EDITORIAL: Cutting off the west

Closure of Civilian Review and Complaints Commission in Surrey reinforces long-standing doubts about B.C.'s representation in Ottawa.

Part of the problem with our Ottawa-centric federal government is that it can’t seem to understand why anyone in B.C. would be displeased about services – any services – being centralized ‘back east’.

But that’s just what is happening with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.

The federal government has decided to close the B.C. office – located in Surrey – and save costs by centralizing staff in Ottawa.

While the RCMP investigates complaints about individual officers, the commission is intended as a further recourse for complainants who remain unsatisfied, or for addressing wider issues about RCMP policies and practice in general.

The decision to close the local office removes another access point for a level of independent oversight on the force at a time when, some would argue, even greater oversight is needed.

There may be justifications for the move – a commission spokesperson says the office did not itself conduct investigations and hadn’t done any mediation recently, while eight full-time staff affected in Surrey are, we are told, either retiring or leaving voluntarily. And the work that the Newton office undertook, we are assured, will still go on in Ottawa.

But it’s a particularly bad optic at a time when B.C. residents continue to have lingering, and troubling, concerns about RCMP actions – ranging all the way from the Dziekanski tasering, in connection with which former officer Monty Robinson has just been sentenced for perjury, to the recent shooting of Anonymous collective member James McIntyre during a protest at a BC Hydro meeting in Dawson Creek and the July 18 death of 20-year-old Hudson Brooks outside the South Surrey detachment.

And, as B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton has observed, the move – in the largest RCMP jurisdiction in Canada, where 37 per cent of all the country’s Mounties are stationed – was done with no consultation with provincial officials.

The federal government, it seems, is perfectly comfortable with this lack of consultation – and doesn’t seem to be aware, or much care, that unilateral decisions of this kind only serve to goad locals.

It may be wise to remember that, in politics, perceptions are everything – particularly when those perceptions reinforce long-held suspicions B.C. has about its representation in Ottawa.