VANCOUVER - Several criminal cases against Mounties in British Columbia are facing delays as the RCMP considers whether to pay for defence lawyers and in some instances legal funding was revoking after it was approved.
It's a legal policy critics complain is too subjective and places an undue burden on officers who find themselves on the other end of the justice system.
The issue was highlighted in Vancouver last week, when lawyers for four officers charged in connection with their involvement on a high-profile gang investigation told court the force had yet to confirm whether it would pay the Mounties' legal bills.
A separate case involving three RCMP officers and a civilian jail guard in Kamloops, B.C. — charged over allegations they didn't stop two female inmates having sex while on video surveillance — was delayed in the summer after the officers said the RCMP rejected their funding request.
Those cases, and all others involving RCMP officers, fall under a Treasury Board policy that dictates when the government pays the legal bills for federal public servants. The policy considers whether the officer was acting within the scope of their job and if they were acting in good faith.
But David Butcher, a Vancouver criminal lawyer with extensive experience defending police officers, said the enforcement of that policy has changed over time, leaving officers unable to predict if they'll have to fund their own lawyer.
"There was a period of several years where it appeared the policy was more liberally applied and it appears to me that they have reverted back to a stricter interpretation of the policy," said Butcher, who is not involved in either the Vancouver gang case or the Kamloops case.
"There are several unfortunate consequences from the denial of funding. First of all, these cases are not proceeding in an ordinary and expeditious way, when I think everybody in the community has a right to expect that they will."
Under the current policy, local divisional headquarters can approve expenses of less than $10,000. Anything higher than that lands on the desk of the RCMP commissioner in Ottawa until those expenses reach $50,000, in which case the minister of public safety has the final say.
That policy, in itself, represents a change, said Butcher. Until recently, regional headquarters could approve requests up to $50,000 without going through Ottawa, he said.
That change, along with the apparent shift in how the policy is applied, has resulted in a number of cases in which funding has either been denied or approved and later revoked, said Butcher.
The gang investigation case in Vancouver involves four RCMP officers who worked on what's been known as the "Surrey Six" case, in which six people, including two innocent bystanders, were murdered in Surrey, B.C. The officers face a range of charges including breach of trust, fraud and obstruction of justice.
Lawyers for two of the officers withdrew from the case last week, while two others told the court they will pull out unless the RCMP approves legal funding soon.
Michael Bolton, who represents one of the officers, declined to comment, but confirmed he told the court his client's funding was initially approved by the RCMP, but that approval was later overturned. The officers are now awaiting a final decision from the RCMP commissioner, said Bolton.
Another high-profile case in B.C. involves four RCMP officers involved in the death of Robert Dziekanski, who was stunned with a Taser at Vancouver's airport in October 2007. The officers are charged with perjury for their testimony at a public inquiry.
Those officers had government-funded lawyers for the public inquiry, but no decision has been made about their perjury trials. Butcher represented one of those officers at the public inquiry, but another lawyer in his firm is handing that officers' perjury trial.
The RCMP would not discuss the status of legal funding for the Kamloops case, citing privacy issues, but confirmed the force is still reviewing requests associated with the Vancouver gang case and the Dziekanski perjury case.
"I think the public would be pleased to know that we closely scrutinize applications to have legal expenses paid by the taxpayer," Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said in an email.
An RCMP spokesperson in Ottawa said in a statement that the current policy is under review, but details of potential changes won't be revealed until they have been approved.
Abe Townsend, a spokesman from the force’s staff relations program, which represents officers in labour issues, said delays make it difficult for officers to prepare potential legal defences and can slow down court cases.
"If they're going to approve it or they're going to deny it, that's another matter," he said.
"But it's the delay in the decision that appears to be at the head of the issue. The uncertainty just adds another level of anxiety that really isn't necessary."
Townsend suggested that moving the decision-making process back to regional divisions, rather than Ottawa, would be a good start.
"Based on my experience, when the decisions are made closer to the source of activity, they're normally best-informed," he said.
Rob Creasser, a former Mountie who now speaks for the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, which wants the RCMP to unionize its workforce, suggested a collective agreement that clearly spells out the policy would make the system more fair and predictable.
"If the Treasury Board looked at the case on Day 1 and said, 'We don't feel these fellows were acting in good faith and they're denied legal funding,' obviously the members won't be happy to hear that, but then we don't have lawyers on board that are in limbo about whether they will be paid and who's going to pay them," said Creasser.
