Suit alleges RCMP stonewalling probes

From Friday's Globe and Mail

POSTED AT 5:45 AM EST Friday, Jan. 30, 2004


Canada's RCMP watchdog has launched a court action alleging the force's commissioner and its officers are breaking laws intended to make them accountable.

In court documents, RCMP complaints chairwoman Shirley Heafey alleges the Mounties have stonewalled more than one investigation into potential misconduct by unlawfully editing notes or by refusing to hand over documents as required.

In a dispute that will be heard in the Federal Court of Canada in Ottawa on Feb. 12, Ms. Heafey expresses rising frustration, saying that her meetings with RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli have failed to resolve issues hampering the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

An RCMP spokesman said yesterday he could not comment on a matter before the courts. But in court documents Ms. Heafey suggests the Mounties are fighting to guard sensitive information and the identity of confidential sources.

The Globe and Mail learned of the legal dispute just one week after the Mounties raided the home of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill in an attempt to discover how she obtained a leaked document from confidential sources.

In a court-filed application meant to get at information she says is being kept from her, Ms. Heafey alleges that the RCMP is not living up to laws meant to make police accountable. The battle comes at a crucial time, she argues, because new terrorism laws are empowering the RCMP to do more searches and detentions than ever before.

The case does not directly involve Maher Arar -- the Ottawa computer programmer whose complaint Ms. Heafey had been examining until a public inquiry into his case was called on Wednesday. Rather, it centres on an anonymous man who complained that the RCMP used heavy-handed tactics during a drug raid.

That search, which found nothing, occurred in 1999. Almost five years later, Ms. Heafey says the Mounties have yet to cough up the sworn information used to obtain a search warrant and all the related notes.

"Information from the notes of the member who applied for the search warrant was removed . . . prior to delivery of those notes to the commission," she says in her court-filed application. She says another Mountie did the same thing.

The application says she has made repeated requests for the material, even bringing up the matter twice in meetings with Commissioner Zaccardelli. "Despite his statutory obligation to provide all materials under the control of the RMCP which are relevant to the complaint" he has refused to do so, the document states.

Ms. Heafey says the case is not isolated and further alleges the RCMP is stonewalling on an investigation surrounding a complaint that the force failed to properly investigate a protest on the Burnt Church reserve in New Brunswick.

This week, Ms. Heafey also issued a statement saying that that new national-security laws made it impossible for her to get to the bottom of the Arar affair.

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced it would hold a public inquiry looking into possible RCMP involvement in the deportation of Mr. Arar. He had been a figure of interest to the Mounties before the decision by the United States to deport him to Syria, where he was held for 10 months as a suspected al-Qaeda member.

Ms. Heafey said she will use her expertise to assist the inquiry.

With a report from Jeff Sallot

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