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Police watch dog budget slashed

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Monday, March 30, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Possible cuts to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP could leave Northerners out in the cold if they need to file a complaint.

Some $3.5-million in funding is up for renewal this year and almost 40 per cent of the Commission's anticipated budget has not been approved. This could eliminate 16 positions and the entire strategic policy and research division of the independent review panel.

Nelson Kalil, manager of communications for the Commission for Public Complaints (CPC), said the cuts could affect the commission's ability to review complaints made by the public.

"We'd have to be more selective," he said. "This funding shortfall could seriously impact our ability to do our work."

Kalil said the shortfall in funding could prevent the CPC and the RCMP from building a strong level of public confidence in the $4.2-billion police force.

"Even the RCMP has said its greatest concern is confidence in policing and this is where we see this shortfall affecting our capacity to provide the service we feel is required," he said. "Our aim is to restore that confidence in policing."

Kalil said CPC planned to do studies on Northern policing and the challenges officers face here. Cutbacks could make these plans little more than a pipe dream, he said.

Kalil said a review of the 2007 Tasering of a 15-year-old girl in handcuffs at the Arctic Tern Youth Correctional facility in Inuvik is nearing completion and isn't threatened by the potential funding cuts. Other cases in early stages of review could be abandoned and left incomplete, like the complaint filed against the RCMP for excessive force used on Alfred Baillargeon in Yellowknife in January of this year.

"These sorts of things would be imperiled, to do these sorts of investigation," he said.

Calls to Susan Cooper, lawyer for the 15-year-old girl were not returned by deadline.

The cuts could also wipe out CPC's strategic policy and research division, a group dedicated not just to reviewing complaints but also to identifying trends within the RCMP and addressing policing challenges.

"They've done the taser studies the RCMP has used to make changes to their policies, reviews on police investigating police," Kalil said, adding they conduct the annual review of taser use. "We did one for 2008 and hope to do one for 2009 and we see this as a lot of value to the oversight of policing.

"There are a lot more concerns about some of the mundane issues around policing like record-keeping, but nonetheless (CPC) deals with the core competency of police."