Earlier on HuffPost:
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has the job of cleaning up the Mounties' internal disciplinary process. Mounties have repeatedly written the commissioner saying they <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/16/rcmp-resergeance-alliance_n_1788863.html" target="_hplink">disapprove of the job he's doing</a>, drawing <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/10/rcmp-emails-reveal-tension-bob-paulson-tim-chad_n_1763453.html" target="_hplink">sharp rebukes</a> from the tough-talking commissioner.
RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford was once the public face of the Missing Women's Task Force. She <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/05/09/bc-galliford-civil-claim.html" target="_hplink">filed a lawsuit against the RCMP</a>, alleging she was harassed, bullied and abused.
Former RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2006/12/06/zaccardelli.html" target="_hplink">resigned after admitting he gave incorrect testimony</a> to an inquiry looking into the Maher Arar affair.
RCMP Sgt. Maj. Hugh Stewart took on the nickname "Sergeant Pepper" for <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/1999/10/25/apec2991025.html" target="_hplink">pepper-spraying protesters</a> at the 1997 APEC Summit at UBC. He became particularly famous after pepper-spraying a CBC cameraman.
In 2008 the RCMP were accused of <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/518193--rcmp-to-review-funding-research-against-insite" target="_hplink">misusing public funds</a> to pay for studies aimed at undermining the legitimacy of InSite, a safe injection facility in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Benjamin 'Monty' Robinson
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/07/20/benjamin-monty-robinson-rcmp_n_1690216.html" target="_hplink">Benjamin "Monty" Robinson</a> resigned from the RCMP after a string of incidents including a conviction for obstruction of justice after he hit and killed a motorcyclist then went home and drank vodka to "calm his nerves." He still faces a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/12/26/dziekanski-perjury-trial-taser-death_n_1169854.html" target="_hplink">perjury trial</a> for his role in the 2007 Taser incident that resulted in the death of Robert Dziekanski.
Robert Dziekanski died after being Tasered by a group of RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport. A <a href="http://www.braidwoodinquiry.ca/report/" target="_hplink">public inquiry</a> later determined that Mounties were not justified in using Tasers to subdue the Polish immigrant, who appeared erratic and nervous after 10 hours of waiting to be picked up from the airport. A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/12/26/dziekanski-perjury-trial-taser-death_n_1169854.html" target="_hplink">perjury trial</a> concerning the officers involved is still pending.
The first civilian commissioner of the RCMP from 2007 to 2011, Elliott's management style was criticized by senior officers who suggested he needed to anger management training. He <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/02/04/elliott-rcmp.html" target="_hplink">resigned in February 2011</a>.
Highway Of Tears
Meghan Rhoad (pictured here) of Human Rights Watch was lead researcher for a report that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/13/highway-of-tears-human-rights-watch-rcmp-rape_n_2675398.html?utm_hp_ref=canada" target="_hplink">levelled blistering allegations against the RCMP</a> for its alleged treatment of indigenous women. The report alleged that RCMP officers raped and abused aboriginals in British Columbia.
The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/14/rcmp-watchdog-report-bullying_n_2687077.html?utm_hp_ref=canada" target="_hplink">RCMP has a bullying problem</a> that needs to be addressed by better training and record-keeping, said a report released by the force's watchdog group. The report released 718 harassment complaints filed between 2005 and 2011 and about <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/14/rcmp-watchdog-report-bullying_n_2687077.html?utm_hp_ref=canada" target="_hplink">90 per cent of the complaints involved bullying</a>, CBC reported.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/14/rcmp-ottawa-child-abuse_n_2688293.html" target="_hplink">An unidentified Ottawa RCMP officer</a> is facing multiple charges after a child abuse investigation. The 41-year-old man is charged with three counts of aggravated assault, three counts of assault with weapon, one count of aggravated sexual assault, one count of failing to provide the necessities of life and one count of forcible confinement.
