The Vann Hubbard shooting:
Vancouver Police respond
by attacking their critics

VPD Chief Jim Chu and
police union boss Tom Stamatakis
divert attention from a dubious investigation
by lashing out at those who criticize cops

Dec. 15, 2009

Another police investigation has cleared another police officer in another police-related death. Rightfully so, maybe. Coming from police investigators, the verdict isn’t convincing.

Abbotsford Police decided a young Vancouver officer had to use lethal force when she and another young officer were confronted by Michael Vann Hubbard, a skinny, 58-year-old street guy who was carrying a small exacto knife or box cutter and was described in at least one news report as “staggering.”

You can’t help but wonder how long those two cops would last on the night shift at any convenience store.

Or, to look at it another way, if a convenience store clerk killed someone under similar circumstances, would those two cops support the clerk? Or would they try to put him or her in prison?

Police investigators claimed 82 witnesses supported the police version of events. But the report focused largely on how many shots witnesses said police fired, and was unconvincing about the degree of danger faced by the officers. Police investigators also claimed that security video supported the police version of events. But it’s extremely hard to see how the video supports anything.

Nevertheless Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu used the investigation to lash out at critics of the police. But the only critic he named was Adam Smolcic, who said he filmed the shooting only to have cops delete the digital file. In a prepared statement Chu jumbled together Smolcic’s allegation, the fact that the media and others reported the allegation, and critics of the police in general.

Chu’s criticism was wide-ranging but vague and unfounded. The media had a duty to report Smolcic’s claim and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (presumably an unnamed target of Chu’s) performed a public service by investigating the claim.

Chu’s attack could be attributed to sloppy thinking. But more likely it’s deliberate. Chu has 17 PR flacks working for him. It’s inconceivable that he wrote that statement without help from highly experienced media professionals. These are people who know when to be precise and when to be vague. They probably helped Chu take advantage of one possibly false allegation to attack all critics of the police and divert attention from a dubious police investigation.

Most likely by pre-arrangement, Vancouver Police Union president Tom Stamatakis joined in, but with narrower focus. In a media release issued around the same time as Chu’s statement, Stamatakis slammed BCCLA executive director David Eby for talking about Smolcic’s allegation. In fact the BCCLA hired three data recovery services to determine whether such a digital file had been deleted from Smolcic’s cellphone. It was Eby and the BCCLA who announced that those three companies had been unable to prove or disprove Smolcic’s claim. Stamatakis ignored those crucial points.

Of course if Smolcic was lying, he committed a serious disservice to everyone involved.

But Chu should hesitate before calling the kettle black. In March 2009 the chief sent a memo to his staff claiming the security camera video was “incontrovertible” evidence that the shooting was justified. The video hadn’t been released to the public yet, so Chu’s false statement couldn’t be properly assessed. (Here’s the video again.)

In my experience, a Vancouver police internal investigation consisted of three police officers lying to their Vancouver Police Professional Standards investigators, who were themselves blatantly dishonest.

An experience like that, along with a steady stream of media reports about police dishonesty (just a few examples here), creates an unavoidable suspicion of cops.

That doesn’t mean it’s fair to cast suspicion on all cops all the time. But an inquiring mind can only be skeptical when police investigate police.

Vann Hubbard’s family has filed a complaint about Chu’s memo with B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, saying it undermined the investigation.

That complaint will be handled by the OPCC’s ex-cops, maybe Rollie Woods, former head of Vancouver Police Professional Standards and a former colleague of Chu’s.

Speaking of Chu’s colleagues, the Van Hubbard shooting was investigated by Abbotsford Police, whose chief is Bob Rich. As Eby told the Vancouver Province, Rich was a longtime Vancouver cop who worked with Chu. “Questions remain when you’re investigating your friend’s police department,” Eby said.

Despite the diversionary tactics of Chu and Stamatakis, the Vann Hubbard case is another dubious police investigation into another suspicious police-inflicted death. Maybe, appearances to the contrary, the officer was justified. If so, she deserves real vindication. But that can come only from an impartial investigation. That’s another reason why police should be investigated by civilians.

April 28, 2012 update:
Coroner’s jury misses the point: The problem is police recruiting
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