Lawsuits a last resort after formal complaint process left people feeling unsatisfied

Lawsuits a last resort after formal complaint process left people feeling unsatisfied

In our series of stories about dealings with the Osoyoos RCMP, one theme is consistent: the people were all disappointed with the formal process to complain about the conduct of RCMP members.

In two separate ongoing civil lawsuits, complainants said they did not initially want to file a lawsuit, and would not have done so if they had not been so thoroughly disappointed and dissatisfied with the formal complaints processes. But, they say, they felt they had no other recourse.

The stories of the Laybournes and the MacLeans are different in several key ways. The Laybourne family’s lawsuit alleges they were subjected to harassment in their dealings with some local RCMP members. Meanwhile, the MacLeans, a married couple who are still both RCMP members themselves, have filed a lawsuit alleging harassment within the Osoyoos detachment where they previously worked.

The RCMP has filed responses disputing both claims. Both cases are ongoing and no wrongdoing has been proven.


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Interactive graphic: RCMP run-ins in a small town

The two families have never met each other and although both suits involve the Osoyoos detachment, the two cases involve mostly different officers.

The MacLeans and the Laybournes initially took their cases to the RCMP’s formal complaints process, before they ever considered going the civil route.

For the Laybournes, as civilians, this involved filing a complaint with the RCMP, which conducted an internal investigation. When the Laybournes felt the investigation was biased, they lodged a complaint with the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, or the CPC, in Ottawa.

For the MacLeans, as RCMP members, they had to file an internal harassment complaint, which then resulted in an investigation.

In each case, an RCMP officer from outside the detachment was assigned to investigate the complaints in Osoyoos. Coincidentally, the same member from Kelowna was assigned to both the Laybournes’ and MacLeans’ investigations.

After Jason MacLean’s internal complaint, he said Sgt. John Hines was assigned to investigate. MacLean felt Hines seemed to do too little to find out what had happened, and seemed to be more interested in seeing the matter go away.

MacLean said his time speaking with Hines was brief, and cut short when Hines told him he had to go to lunch. MacLean said he never heard from Hines after that. Sasha’s total conversation with Hines was less than 10 minutes, Jason MacLean said.

“We did everything we could to resolve it with every measure available to us. This whole thing could have been resolved,” MacLean said, adding that he felt their civil case against the RCMP was only made necessary because of “what John Hines had missed either by his ineptness” or attitude.

The Laybournes complained to the RCMP in 2009 about the alleged conduct of Staff Sgt. Kurt Lozinski, and Sgt. Hines from Kelowna was assigned to investigate. The Laybournes said Hines’ words and actions led them to believe he was biased and their public complaint would not be treated fairly.

Since they were not satisfied with Hines’ investigation into their public complaint, they followed the procedure in place and took their case to the Commission for Public Complaints in June 2010.

Six months later, in December 2010, the Commission released the Chair’s Interim Report into the Laybournes’ complaint, concluding that “Sergeant Hines’ public complaint investigation was biased.”

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That interim report, authored by CPC Interim Chair Ian McPhail, said: “This is not merely a case where the perception of bias existed but one in which I find actual bias. Given this finding, as well as the lack of operational file documentation contained in the material supplied by the RCMP, I have concluded that further investigation is required.”

McPhail’s report then made three recommendations in response to the Laybournes’ case, including that the RCMP appoint a Professional Standards investigator to probe the Laybournes’ outstanding public complaints.

After the CPC Chair’s report, the Laybournes’ file went to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson for review. In a letter dated Feb 1, 2012, Paulson wrote to the CPC, “I agree with the finding that Sergeant John Hines’ investigation was biased.”

Paulson’s letter also went on to support all three of McPhail’s recommendations, adding, “I will direct that these recommendations be implemented.”

Four weeks later, the CPC issued its Final Report, in which Chair McPhail wrote “I reiterate my findings and recommendations.”

That Final Report was dated Feb. 29, 2012, but more than two years later, as of October 2014, the Laybournes say they have not heard anything about whether or not the Chair’s recommendations have been acted upon, despite the Commissioner’s letter agreeing with them. The CPC would not answer questions about those recommendations, citing privacy concerns.

Looking back on his experience with the CPC, Roy Laybourne said he was dismayed with the organization’s powerlessness, “(The RCMP) get this letter, and is under no actual obligation to comply with any findings, no obligation to report back with any actions taken, there is no way to verify anything. I remember I said that RCMP could essentially crumple the letter into a ball and toss it back, and they (CPC personnel) conceded, yes.

“So there is an important sounding thing called the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. If you look at the website or listen to their phone message it appears to be an authoritative body of RCMP oversight,” Laybourne said. “But it’s a charade.”

Issues with the RCMP complaints process — both internal complaints from members and public complaints from civilians — are not new to Darryl Davies, a professor of criminology at Carleton University in Ottawa. The longtime critic of problems with lack of RCMP oversight says the key issue is they don’t have any independence, they can only make recommendations.

“That is the least effective way to hold people accountable, is with recommendations,” says Davies. “Because all you have to do is ignore them.”

Changes are coming to the RCMP, but it’s not clear when the Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act, which includes the creation of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, or CRCC, will come into effect.

Rob Gordon, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, said the coming changes to RCMP oversight are “a move in the right direction, but I don’t think it’s sufficient.”

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Like Davies, Gordon said the fact that the Commission is still limited to non-binding recommendations is problematic, calling it “a huge issue.”

“Everything that is in the new legislation is potentially great, but I would see it more as a massive Band-Aid than a solution to all the ills that have been dogging this organization for at least 10 to 15 years,” he said. “The problem lies in the size of the organization and the lack of accountability.”

A Ministry of Public Safety spokeswoman said this month there is no timeline in place for when the new CRCC will be established.


The RCMP is the subject of about 2,000 complaints a year form civilians.

The first step after a complaint is for the RCMP to try and resolve each situation, which can range from “member attitude” complaints to more serious allegations.

In cases where the complainant is not satisfied with the RCMP’s internal handling of the complaint, civilians can then request further review from the Commission for Public Complaints. This happens in about 10 per cent of complaints, for an average of a little more than 200 cases a year from across the country.

B.C. has the country’s largest RCMP division by far, and accordingly has the highest number of complaints. About a third of the entire force is located in B.C., with more than 9,500 RCMP employees serving in the province, according to the RCMP website.

Of the 207 files reviewed in 2013-2014 by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, 94 files, or 45 per cent, originated in B.C., said a CPC spokeswoman. For 2012-2013, the CPC reviewed 237 files and again, about 45 per cent of those files originated in B.C.