[Although former OPCC lawyer Dana Urban recounted examples of how Don Morrison covered up for police misconduct, a B.C. legislative committee eventually let Morrison resign with a $100,000 payoff. Morrison’s two successors, Dirk Ryneveld and Stan Lowe, are equally guilty of breach of public trust. Other OPCC staff consist mostly of ex-cops and people close to the police, at least some of whom actively take part in police cover-ups.]

Former adviser blows whistle
on police complaint commissioner

Lawyer quit ‘in disgust’ over his boss’s performance

Ian Austin, Vancouver Province, April 17, 2002


Lawyer Dana Urban says he fears his testimony to the
committee may cost him his career and his livelihood.


Don Morrison has called just eight inquiries
in four years. Photo: Darren Stone.


A devastating indictment of B.C. police complaint commissioner Don Morrison has been delivered by a 25-year lawyer who said he fears his testimony may wreck his career.

Dana Urban, Q.C., said Morrison refused to hold a public inquiry into the death of Frank Paul even though Vancouver police dumped him dead drunk in an alleyway in two-degree weather where he died two hours later.

Urban, testifying before a legislative committee reviewing B.C.’s police-complaint procedures, said he felt compelled to tell of Morrison’s many transgressions even though it risked his career and his livelihood.

“I’m here in fear for my career, in fear for the economic well-being of my family and myself, should I speak out,” he told the committee of eight MLAs. “But I am here, and I will tell you the truth because I think the public need for the truth is greater than mine as an individual.

“I have nothing to gain by being here. I have everything to lose except one thing, and that is my own dignity.“

The commission’s job is to review complaints about B.C.’s 12 municipal police forces. The RCMP has its own separate procedure.

Paul’s death on Dec. 5, 1998, came to the commission during Urban’s stint as its senior legal adviser, from September 2000 to May 2001, “when I walked out in disgust.”

Urban, whose prestigious 25-year legal career includes a stint prosecuting Bosnian war criminals as a United Nations senior legal adviser, said he investigated Paul’s death with vigour but got little support from Morrison.

“I’m ashamed to have my name linked, in any way, to that of the commissioner,” he said. “I’m so ashamed that I have not yet had the courage to add to my CV the fact that I was there at all.”

Urban said he did persuade Morrison to retain the services of Dr. Rex Ferris, a world-renowned forensic pathologist, to investigate the case and come to Vancouver to present his findings.

It didn’t go well, said Urban, because Ferris determined that police were to blame, and Morrison was not pleased.

“The bottom line, in his [Ferris’s] view, was that the police were not telling the truth,” Urban testified. “The moment that Dr. Ferris cut to the chase . . . the commissioner got up and rudely walked out of that boardroom into his office and shut the door. I was displeased by that rudeness, and I immediately went into the commissioner’s office . . . My memory is that he was doing something that he often did in that office, and that was to sit at his computer and play computer solitaire. I tried to speak to him about the import of the Paul case, and he was totally disinterested and snorted and grunted and, with his hand, waved me out of there.”

Urban testified that Morrison repeatedly refused to view a crucial video that showed Paul motionless in the city jail, unable to move. Shortly afterward, police dumped him in an alley at the rear of 336 First Ave. where he died of hypothermia.

This is Urban’s description of the video Morrison refused to watch: “It shows graphically the paddy wagon coming in and Mr. Paul being taken out of the paddy wagon right on to the cement, spread-eagled with his hands back and being dragged like a sack of garbage or a carcass all the way down the hallway to the elevator, leaving a clear, definite, distinct, unmistakable wet mark far better than a janitor could do over that area. Nowhere to that elevator does Mr. Paul move — not a blink of an eye, not a finger, nothing.”

Urban documented an alarming array of questionable practices by Morrison:

- The shredding of Urban’s letters about the Paul case.

- A press release from the commissioner written by the Vancouver Police Department while Morrison was out of the country.

- The calling of only eight public inquiries in four years in office, usually only after media publicity. In one case, a public inquiry was held into the widely publicized shooting of a pit bull in Abbotsford. As Urban puts it: “Surely Frank Paul, aged 47, a first nations person of the downtown east end, deserved at least the same consideration as a pit bull.”

- Reluctance to hold an outreach at a community centre on East Hastings Street to explain how to file police complaints, for fear those attending would file false complaints. Urban said Morrison’s attitude was, “ ‘Eh! Not a problem. It’s on the Internet. Everything you need to know is on the Internet.’ He does not understand that the people living under cardboard and in stairwells and other places don’t have computers.”

- Repeated disputes about whether Morrison should be socializing with officers and chiefs he’s paid to investigate: “The commissioner’s conduct in this regard has appalled me, basically, from when I first arrived. I raised it with him constantly, as did others within the office. We were embarrassed as professionals by this conduct, by him repeatedly going out to parties — Christmas parties, socializing — his closed-door meetings with police chiefs, closed-door meetings with their lawyers.”

Morrison said yesterday he will witRating 2 old [withhold?] comment until he appears before the committee.

“I think the proper forum is the committee,” he said. “I will be happy to speak to the press after I make my submission to the committee.”

Morrison has said he made two requests about the Paul case — asking the chief coroner to consider an inquest, or the solicitor-general to call for a broader inquiry — but both turned him down.

The committee will continue its hearing today, and its report of recommendations to the legislature should be complete by the end of August.

Go to News and Comment page