in 1990 and has been in operation since then, is the most well-known and longest serving of these groups in the country, having been in operation since 1990. All the other civilian oversight committees were just recently founded and may have a different mandate from the SIU. A whole different discussion will be held to determine whether the efforts of these citizen organizations have been successful in guaranteeing police accountability. An independent civilian oversight agency that investigates police misconduct does not exist in the remaining seven Canadian provinces: Saskatchewan, the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Yukon, Prince Edward Island, and the Northwest Territories. Another police department may be asked to investigate a different region’s case. The exception is Saskatchewan, which has a civilian oversight group for this purpose.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission is an independent agency that reviews and reports public complaints about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It is a government-funded organization (RCMP). However, when it comes to international instances involving significant bodily damage or death, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) does not have a counterpart to the United Nations that examines such incidents. Members of the RCMP force have been involved in situations with death or injury, but the Commission does not have the power to investigate such occurrences. If the incident takes place in a province that has a civilian unit, the civilian unit will investigate any RCMP-related concerns that may have occurred. On this list of cases, Ontario is not on it. The SIU can only look into serious injuries and deaths caused by municipal, regional, and provincial police officers.
Misconduct in Canada’s police force is shown in the story of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, which exemplifies the lack of responsibility in the system. On October 14, 2007, reports were received about an upset guy pounding a small folding table against a glass wall and smashing a computer with his fists in the Vancouver International Airport terminal out of irritation. Dziekanski, a 40-year-old Polish immigrant who had been tased, subdued, and cuffed, had died when the Mounties were drawn to the incident.
The Mounties reacted with excessive force and subsequently caused his demise. In an initial public press release, Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, the spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), stated that only three mounties responded to the disturbance which led to the subsequent demise of Dziekanski’s. He claimed that they could not use pepper spray to control him due to the large number of people in the area and that Dziekanski had only been tasered twice in total. According to the video evidence, four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, these three well trained employees, could easily control the victim without using excessive force. Additionally, the location was sparsely populated, which added to Dziekanski’s mental decline and resulted in his isolation (Brown, 2016).
In this video, the Taser is used five times during the period of better visibility.Had the police misbehavior not been captured by the parser in its present version, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would not have been able to notice the misconduct without it. Currently, it is a standard operating policy for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to keep the details of their investigations confidential. More than $220 million has been spent on a range of issues, according to Gerster, in the preceding 20 years, ranging from federal inquiries into nepotism and workplace bullying to territorial battles between police departments in neighboring cities. Among the things included in this number are the money spent on employee claims and money spent on outside claims like the use of force and the failure to protect informants.
The number of police misconduct cases being caught on camera is growing rapidly. A Hamilton police officer has been placed on probation for 18 months after pleading guilty to assault for lunging at a woman in February 2021. After seeing the footage, the Hamilton Police Department requested that its professional standards section investigate the acts of the two officers involved in the incident (Hristova, 2021). In the case of Indigenous leader Allan Adam’s imprisonment, it was yet another instance in which rising public awareness resulted in a public demand for accountability. According to the report, dashcam footage acquired by TMZ shows the two officers using excessive force to subdue the chief. The evidence put before the courts on Thursday stunned many thousands of Canadians (Porter & Bilefsky, 2020). There has already been much discussion about police wrongdoing and accountability.
Another racial incidence is where a First Nations woman was struck unconscious at a Thompson, Manitoba, RCMP detachment, and despite the crime being captured on film, no formal inquiry was conducted, and the lady claims she was intimidated into dropping her complaint against the police involved. The footage, which CBC News received through a court application, has spurred one former police watchdog to call for a complete investigation and triggered a lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of her Indigenous heritage (Annable, 2020). This incident goes to show how far reaching police misconduct is and the lack of accountability within the force. Had it not been for the camera, none of the three officers would have been forthcoming with a confession of the incident.
In order to fully address the issue of police misconduct and accountability, it is necessary to first define the problem. Despite its difficulties for police image control, “new visibility” provides enormous power and is adequately employed. Merely holding police officers accountable for their behavior because they have video evidence is not sufficient justification for holding them accountable. It is important for each territory to have its own independent agency that investigates and reports on accidents and deaths involving police officers and the general public that happen in that area.
The power to bring criminal charges against police who breach the law should be available to every civilian agency. In addition, videos should be submitted to a civilian body that is entirely responsible for investigating injuries and fatalities while members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are on the job (RCMP). Whenever the RCMP is called upon to investigate a jurisdiction, this team would collaborate with, and in addition to, provincial civilian law enforcement agencies to complete the investigation. These agencies must be completely open about everything they do, which is probably the most important part of their job description.
Annable, K. (2020). Video showing woman knocked out, dragged to RCMP cell prompts lawsuit, call for investigation.
Bilefsky, D. (2020). Video of arrest of Indigenous Leader Shocks Canada. Web.
Brown, G. R. (2016). The blue line on thin ice: Police use of force modifications in the era of camera phones and YouTube. The British Journal of Criminology, 56(2), 293-312.
Gerster, J. (2020). For the Good of the Force. $220M and counting: The cost of the RCMP’s ‘culture of dysfunction’.
Goldsmith, A. J. (2010). Policing’s new visibility. The British journal of criminology, 50(5), 914-934.
Hristova, B. (2021). Hamilton police investigating video of officer lunging at woman | CBC news.
Porter, C., & Bilefsky, D. (2020). Video of arrest of Indigenous Leader Shocks Canada. Web.
Hope Sr, K. R. (2021). Civilian oversight for democratic policing and its challenges: Overcoming obstacles for improved police accountability. Journal of Applied Security Research, 16(4).