SURREY, B.C. — The Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia is calling for more government funding to entice candidates to apply for open positions as caseloads peak.

In the first three days of April, the police watchdog says it responded to six incidents, including two officer shootings, which highlights the significant staffing challenges. 

Chief civilian director Ronald MacDonald says over the past two years, its caseload has “basically doubled” and there are about 70 active files.

He says the office has 24 front-line investigators, and even though the government agreed 30 workers were needed in 2018, it has never been fully staffed.

The civilian-led police oversight agency operates under the Ministry of the Attorney General.

MacDonald says he is trying to fill the positions, but the current salary structure undercuts his ability to fill roles.

Attorney General David Eby said in an emailed statement Tuesday that all sectors are facing labour shortages.

“This challenge is further complicated for the IIO as there is a very specific group of people qualified to do this work,” he said.

The ministry requires that the agency refrains from hiring anyone who served as a B.C. police officer within five years to maintain independence. 

That requirement was lifted between June 2019 and July 2021 as a temporary measure to help the agency “complete investigations in a timely manner,” Eby said. 

He said the ministry is considering the possibility of lifting the provision again.

MacDonald said this allowed him to hire some “very qualified people,” but many others still turned down his offer.

“They didn’t accept because of our salary scale and benefit scale,” he said.

MacDonald said the office can’t offer competitive wages or pay overtime, and it requires employees to be on-call every three weeks.

“We are bound by the provisions of the Public Service Act on salary scale, salary structure, and that both limits our base salaries and means we’re unable to pay overtime,” MacDonald said in an interview.

Even if the office could pay more, MacDonald said he doesn’t have the budget to do it. 

“It’s unfair to the people who work here and it’s unfair to the people of B.C. because it means that our investigations take longer than they might otherwise.”

— By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press