Linda Bush drops lawsuit
against RCMP in B.C.

Planned changes— including civilian oversight
of police— a factor in ‘sad’ decision

Gary Mason, Globe and Mail, April 21, 2010

Ian Bush was killed by an RCMP [officer] in the small northern B.C. town
of Houston in 2005. Photo: John Lehmann, Globe and Mail

Linda Bush is abandoning the civil lawsuit she filed against the RCMP after her son, Ian, was shot in the back of the head by an officer at a detachment in Houston, B.C., in October 2005.

Ms. Bush is scheduled to go public with the announcement in downtown Vancouver Wednesday morning.

Ms. Bush said in an interview that while making the decision “makes her sad” she believes more can be accomplished by “working co-operatively with the RCMP than fighting them in court.”

She also said that the decision was made easier by the fact that the federal government and other provincial jurisdictions are moving to various models of civilian oversight — something that she has been calling for since her son’s death.

“The RCMP aren’t the ones fighting civilian oversight,” Ms. Bush said. “They’re quite happy to have it. In B.C., at least, it’s the provincial government that is dragging its feet in this area. We want true civilian oversight in this province and not the Alberta model that is civilian led but still uses police officers investigating themselves.

“We want to see the Ontario model here. It seems to be working well there now.”

Many felt Ms. Bush faced long odds of winning her civil suit. And then there were the ever-growing legal costs that went along with it. For the past several years, Ms. Bush has been drawing an income as a part-time bookkeeper in Houston.

Her lawyer, Howard Rubin, said today that it is difficult to “get much money out of these kinds of lawsuits and the courts are very conservative when it comes to lawsuits against the police.”

Many point to the death of Ian Bush as the event that provoked a nationwide outcry over the RCMP’s conduct in Canada, and in particular in B.C. In the years that followed, the force was deluged with criticism for its handling of any number of events and cases, culminating in the airport tasering of Robert Dziekanski.

After Mr. Dziekanski’s death, the federal government and provincial governments could no longer ignore the growing demand for civilian oversight of our national police force.

But before the Dziekanski case there was the troubling death of Mr. Bush, who had been picked up outside an arena in Houston on Oct. 29, 2005 for being in possession of an open beer. In the back of a police cruiser, Mr. Bush was asked his name and jokingly gave the officer that of his friend’s instead. He was taken to the local detachment by RCMP Const. Paul Koester.

Twenty minutes later Ian Bush was dead from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.

The officer was not charged but a coroner’s inquest into the death raised many troubling questions about the event.

The officer’s description of what happened in the final seconds leading up to the shot, seemed anatomically impossible. The police officer said he was lying face down on a sofa with the 190-pound Mr. Bush on top of him and yet somehow he reached around with one of his hands and shot the young logger directly in the back of the head.

Const. Koester refused to demonstrate how that was possible.

An independent blood spatter expert called in by a lawyer for the Bush family said blood evidence at the scene suggested it was Const. Koester who was on top of the victim, not the other way around.

It was also revealed at the inquest that the constable destroyed his notes from the evening in the immediate days after the incident. When he was interviewed by investigators three months later, they supplied him with their questions in advance.

And those were just some of the more disturbing bits of evidence that came out at the inquest.

Ms. Bush acknowledged that there will be many people, especially in Houston, who will be upset and disappointed with her decision to drop the lawsuit.

“I know that,” she said. “I do wish things had gone differently with Ian’s story. But I don’t think we were going to get anything out of this lawsuit. So it makes me a little sad. But I still think the case did draw attention to many of the most important issues around the RCMP and civilian oversight so to that extent it was worthwhile.”

Ms. Bush’s decision to abandon her lawsuit would seem to bring this troubling case to a close.

Read a comparison of the B.C. and Ontario systems of police accountability here.