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Watchdog rips Mounties for preventing a woman in custody from showering for nearly a week

The RCMP has agreed to change its prisoner-handling policy after it was chastised by its watchdog for preventing a woman from showering while in custody for nearly a week.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission also said the Mounties breached the woman’s privacy by filming her using the toilet without letting her know.

The CRCC’s report, completed last year and recently obtained through an access to information request, doesn’t represent the first time the watchdog has called out the RCMP for denying shower access.

According to the report, the woman — whose name is redacted in the documents released to CBC News — was arrested in Grand Prairie, Alta. following a “dog-biting incident.”

The woman argued she had not been given any information about her charges and refused to sign a release document promising to appear at a later date, said the report.

Police kept her in custody for nearly a week awaiting a release hearing.

The CRCC’s investigators said that decision was inconsistent with the Criminal Code. Further, the watchdog wrote the woman was being held for two bylaw offences that are subject to fines — something which seemed lost on the responding officer.

“This lack of knowledge adversely affected [the woman] who was required to spend almost one week in custody for non-criminal bylaw matters,” reads the final report.

“Although this was in part due to her refusal to identify herself during the judicial interim release hearing, it was nevertheless a bizarre result.”

The RCMP said it has since apologized to the woman for failing to release her within a reasonable time.

Showers are ‘fundamental’ to ‘personal integrity’: CRCC

The woman told the CRCC that she was not given an opportunity to take a shower during her nearly seven days in a police cell.

The RCMP pushed back at first, arguing access to showers is”dependent on a variety of factors, including length of stay and per cellblock supervisor’s discretion.” 

The detachment also argued there were 67 other prisoners lodged in cells at the time requiring supervision, said the report.

“The commission finds the RCMP’s response to be unreasonable and that basic hygienic measures such as showers are fundamental to the personal integrity of any person lodged in cells for an extended period,” it said.

The CRCC called on the force to apologize to the woman and to change its policy “to provide showers each day, commencing with the second day of consecutive custody, and to mandate the offer of appropriate toiletries.”

A woman police officer in red uniform
Brenda Lucki, the RCMP commissioner at the time of the CRCC’s review, agreed to change the force’s policy on showers in detention. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Brenda Lucki, the RCMP commissioner at the time of the review, agreed to both of th CRCC’s recommendations, according to a copy of a letter she sent to the commission.

It’s not clear if the policy change has been implemented. The RCMP did not respond to CBC’s request for comment by deadline.

The CRCC’s recommendations regarding shower access echo its findings from a 2021 investigation of the treatment of a woman who spent nine days in custody at an RCMP detachment.

“The watchdog found that the woman was only allowed one shower during her nine days in custody, which was not compliant with RCMP policy mandating a shower every three days,” said a summary of that investigation. 

“There was also only one documented offer of a cloth and soap. The commissioner further found that the RCMP policy of providing showers every three days was in itself unreasonable.”

In another case completed in 2022, the CRCC once again called out the RCMP over its prisoner care after a man was lodged in police cells waiting for a Monday morning court appearance.

“The prisoner was not provided access to a shower or clean clothes during his stay, the cell block lights were kept on full brightness 24 hours a day, and proper inquiries were not made when the prisoner suggested that he had not received his proper medication,” said the case summary.

Woman complained she was filmed without warning 

The Grand Prairie woman at the centre of this latest CRCC probe also told the commission she wasn’t warned she would be filmed while using the cell toilet — a concern the CRCC also shared.

“Although prisoners have a reduced expectation of privacy while in custody, there remains an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy when using a toilet alone in a cell,” wrote the CRCC.

“Using the toilet is an inherently private activity and a person does not generally expect to be video‑monitored without warning or without appropriate modesty screens.”

The CRCC added that toilet modesty screens — which shield the lower part of an inmate’s body while still allowing police to monitor their safety — were “proposed by the courts five years prior to the woman’s incarceration.”

The RCMP says it has since updated its operational manual so that prisoners are made aware of closed circuit video. 

The force also apologized for denying the woman medical attention while in custody.

The CRCC report said the woman told her guards one morning that half of her face felt numb and she believed she was having a small stroke.

The shift supervisor told CRCC investigators he didn’t notice any problems with the woman’s speech or droopiness in her face, so he did not call paramedics.

The commission said it believes he should have erred on the side of caution by calling in medical assistance. 

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