An independent watchdog has uncovered shoddy reporting by RCMP officers in northern British Columbia that makes it impossible to tell whether many missing-persons cases were properly investigated.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP also found serious record-keeping gaps, policy weaknesses or compliance issues related to police investigations of public intoxication, personal searches and use of force.
The commission's consultations in almost two dozen communities in the region — where aboriginal people account for 17.5 per cent of the population — showed that many believe "the RCMP is biased against indigenous people." However, the watchdog was "unable to substantiate" the assertion through its policy and file review.
Overall, the commission found no basis to conclude there were "broad, systemic problems" with RCMP actions in northern B.C.
However, it makes 31 recommendations aimed at improving transparency and accountability through better reporting, policies, supervisory review and training.
"What we do know for certain is that RCMP policing in indigenous communities can be improved," complaints commission chairman Ian McPhail said in an interview.
"The RCMP is working to improve it. We'll want to see the implementation of these changes."
In a reply to McPhail's report, RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson supported, or generally supported, all but one of the recommendations. The police force has already made strides on a number of them.
The complaints commission initiated the investigation in May 2013 in response to concerns about policing in northern B.C. raised by individuals and various human rights and civil liberties groups, as well as a provincial inquiry into missing women.
The commission's long-awaited report is likely to renew discussion of whether the RCMP is doing enough to prevent and investigate cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. The long-festering issue of aboriginal women and girls who disappear — and often end up killed — is now the subject of a federal inquiry.
First Nations and human rights groups said Thursday the report confirms RCMP failings in northern B.C., but they expressed disappointment the commission did not squarely address discrimination and racism.
"The recommendations in this report, while they may help to improve some police practices, will not fix the massive problem of systemic racism that our people experience daily and have had to endure ever since the RCMP started policing our lands and peoples," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.