Police accountability:
Comparing B.C. with Ontario (V)

Ontario’s SIU faces public criticism and a
second investigation by the provincial Ombudsman.
B.C.’s OPCC continues to escape scrutiny

Dec. 11, 2010

Any shortcomings notwithstanding, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit is by far Canada’s best police oversight agency. B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner could be Canada’s worst. To a large extent it comes down to vigilance: Ontario’s media, activists and Ombudsman keep a critical eye on the SIU. B.C.’s mainstream media and the activists they listen to leave the OPCC alone. Our Ombudsperson lacks authority.

Now Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin has launched a second investigation into the SIU. A former SIU director himself, Marin investigated the SIU extensively beginning in June 2007, resulting in the landmark September 2008 report Oversight Unseen. Marin’s work is generally credited with reviving the agency.

News about Marin’s second investigation comes from today’s Globe and Mail. It doesn’t state the Ombudsman’s reason for a second investigation. But the paper does quote an SIU critic who says that too much of the agency’s work is kept confidential.

Secrecy is a far greater problem with B.C.’s OPCC. Almost all the information collected during a B.C. cop-on-cop investigation — interview transcripts, police notes, police reports and other evidence — is closed to the public. B.C. cops release only the little bits of info that they want to release. The same goes for the OPCC, although that’s not a Police Act requirement. Stan Lowe and his crew of ex-cops choose to keep crucial info secret.

An independent investigation into Lowe and his crew would cause a scandal. But no such investigation will ever happen. When it comes to the OPCC, our mainstream media haven’t taken any initiative. Nor has the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, whom the media have granted a near-monopoly on critical comment about police accountability.

As for B.C.’s Ombudsperson, she has no authority over the OPCC. Nobody does. Lowe and his crew answer to absolutely no one.

As a result, the OPCC has gotten away with what must have been a joint cover-up with the VPD. No journalist or “official” activist has asked why Vancouver police and the OPCC kept quiet about VPD Const. Taylor Robinson’s gratuitous assault on Sandy Davidsen, a low-income, physically handicapped woman who was shoved to the ground, apparently because she didn’t get out of tough-guy Robinson’s way fast enough.

That’s just one example. A thorough investigation into the OPCC, comparable to Marin’s 2007 investigation into the SIU, would probably find more cover-ups. It would definitely find obviously dishonest decisions and a hiring policy designed to perpetuate a dishonest cop culture.

Thomas Braidwood seemed to recognize the problem, or part of it anyway. After his inquiry into Robert Dziekanski’s Taser-related death, Braidwood recommended the province create a new civilian investigation agency based on the SIU. Braidwood emphasized that the new agency should answer to B.C.’s Ombudsperson.

But the BC Liberal government replied that it might instead put the new agency under OPCC jurisdiction. That would defeat the cause of police accountability entirely because Lowe and his crew are too close to the cops and they answer to no one.

Yet no one in the NDP opposition, the media or their “official” activists said a word.

That’s one of the key distinctions between police oversight in Ontario and B.C. Ontario’s SIU, Canada’s best police oversight agency, gets continual scrutiny from media and activists, and from an Ombudsman with authority. B.C.’s OPCC, possibly Canada’s worst such agency, gets no scrutiny from the mainstream media and “official” activists. Our Ombudsperson has no authority over police oversight. And the government intends to keep it that way.


One further note: News of the Ontario Ombudsman’s second investigation into the SIU came almost exactly two years after Stan Lowe’s Dec. 12, 2008, announcement that the five Taser shocks inflicted on Robert Dziekanski were “reasonable and necessary.” Just one week later Lowe was appointed police complaint commissioner, a detail that barely rated mention in B.C.’s media.

Police accountability: Comparing B.C. with Ontario (I)
Their system is a flawed work in progress
but it surpasses ours in three crucial areas
Police accountability: Comparing B.C. with Ontario (II)
Without an ombudsperson’s strong oversight
B.C.’s police ‘watchdog’ will remain B.C.’s police lapdog
Police accountability: Comparing B.C. with Ontario (III)
A conflict between Ontario police and the SIU
contrasts with the very chummy relationship
between B.C. cops and the OPCC
Police accountability: Comparing B.C. with Ontario (IV)
Ontario’s NDP criticizes the AG for
‘buckling under a very powerful police lobby.’
Meanwhile B.C.’s NDP, Liberals and cops
stand united against police accountability
Police accountability: Comparing B.C. with Ontario (VI)
You won’t read this in B.C.’s mainstream media.
And that’s part of the reason we’ll never have effective police oversight