RCMP watchdog raises serious concerns about strip searches

The watchdog for the RCMP says the force has problems with the way it justifies strip searches and needs to better train members about the controversial practice.

In a report made public today, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) found the rationale and documentation for strip searches “is often lacking.”

It specifically calls out the detachment in Iqaluit, where members removed bras.

“The commission found that the RCMP’s national personal search policy (including cell block searches) is unclear and inadequate,” notes the report, which is dated Sept. 30 and was released Thursday morning.

“The RCMP’s inability to evaluate and report on policy compliance has a chilling effect on public accountability, self-evaluation and independent review.”

Many Mounties unaware of personal search policies

The report from the independent oversight body also reveals that many Mounties are not aware of personal search policies and that no mandatory training exists beyond basic instruction to cadets at the RCMP depot.

It also recommended more specialized supervisory training on personal searches from senior personnel.

“The commission is particularly concerned with the inadequate supervision of members, lack of articulation on files, and overall lack of knowledge of what constitutes a strip search at the Iqaluit detachment. Interviews revealed that bras are routinely removed and searches are video-recorded,” notes the report.

In one 2015 case, officers forcibly removed a woman’s bra and left her topless in cells, said the CRCC. The woman broke her arm as she tried to resist the officers removing her undergarment and medical care was not provided within a reasonable period, according to the report.

“Women, both cisgender and transgender, taken into police custody are often from marginalized groups, survivors of gender-based violence and in Canada, they are disproportionately from Indigenous communities,” it reads.

“When these already vulnerable women are forced to remove their bras, there is heightened risk that they will be further traumatized.”

Top court found strip searches ‘degrading’

Today’s findings follow up on a 2017 report that found “significant shortcomings” in the RCMP’s personal search policies, which included strip searches.

CRCC chairperson Michelaine Lahaie said the RCMP has made a number of positive changes over the past three years and now better distinguishes between personal searches and strip searches.

“In spite of the strides made by the RCMP, the CRCC found that further clarification on national policy is required,” she wrote.

In a letter to Lahaie, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki agreed with most of the 2020 report’s findings.

One of the only areas she disagreed with is a recommendation that the RCMP develop specific supervisor training regarding duties and responsibilities with personal searches, which Lucki argued was already in place.

“Since the commission completed its review, there have been changes to the cadet training program specific to personal searches and further revisions are to be completed in this fiscal year,” she wrote last month.

“However, as I have written in this response, further revisions of the national policy are required to address the related recommendations in this report.”

Both CRCC reviews follow a 2001 Supreme Court case that ruled that strip searches are “inherently humiliating and degrading.”

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