Canada introduces bill for border officer and national police oversight - again

FILE PHOTO: RCMP officers are seen at a checkpoint ahead of the border crossing, as supporters continue to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates nearby, in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, February 19, 2022. REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's federal government introduced a bill on Thursday to establish an oversight body for its border police and its national police service after two previous bills died when Parliament was dissolved.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) "Canada’s front line" and said he hoped to maintain that trust through independent review and accountability mechanisms.

The Public Complaints and Review Commission would have the power to conduct investigations and make recommendations, including for disciplinary actions, but they would not be binding.

The CBSA is the only major law enforcement body in the country with no independent oversight. The RCMP has been under fire for allegations by civilians and its own members of systemic racism.

People will be able to complain directly to the commission but the CBSA and the RCMP will continue to take most complaints and investigate themselves.

When the CBSA investigates complaints into itself it overwhelmingly finds them to be unfounded. According to data obtained by Reuters, 73.5% of allegations made in complaints between January 2016 and March 31, 2021, were deemed "unfounded" and only 15% were deemed "founded." The rest were "undetermined."

"We believe strongly in a simple premise: That Canadians should have confidence in those tasked with keeping them safe,” Mendicino told reporters on Thursday.

The bill will require both agencies to collect race-based data and the CBSA to inform anyone it detains of their right to complain.

After dropping earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, Canada's indefinite detention of non-citizens is rising. The predominant reason for detention is concern people will not attend hearings but there was no spike in no-shows when detention numbers dropped.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Mark Porter)

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