Liberals revive border agency oversight bill

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are reviving a plan to allow travellers, immigration detainees and others who believe they have been mistreated by the Canada Border Agency to file complaints with an independent body .

The government introduced legislation Thursday to give the RCMP watchdog the added responsibility of handling public complaints about the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

The bill to create the Public Review and Complaints Commission comes on the heels of previous versions that died on the order paper.

Border agents can stop travelers for questioning, take blood and breath samples, and search, detain and arrest people without a warrant.

An internal agency unit handles complaints from the public, while other agencies, including the courts, the federal privacy commissioner and the National Security and Intelligence Review Office , examine various concerns.

But the border agency is not overseen by a dedicated, independent complaints and reviews body, prompting civil liberties advocates, refugee lawyers and parliamentary committees to call for tighter oversight.

The government proposes to spend $112 million over five years, and more than $19 million annually thereafter, to establish the new body, which would replace the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.

The new commission would require both the RCMP and the border agency to respond to the new watchdog’s interim reports within six months, solving a long-standing sore point.

The RCMP commissioner was taken to court for chronically dragging his feet in providing comments on the current complaints commission’s interim reports. The problem caused long delays in the publication of final reports and recommendations.

The RCMP and border agency should also report annually to the Minister of Public Safety on progress in implementing the commission’s recommendations.

Additionally, there would be ethnically-based data collection and publication to increase knowledge of systemic racism in law enforcement and guide responses.

The new Public Complaints and Review Commission would conduct specific reviews of all non-national security activities of the RCMP and border services, either on its own initiative or at the request of the minister.

She would also conduct investigations related to complaints about the two bodies, which would include:

— receipt of complaints from the public regarding conduct and level of service;

— reviews when complainants are not satisfied with the way the RCMP or border agency handled their concerns; and

— the implementation of investigations into the conduct of organizations when it is in the public interest to do so.