B.C.’s Ombudsperson is once again calling for independent oversight of municipal jails in RCMP-policed communities, after a Prince George guard left a detainee with a broken hip screaming in pain for hours without medical aid.
In B.C., jail guards working in a community with a municipal police force are designated as special municipal constables and are subject to discipline by their police chief and oversight by the the Police Complaints Commissioner. But in communities with an RCMP detachment instead, there is no independent body to oversee jail guards.
Someone who has been mistreated by a guard in those municipalities has no means of recourse, unless the guard’s actions warrant a criminal investigation.
In the Prince George incident, the treatment of the detainee was investigated by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO) because it also involved the conduct of RCMP officers. The IIO, which investigates all officer-involved incidents that result in serious injury or death, determined there was no fault on the part of the cops, but it did raise major concerns about the actions of the jail guard.
In its report, the IIO determined the Prince George man broke his hip while being arrested. He complained of pain, but the RCMP officers didn’t think much of it.
He was jailed and, according to his cell mate, spent the night “screaming in pain” while curled up in the fetal position. The detainee told the IIO he repeatedly asked the jail guard for help and she replied by telling him it wasn’t her problem.
She told the IIO that the detainee had complained of a broken leg, and that she likely reported it to an officer, but that she couldn’t name who.
“He made a lot of noise that night, but then, he always does – he’s a very obnoxious drunk person… I like to say that he’s ugly inside as well as out,” she told investigators, according to the report. She said the man should have proven his injury to her. A colleague told investigators he felt the guard believes all prisoners are “scumbags” and that she is primarily motivated by “revenge.”
The man didn’t receive medical attention for his hip until the next morning when RCMP officers went to release him from the cell.
The IIO said criminal charges may be warranted for the guard, but that it had no jurisdiction over her. An investigation by RCMP resulted in no charges.
The Ombudsperson said in other incidents reported directly to his office, a jailed young woman said she was denied feminine hygiene products or a shower while menstruating, and a domestic violence survivor said a male guard attempted a strip search on her. Neither incident could be investigated because no independent body exists.
Ombudsperson Jay Chalke said in a news release July 20 he has been calling on the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to address this gap for four years.
“Too many years have passed with no significant movement on this issue,” Chalke said. “No person should be in custody without recourse to independent oversight.”
The Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act also recommended a review of the lack of jail guard oversight in its 2019 report. In April 2022, the committee released its latest report, with a recommendation to create one independent agency to oversee conduct, complaints, investigations and discipline for all police and public safety personnel.
In a statement, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said it is reviewing this latest recommendation, among others.