Note: Time and circumstances have caused me to take a less ambivalent view of these guys
than expressed below. The BCCLA actively helps the BC Liberals and NDP
prop up the police status quo. More...


The BCCLA’s establishment ambitions
compromise its stance
on police accountability

Cops make relatively easy targets
but no one in B.C. criticizes the OPCC —
at least no one with any aspirations as a politician,
Crown attorney or mainstream journalist

May 3, 2011


David Eby’s political ambitions have always been obvious, so his decision to run for MLA in the Vancouver-Point Grey byelection surprised no one. But while activism often goes hand-in-hand with political ambitions, political ambitions don’t necessarily complement activism. In Eby’s case, I can’t help thinking that his NDP aspirations compromised his stance on police accountability. I have similar concerns about some others at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Eby took a leave of absence from his job as BCCLA executive director to run against Christy Clark, B.C.’s so-far unelected premier. Lots of corporate backers give Clark money and lots of mainstream media just love her to bits. But Eby might benefit from the federal NDP surge, he also has a high media profile and, if he brings out the BC Rail scandal effectively (something he might shy away from), he could demolish Clark’s integrity. Even if Eby loses, he’ll gain considerable province-wide exposure, something he’s already started with his BCCLA tours.

In those tours he travelled the province talking about police accountability, probably the BCCLA’s biggest issue. But I’ve long been ambivalent about the group’s approach to this subject. On the one hand, the BCCLA performs an invaluable service by exposing police misconduct and criticizing the practice of police investigating police. On the other hand, the BCCLA neglects a vital aspect of the problem: It does not criticize B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. Nor does the BCCLA offer specifics on how to reform our system of police oversight.

Cops make relatively easy targets. They get a rough ride in the media and many people simply hate them. But in B.C. (unlike Ontario, for example) it’s beyond the pale to criticize the people above the police, the people in charge of municipal police oversight. The OPCC is evidently too powerful.

And, to anyone with establishment political ambitions, so are the politicians who support the OPCC.

Eby can’t criticize NDP support for the cop status quo because the policy was set by Leonard Krog and Mike Farnworth, two of the biggest bigshots in the NDP half of B.C.’s establishment. Their policy has unanimous support throughout the party.

Eby can’t even criticize the BC Liberals on this issue. His own party completely supports the government’s stance, so criticizing the Liberals would mean criticizing the NDP too.

Eby can’t even discuss specifics on how to end the practice of cops investigating each other. To do so would require a critical look at the OPCC, a major obstacle to police accountability. Scrutinizing the OPCC is simply beyond the pale for any politically ambitious person.

Such is Eby’s prominence at the BCCLA that his limitations are the BCCLA’s limitations. Yet the media have granted the BCCLA a near-monopoly on critical comment about police accountability. So we hear almost no effective criticism of the status quo because our activists want very much to be part of the status quo.

The BCCLA problem isn’t just Eby and doesn’t just concern the OPCC. At least one former BCCLA activist is now a Crown attorney. I can’t help thinking her ambition compromised her BCCLA work. Crown attorneys often support police misconduct.

Any aspiring government lawyer would take a career risk by criticizing the Crown attorneys of the Criminal Justice Branch who unanimously and unequivocally supported the four Mounties involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death. One of those Crown attorneys was Stan Lowe, who’s now B.C.’s police complaint commissioner. In his current job Lowe almost certainly helped Vancouver police cover up VPD Const. Taylor Robinson’s assault on a handicapped woman.

Another establishment lawyer on the government side is Dirk Ryneveld, a dishonest former police complaint commissioner who’s now an occasional Crown attorney. And another is Richard Peck, a specially appointed Crown attorney who implied that he intends to whitewash Lowe and his former Criminal Justice Branch colleagues for their Dziekanski decision. [Here’s a May 6, 2011 update.] Peck also defended the CJB’s decision to support the Vancouver cops involved in Frank Paul’s death.

