B.C.’s mainstream media
just can’t get it right

Once again the BC government fools
our fourth estate about police accountability

Oct. 23, 2011


It’s no news that the Vancouver Sun and Province screwed up, as they almost always do on this topic. The hopelessness of our mainstream media is part of the reason I’m about to conclude this project, after having revived it temporarily. But, for the record, here’s an account of the latest journalistic screw-up.

On Oct. 12 the BC government announced that the province’s Criminal Justice Branch “will use special prosecutors or external private practice lawyers or criminal justice branch prosecutors from other regions” when considering charges against police.

The media didn’t question whether Crown attorneys from another region would be any more objective than those working in the same region. Not did the media ask whether private practice lawyers, the supposedly “independent” prosecutors chosen by the CJB or the government, would in fact be independent.

The media missed an additional problem: The government snuck in an announcement that it has delayed implementing the new Independent Investigations Office.

The media also let David Eby, one of B.C.’s “official” activists, switch the subject from police accountability to addiction services.

Crap journalism, all around.

It was time for a government announcement, no matter how bogus. With so much attention focused on the first day of the Robert Picton inquiry, the BC Liberals evidently wanted the appearance of decisive action. So someone told Attorney General Shirley Bond to make the Oct. 12 announcement. (She couldn’t have come up with a policy decision or a political announcement on her own.) Deputy attorney general David Loukidelis was also on hand, probably because Bond, a pay-and-perks BC Liberal careerist with no law degree and at best average intelligence, doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Much of the announcement repeated last May’s IIO media splash. (The Vancouver Province lapped this up as if it was indeed something new.) This time, however, the government also stated that it’s taking up a recommendation from William Davies’ inquiry into Frank Paul’s death — that the CJB will use Crown attorneys from different regions or lawyers from private practice to evaluate charges against police.

(I haven’t had time to compare Davies’ recommendations with the government’s announcement. Given the way the government snowed the mainstream media about its response to Thomas Braidwood’s recommendations, it’s possible there’s much more to criticize than this one statement.)

No one has questioned whether the CJB should be involved at all. These are the same people who wholeheartedly supported every brutal RCMP action that led to Robert Dziekanski’s Taser-related death.

So the CJB will solve the problem by using Crown attorneys from a different region? The RCMP killed Dziekanski at Vancouver airport. The CJB Crown attorneys who supported the RCMP work in Victoria.

Special prosecutors will solve the problem? Richard Peck is a special prosecutor.

Peck reviewed the CJB’s Dziekanski decision while at the same time working for the CJB on another case, putting him in an obvious conflict of interest. At the outset of his Dziekanski review, Peck strongly implied that he intended to decide that the CJB made the right decision. Peck has also worked for the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, representing them at the Frank Paul inquiry. The OPCC is led by Stan T. Lowe, the former CJB Crown attorney who infamously announced that the five Taser shocks and other brutal treatment inflicted on Dziekanski were “reasonable and necessary.”

As expected, Peck endorsed the CJB’s Dziekanski decision. That makes him eligible for more of these extremely lucrative “special prosector” gigs.

But in reporting the government announcement, the media ignored these problems. They asked no difficult questions, offered no critical perspective.

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, by the way, can lay criminal charges against police. That’s one of several crucial ways in which B.C.’s IIO falls far short of Ontario’s SIU. We don’t need the CJB’s involvement at all. That’s never occurred to B.C. journalists because few of them know anything at all about the subject.

The announcement also stated that the IIO will begin investigating police by June 2012. The government’s May 17 announcement, however, said the IIO would do so by December 2011.

That’s just the latest in a long string of delays. But the media missed that problem too.

The Vancouver Province actually ran this headline:

Police will no longer probe police: A-G Shirley Bond

Complete and utter bollocks. The IIO will investigate deaths and the most serious injuries. Police will continue to investigate the vast majority of cases, involving “less serious” injuries and other offences. Except for some incidents that are caught on video or get advance publicity, the investigations will be rubber-stamped by the ex-cops at the OPCC.

Those ex-cops will have authority over the IIO.

Both the Sun and Province allowed David Eby to switch the subject from police accountability to addiction services. As the main spokesperson for B.C.’s “official” activists, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Eby should have pointed out what the media were missing. Instead he shifted to a topic that’s not even a civil liberties issue. In doing so, he helped the BC Liberals fool the media.

If addiction is Eby’s concern, fine. He can become an advocate for addicts. But because the media have granted him a near-monopoly on critical comment about police accountability, I wish he’d talk about police accountability.

Getting back to the media, I have to acknowledge that they do let me make factual statements and express my point of view in published letters. Here’s one that appeared the same day as the government’s announcement. Too bad their own reporters disregard anything printed in the letters section. That’s a shame because their news stories have much more impact than letters. Nevertheless B.C. journalists ignore important, accurate information that’s vital to this topic.

And so does the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

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