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RCMP agents committed crimes with immunity from prosecution

(b) every one who conspires with any one to prosecute a person for an alleged offence, knowing that he did not commit that offence, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable

(i) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, if the alleged offence is one for which, on conviction, that person would be liable to be sentenced to imprisonment for life or for a term not exceeding fourteen years, or

(ii) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, if the alleged offence is one for which, on conviction, that person would be liable to imprisonment for less than fourteen years . . .

RCMP Crest

OTTAWA -- RCMP civilian agents with immunity from prosecution covertly committed a range of crimes, including firearms offences, counterfeiting and theft over $5,000 under the Mounties' direction in 2004-2005, the federal government has disclosed.

The latest report on the RCMP's use of a new law which for the first time gives police, and agents under their authority, an immunity from prosecution for most crimes committed in the line of duty, was tabled in the Commons chamber a week ago by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.

The contentious law shields designated "public officers" -- police, park wardens, fisheries officers, customs officials and jail guards who are enforcing any federal statute, and their agents -- from criminal liability for virtually all crimes, short of obstructing justice, sex crimes, or violence causing bodily harm, provided their otherwise illegal conduct is "reasonable and proportional" to the crimes being investigated.

Thursday, the Canadian Bar Association, the voice for 36,000 lawyers across the country, demanded the government repeal the Criminal Code provisions which law enforcement officials call "essential" to combat organized criminals and terrorists but civil libertarians deplore as unnecessary and unconstitutional.

"It is highly questionable whether it is consistent with the rule of law for police to break the law in order to enforce it," said Vancouver lawyer Greg DelBigio, who spoke for the association before the Commons justice committee Thursday.

The justice committee is in the midst of an overdue mandatory three-year study of whether the February 2002 law is working, and what reforms should be made.

Statistics disclosed last week by the government in its third annual report on the law reveal that from Feb. 1, 2004 to Jan. 31, 2005, the RCMP authorized its agents, typically informers and criminals, to commit multiple crimes on seven occasions, including illegal firearms offences, possession of stolen goods, possession of forged passports, theft over $5,000 and counterfeiting.

What would otherwise have been illegal activities were committed during investigations into the alleged sale of contraband and jewelry, immigration offences, and suspected crimes involving stolen property, improperly stamped tobacco products, and counterfeiting.

No illegal conduct by police officers themselves was disclosed, but that does not necessarily mean that police did not dirty their hands.

Although the law requires all illegal conduct by police agents to be publicly disclosed, in the case of police officers' own actions only those illegal activities that are likely to result in the loss of, or serious damage to, property must be publicly reported. There were no offences in that category committed by police in 2004, says the report. However that leaves a host of otherwise illegal activities, including physical assaults short of causing bodily harm, that could have been engaged in by police without Parliament or the public ever finding out.

"If breaking the law to enforce the law can ever be justified, it requires meaningful oversight and accountability," DelBigio stressed. "The current (reporting) mechanisms are woefully inadequate." RCMP Assistant Commissioner Raf Souccar assured the justice committee the Mounties observe "strict policy guidelines" to ensure they comply with all the safeguards in the law. "In many types of criminal organizations and terrorist-related investigations it is sometimes vital for undercover police officers to pose as those engaged in criminal activity," he testified recently.

Without the immunity from prosecution, police would be "severely restricted in their investigative capabilities," he said. "The legislation has not been abused."