15 Things Critics Fear In The Tory Crime Bill
Opposition parties, professionals working within the corrections and justice systems, the Canadian Bar Association and various other interest groups have raised wide-ranging concerns about the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">omnibus crime bill</a>. Here is an overview of some of their objections. (CP/Alamy)
15. Harsher Sentences For Young Offenders
Changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will impose tougher sentences for violent and repeat young offenders, make it easier to keep such offenders in custody prior to trial and expand the definition of what is considered a "violent offence" to include "creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm" rather than just causing, attempting to cause or threatening to cause bodily harm. The new legislation will also require the Crown to consider adult sentences for offenders convicted of "serious violent offences" and require judges to consider lifting the publication ban on names of offenders convicted of "violent offences" even when they have been given youth sentences. Some of the concerns around these provisions raised by some of the professionals who work with young offenders include: (Alamy)
14. Young Offenders - Naming Names
The publication of names of some young offenders will unjustly stigmatize them for life. Quebec has asked that provinces be allowed to opt out of this provision. (Getty)
13. Young Offenders - Stiffer Sentences
Stiffer, longer sentences will turn young offenders into hardened criminals and undermine any potential for rehabilitation. (Alamy)
12. Young Offenders - Minorities Take The Brunt
As with other parts of the crime bill, critics says harsher sentencing rules and increased emphasis on incarceration will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/20/bill-c-10-omnibus-crime_n_1289536.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">disproportionately affect aboriginal</a> and black Canadians, who are already over-represented in the criminal justice system. (Alamy)
11. Young Offenders - Forget Rehabilitation
The changes shift the emphasis of the Act from rehabilitation to "protection of society," which critics say will put the focus on punishing young offenders rather than steering them away from a life of crime. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/22/crime-bill-quebec-canada_n_1107717.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Quebec, in particular, which prides itself on the success of the rehabilitative aspects of its youth justice system, has argued for stronger language prioritizing rehabilitation</a>. (Alamy)
10. Fewer Conditional Sentences
The legislation will eliminate conditional sentences, those served in the community or under house arrest, for a range of crimes, including sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, drug trafficking, kidnapping and fraud or theft over $5,000. It will also eliminate double credit for time already served. Critics say these changes will: (Getty)
9. Fewer Conditional Sentences - Spike Costs
Cost the federal and provincial justice and corrections systems millions of additional dollars a year. The parliamentary budget officer, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/28/omnibus-crime-bill-costs-conditional-sentences_n_1306528.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Kevin Page, has estimated that the average cost per offender will rise from approximately $2,600 to $41,000</a> as a consequence of the elimination of conditional sentences. (Alamy)
8. Fewer Conditional Sentences - More Trials And Hearings
- Lead to more trials as those accused of crimes will be less likely to plead guilty if they know there is no chance they will get a conditional sentence and will be more likely to take their chances on a trial. Some have predicted this will lead to greater backlogs in an already backlogged court system. - Result in more parole hearings. Page's analysis predicted that with the increase in the number of incarcerations, there will be more offenders coming up for parole, which will increase costs for federal and provincial parole review boards. A single review by the Parole Board of Canada costs an estimated $4,289, Page estimated. (Alamy)
7. Mandatory Minimums
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/22/bill-c-10-drugs-mandatory-minimums-omnibus_n_1292894.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">By far the most criticized aspect of the bill is the introduction of mandatory jail sentences for certain crimes, including drug trafficking, sex crimes, child exploitation and some violent offences</a>. Opponents of the measures have argued that this type of sentencing has been tried in other jurisdictions, most notably in the U.S., and has created more problems than it has solved. Critics say that coupled with other changes in the bill, such as increases in the maximum sentences handed down to some drug offenders and sexual predators and elimination of conditional sentences in some cases, mandatory minimums will burden Canada's prison and court systems in ways that are unfeasible, untenable and have little benefit. In particular, they argue that mandatory minimum sentences will: (Jupiter Images)
6. Mandatory Minimums - Higher Costs
Increase the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating offenders and leave fewer funds for rehabilitation programs. (Alamy)
5. Mandatory Minimums - Overcrowding
Lead to overcrowding in prisons. (Alamy)
4. Mandatory Minimums - Make Judges Less Powerful
- Remove judges' discretion to tailor sentences to the specifics of a particular case and offender and force them to apply blanket, one-size-fits-all sentences regardless of circumstances - Limit the use of alternate sentencing measures of the type currently applied to aboriginal offenders. (Alamy)
3. Mandatory Minimums - Over-Punish Drug Offenders
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/02/omnibus-crime-bill-pierre-claude-nolin_n_1316481.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Disproportionately punish small-time drug offenders and have limited effect on the drug producers, organized crime bosses and serious drug traffickers</a> the government says it wants to target. (Alamy)
2. Mandatory Minimums - What's The Point?
Have little rehabilitative effect on offenders and rather leave them more, not less, likely to re-offend. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/27/tough-on-crime-conservatives-doubt-tough-sentences_n_1115012.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill">Critics point to numerous studies showing harsher incarceration laws do not have a deterrent effect on criminals or lower crime rates</a>. (Alamy)
1. Mandatory Minimums - What Charter?
Violate provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and open up the government to legal challenges on grounds that the sentencing rules violate certain rights that offenders have under the Charter, such as the right to liberty, the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. (Alamy)