Such is the integrity of some of B.C.’s legal establishment, especially on the government side. So would an aspiring Crown attorney, in other words an establishment wannabe, make an effective activist?

The BCCLA problem doesn’t end there. At the request of another BCCLA member, I met and spoke with him one-on-one for over an hour. I hate to say this because he’s a nice guy (so is Eby, for that matter) but I found him poorly informed about police accountability. Yet he’s a member of the BCCLA police accountability committee.

Well at least he wanted to talk with me. The others at the BCCLA give the impression they’re not interested in any info, even important facts that are easy to verify, if it doesn’t come from within their little clique. (Here are some examples of how they repeatedly ignored me, and even a UBC law professor, about a crucial development.)

Again, I’ll emphasize that Eby and company have done some excellent work by exposing police misconduct. But I’ll also emphasize again that they give the OPCC a free ride. So while the BCCLA brought to light a Vancouver cop’s assault on a disabled woman, they kept silent about what really looks like a joint VPD/OPCC cover-up on that same assault.

The BCCLA criticizes police who use excessive force, even when they’re dealing with extremely dangerous characters. And the group is right to do so — police have the right to use necessary force to lawfully subdue someone, but no right to apply excessive force, let alone punitive violence.

But what’s the BCCLA position on Jeff Hughes’ death? No comment, as far as I’ve seen. A physically frail man, unarmed according to accounts I’ve read, who had been beaten up by his drug-dealer neighbours earlier that night, Hughes was shot several times by a Nanaimo Mountie. Why — because he was an alleged white supremacist? (He was also, by the way, an environmentalist who was kind to an older native neighbour, so the bullet-riddled dead man does deserve some PC points.)

His views, whatever they were, shouldn’t disqualify him from the same concern the BCCLA shows for Frank Paul, a chronic drunk who was reportedly a long-time dangerous presence in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Or the same concern the BCCLA shows for Clayton Alvin Willey, a huge, scary-looking guy on an extremely violent rampage. Or the same concern the BCCLA shows to a number of other violent, dangerous criminals.

Of course the BCCLA has limited staff and resources, so it can’t take up every case of injustice. But it does find time for thoroughly bogus issues. The BCCLA censured Vancouver firefighters over a firehall mural that depicted the Grim Reaper with a drug syringe. The BCCLA also censured a Vancouver firefighter who made a perfectly sensible comment while doing his best to save someone’s life.

The BCCLA’s principles are laudable — as far as they go. But they’re compromised by political correctness, political expediency and political ambitions.

So much for our “official” activists — where’s our Fourth Estate? They’re the people who granted the BCCLA its near-monopoly on critical comment about police accountability. The mainstream media could take some initiative themselves, maybe starting with this apparent VPD/OPCC cover-up, or with the government’s response to the Thomas Braidwood report. What’s holding B.C. journalists back?


Postscript: My remarks notwithstanding, I wish Eby well in the byelection. As establishment people go, I’d much prefer him over Clark. And who knows, if he gets a legislature seat a real firebrand might take his place at the BCCLA.

May 10, 2011 update: On the eve of the byelection, the campaign takes a decidedly weird turn. According to the Vancouver Province, Clark described Eby as “someone who is on the outside of mainstream political discourse.” For many years to come, political analysts will wonder why such an ambitious politician would hand her opponent such unwarranted praise.

May 11, 2011 update: Clark won, but just barely — despite her extremely strong mainstream media support. Again, I wonder about BCCLA people. Why on earth didn’t Eby hammer her on the BC Rail scandal?

More updates: Just to keep up the ambivalence, here’s some good and bad BCCLA news:
The group finally finds fault with the IIO, or at least one aspect of the way it’s being put together. More...
Eby switches the topic from police accountability to addiction services, helping the BC Liberals con the media again. More...

Another update: Time and circumstances have caused me to take a less ambivalent view of these guys. They’re actively helping the BC Liberals prop up the police status quo. More...

Read more about the BCCLA’s campaign against police accountability
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