Refuting the fallacies

Here’s some clarification to counter
misinformation about police accountability

Jan. 6, 2011

Quite a few factual errors and misguided perceptions find their way into media accounts on this issue. Below are some of the more frequently repeated fallacies, each with a response.


B.C. is about to create an effective system of police accountability.

Other than vague platitudes from politicians, there’s nothing to support such a wildly optimistic statement. Both the BC Liberals and the NDP support the police status quo.

Both parties put aside their differences to appoint Stan Lowe police complaint commissioner and again to pass minor Police Act amendments that preserved the cop status quo. The government responded to Thomas Braidwood’s report by saying it might put his recommended civilian investigation agency under OPCC jurisdiction. Since then the government has been stalling. And stalling. And stalling.

There’s been barely a word of protest about any of this from the media or anyone they listen to.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the government uses the upcoming Pickton inquiry as an excuse to continue stalling for years to come. But even if the government does overhaul B.C.’s police oversight system, the changes will likely be cosmetic. Any new agency will likely be neutered by the OPCC, by staff similar to the OPCC, by insufficient funding or by ineffective legislation.

The circumstances that brought about relatively effective police oversight in Ontario don’t exist in B.C.

May 17, 2011 update: The B.C. government finally announced it will create a civilian investigation agency, but it’s a decidedly watered-down version of Braidwood’s recommended Independent Investigations Office. Most disturbingly, the IIO will come under the OPCC’s authority. And we’re still stuck with police investigating police who are involved in “less serious” incidents — with the OPCC helping cops rationalize, excuse or cover up police misconduct.


An NDP government would do a better job of establishing police accountability.

See above.


The RCMP has turned the corner, leaving its problems in the past.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott has accomplished nothing since taking office in July 2007. But every now and then he (or occasionally another upper-echelon character) announces that the force is on the mend. Some journalists still fall for it, although not all of them. Among the RCMP’s many problems is the fact that it rarely fires officers, even those guilty of the most outrageous transgressions. Those who do manage to get fired draw full pay for years afterwards.


The federal government’s proposed civilian review agency for the RCMP will make the Mounties accountable.

Most of the media fell for this one too. But the agency will only be able to make recommendations which the Mounties will be free to ignore. The agency will also have a limited purview, a serious matter given the RCMP’s wide-ranging powers. Other important details are scarce.


Provincial oversight would fix the RCMP.

B.C.’s system of police oversight is at least as bad as that of the RCMP with the added problem that it gets almost no outside scrutiny. No wonder so many Mounties express willingness to come under B.C. jurisdiction.


The OPCC’s budget setback has serious consequences for police accountability.

This nonsense came from the Victoria Times Colonist, a paper evidently close to the OPCC. The TC story followed the decision of a legislative budget committee to pare down Stan Lowe’s request for more money.

True, the decision could have serious implications for any new police oversight agency that the government might eventually create. One way to render the new agency ineffective would be to starve it of funds. But the OPCC is already ineffective — deliberately so. Regardless of how much money the OPCC gets, it will continue its work of excusing, rationalizing or covering up for police misconduct.

The work is easy, too. Based on my experience it consists of an OPCC staffer — usually an ex-cop — quickly skimming material forwarded by the police and then writing a dishonest and almost unbelievably sloppy report supporting the police. There’s no reason to think the OPCC’s current staff and budget aren’t sufficient to rubber-stamp police reports as fast as they come in.


B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner investigates police.

Legislation limits the OPCC to simply reviewing police investigations into other police. Lots of journalists get this basic fact wrong, not surprisingly given B.C.’s uninformed public discourse on the subject. Even more journalists remain ignorant about how disgracefully the OPCC carries out its responsibilities, limited as they are.


B.C.’s new Police Act gave “the watchdog new teeth.”

Amendments to the Police Act, unanimously passed in October 2009, changed nothing of substance. Cops continue to investigate cops with nothing more than a superficial review by someone at the OPCC, usually an ex-cop.

One minor improvement means that cops can still be investigated even if they leave the force. But the much vaunted “real time” review, also referred to as “contemporaneous oversight,” is rubbish. Investigations apparently get occasional reviews from time to time, but not by any means contemporaneously.

“Real time” reviews didn’t prevent Delta police from delaying nearly four months before interviewing the two cops who beat up Yao Wei Wu. Nor did it prevent the truly scandalous six-week delay before Vancouver police constable Taylor Robinson was investigated for shoving a handicapped woman to the ground.

It should be noted, though, that those delays weren’t caused so much by the limitations of B.C.’s Police Act as bias and quite possibly corruption. In the Robinson case, OPCC officials like Stan Lowe, Bruce Brown and possibly others almost certainly colluded with Vancouver police in a cover-up.


And now for some real howlers

Former B.C. police complaint commissioner Dirk Ryneveld was a crusader for justice.

Fortunately little has been heard of that guy since his term as commissioner ended in February 2009. But the OPCC-friendly Victoria Times Colonist wrote a particularly nauseous eulogy largely based on Ryneveld’s pompous self-praise. Mike Farnworth, the NDP’s shadow solicitor general, actually referred to Ryneveld as “a sharp-toothed, independent watchdog,” adding that “the government clearly didn’t like the way his teeth sometimes bit.”

(This is the same Farnworth who helped appoint Stan Lowe as Ryneveld’s successor. The same Farnworth then attended a fundraiser for Robert Dziekanski’s mother.)

Ryneveld did follow up on the Frank Paul case and others brought forward by the influential Pivot Legal Society. In doing so he seemed to introduce a new approach compared to his publicly discredited predecessor, Don Morrison.

(I think Morrison’s undoing came from an OPCC staff mutiny that had little or nothing to do with his refusal to act on the Frank Paul case. Apparently there were lots of complaints about Morrison’s “bullying” management style. I think Frank Paul was just used as extra ammunition against Morrison. Except for its response to influential groups, nothing has changed at the OPCC. That shows, for example, in the way the OPCC handled the VPD assault on a disabled woman.)

Ryneveld also struck a pose by recommending improvements to the Police Act. But his pretense was betrayed by his support for the manifestly dishonest work of deputy police complaint commissioner Bruce Brown. Evidently Ryneveld’s real integrity came through at times when no one of importance was watching.


Former RCMP public complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy was a crusader for justice.

Kennedy’s appalling decisions on the RCMP-caused deaths of Ian Bush and Kevin St. Arnaud were slammed by journalists including Victor Malarek of CTV’s W5 and Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun. But when the federal Conservatives declined to renew Kennedy’s term the opposition Liberals kicked up a partisan fuss, claiming the Tories were dumping an outspoken advocate for police accountability. Kennedy himself joined in, with unsurprising hypocrisy. A lot of journalists fell for it.

Near the very end of his term, Kennedy finally got around to criticizing the Dziekanski death squad. But that happened long after Paul Pritchard’s video, the Thomas Braidwood inquiry and international media coverage had thoroughly discredited the RCMP’s version of events.


Former solicitor general Kash Heed is a crusader for justice.

This ex-cop was solicitor general when the BC Liberals and NDP united to pass very limited Police Act amendments that preserved the cop status quo. Heed rejected a personal appeal from Linda Bush to reform the police oversight process. He stonewalled reporters who tried to pin him down on the subject. Only after a political scandal and an RCMP investigation wrecked his career did Heed talk about putting the Mounties under provincial oversight — and all he’s doing there is repeating one of the above-noted fallacies. Nothing Heed has ever said in politics matters anyway.


And the biggest howler of all

B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office will provide effective police oversight

Click here for a summary of how the BC Liberal government evaded the letter and intent of the Thomas Braidwood Inquiry recommendations.

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