Victoria reluctant to deal
with tragedy of in-custody deaths

Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun, Nov. 15, 2010


The public inquiry into the 1998 Frank Paul tragedy is again drawing embarrassing attention to the lack of investigative transparency and police accountability in B.C.

Like the Braidwood Commission before it, these hearings into a police-involved death have pulled back the curtain on a sordid mess and Victoria’s lack of enthusiasm to deal with it.

First of all, we’ve learned that when police investigate their brethren in serious cases, they rarely if ever make a charge recommendation because they rarely if ever do standard interviews or follow normal investigative procedures.

Second, it turns out B.C. Crown attorneys don’t feel up to blowing the whistle on this blatantly incompetent detective work. That’s not their job, senior prosecutors told the Paul inquiry.

And third, those in charge of the criminal justice branch say they can’t comply with former justice Thomas Braidwood’s recommendation that a special prosecutor be appointed in serious police-involved incidents because of the cost.

Well, no wonder — there are so many of them.

B.C. leads the country in that dubious distinction, according to a recent report, with 267 people dead in police hands within 15 years. Robert Dziekanski, Ian Bush, Frank Paul, Kevin St. Arnaud, Paul Boyd ... it is a sad and far, far too-long list.

And now senior bureaucrats say it would be too expensive to make the process just?

It’s time Attorney-General Mike de Jong dealt with this untenable situation and explained how and when’s he’s going to deliver law-enforcement accountability.

He said he’d have some kind of civilian agency up and running by next summer — but we still don’t even have a proposed model, no draft legislation, nothing concrete yet out of the AG’s office.

This province needs an independent civilian-led, civilian-staffed agency with RCMP buy-in to investigate allegations of serious police misconduct.

Braidwood in his Dziekanski report and former justice William Davies in his interim report on Paul’s death both called for that kind of reform.

As in the death of Polish immigrant Dziekanski, it’s obvious we would have never heard the truth in the Paul case without a video surfacing that gave lie to the officers’ story. After claiming Paul wasn’t drunk and didn’t want a bed for the night, they were caught on tape dragging the sopping wet, unconscious 47-year-old Mi’kmaq man from the jail.

In both cases, the cops lied (they said Dziekanski was combative and assaulted them) and expected to get away with it with a little friendly wilful blindness.

That provincial prosecutors in both cases swallowed such huge piles of manure defies belief.

Both inquiries have established there not only is a problem with cop culture, there’s a problem with Crown culture, too, when it comes to police-involved files.

Even if the sloppy investigations meant prosecutors could not lay charges in connection with either death, charges of obstruction of justice should have been considered and pursued with alacrity.

Let’s be frank; the cops should have been fired in both cases and the officers who investigated both files disciplined.

Last week in Gloucestershire, England, a 36-year-old former constable was jailed for 12 months because he left two men apparently asleep on the ground. He spoke with one of the men and left. Later one was found dead — like Paul, from hypothermia.

The ex-cop pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office and perverting the course of justice for inventing false witness statements.

In his case, his colleagues spoke against him and from discovery of the body to sentencing took less than two years.

In both the Dziekanski and Paul cases, it took roughly a year in each to get the first no-charge decision.

There is no reason B.C. cannot enjoy a similar system of timely police accountability and a similar law-enforcement culture where cops feel a duty to the public, not their colleagues.

Ontario has had a special investigations unit for two decades.

Its budget is about $7 million a year — about what we gave the Basi-Virk defence team and a fraction of what these inquiries cost.

What’s missing in Victoria is political will.

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