Archive for March 2017
Another story being played out in the Vancouver media last week was also outlining an impasse between the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) and the Vancouver Police Union (VPU). (Family caught in spat between Vancouver police and independent watchdog)
That incident occurred on a hot August afternoon in southeast Vancouver in 2015 and ended just across the Burnaby border with the death of 33-yr-old Myles Thomas Gray.
That story told of the frustration being felt by the Gray family because the IIO has yet to conclude their investigation into the death and the frustration with the VPD because their members are not cooperating with investigators.
The story also quoted Doug King of the Pivot Legal Society who is calling for either changes in the BC Police Act to force the officers to cooperate or for them to be charged criminally in the death to force them to mount a defence.
An interesting take for a lawyer for a civil rights organization who seems to think the police are not entitled to the same rights as any other member of the public.
This gets complicated by the fact there are no independent witnesses to the events of that fateful day. The IIO initially designated all the officers who were hands-on with Gray as “subject officers.” This placed all the officers in the position that anything they said could be used criminally against them.
Then the IIO realized that because they cannot compel subject officers to provide statements, and there were no other witnesses, they changed the designation of some of the officers to “witness” officers to try and compel them to give statements.
This gets further complicated by the fact that the family filed a lawsuit in BC Supreme Court against 11 VPD officers alleging they beat Gray to death. It’s inflammatory to say the least. And any statements made by any of the officers could expose them to civil liability as well as criminal jeopardy from the IIO.
The stalemate seems complete.
To date, the IIO is refusing to let members review CAD information and radio traffic surrounding the chaotic events of that afternoon. They haven’t even told the police, or the family for that matter, the cause of death from the autopsy nor have they provided any information from the toxicology reports. One assumes they had toxicology analysis given the circumstances of the death, but we don’t even actually know that.
In reality, there were several 9-1-1 calls about the behaviour of Gray that day. The first emanated from the Gray household itself where things seem to have started. Were there drugs involved? Perhaps needed meds not taken? Alcohol? We don’t know.
The situation escalated when Gray got into a confrontation with a neighbour watering a garden then he ran off on foot east toward Burnaby when the neighbour called 9-1-1. VPD members were searching for their suspect in the disturbance calls when a female officer driving the wagon spotted him. He attacked the police vehicle forcing the member to lock herself in and call for backup.
Members arrived on scene and tried everything including pepper spray to take the crazed man into custody. It escalated into a knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out ground fight. In the process, Gray went into medical distress and VPD members performed CPR on him and brought him back from the abyss only to have him get up and start fighting again. This happened multiple times during the course of events. Think about that.
Paramedics were called but took 30 minutes to respond. Another significant contributing factor.
During the fight, of the five officers who were engaged, three suffered broken bones, one blew out a knee. One hasn’t been back to work since. One officer, privately, described Gray as “drugged out with super strength.”
In the media story VPU President Tom Stamatakis was quoted saying, “I don’t have confidence in the IIO in terms of how they treat police officers, who are doing exactly what the public expect of them in most cases”
It seems there’s a lot of that going on these days.
While I feel for the Gray family – no one should ever have to bury a child – the IIO has brought this on over the course of time. By treating police officers as criminals and seeking evidence to prosecute rather than seeking the truth in their investigations, they created an adversarial relationship.
I don’t know how this will end up, but what is clear in this is the government, at some point, is going to have to step in and find a solution to this impasse. It’s not getting any better and frankly, they created this monster and only they can fix it.
News broke yesterday that the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) has filed a petition with the courts to try and force members of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to cooperate with their investigators citing “obstruction” in the aftermath of a shooting which occurred in November at the Canadian Tire store on Grandview Highway in Vancouver. This is disingenuous in and of itself. The VPU has never said their members will not cooperate.
I have previously written about what happened that day. If you’re interested, you can read that piece here.
VPD Chief Constable, Adam Palmer, when he received a demand from the IIO that he order involved officers to cooperate and provide statements replied, on March 13, that he would be seeking legal advice. While he was in the process of doing that, the IIO filed the court petition, apparently not content with the Chief’s words and trying to force his hand. And with that, the battle lines are now drawn. Frankly, this was inevitable.
The IIO has been plagued with incompetence since its launch in September of 2012. I have outlined that incompetence in file after file in the intervening time. It has now gotten to the point that the Vancouver Police Union (VPU) has lost all faith in the IIO to conduct a competent investigation that they have picked this particular hill upon which to make a stand.
They want their members to have pre-interview disclosure to ensure whatever statement is made by any member will allow that individual to review CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) information, radio dispatch traffic and any CCTV video footage germane to the incident prior to talking to IIO investigators. If you want to understand why, you need only to consider the four RCMP officers who were involved in the taser death of Robert Dziekanski at YVR in 2007. Two of the four were convicted of perjury in what can only be described as a travesty of justice. (For more on that, click here)
The VPU wants their members to be able to avail themselves of as much information to ensure the accuracy of their statements in any IIO investigation. The IIO says no, they should rely on their memory and notes. In a situation such as occurred at the Canadian Tire store on that fateful day, as police were responding to first a robbery call, which escalated to a stabbing of a clerk, then a hostage taking, then an officer down, then shots fired, trust me, no one was making notes as they responded Code 3 to the scene.
As an aside, the IIO tried to manage the media coverage of this. In fact, the Vancouver Sun in their coverage said this: “A police officer was also hurt during the incident.” Well, that’s one way of putting it. The officer in question was stabbed multiple times by the suspect, Daniel Peter Rintoul, 38. Who, by the way, was a big man weighing in at over 380 lbs. The stabbed officer fired the first shot and fell to the pavement with his intestines hanging out. So, yes, I guess you could say he was “hurt” in the incident.
This is all about confidence on the part of the VPU that their members will be treated fairly and the investigation will be done in a competent and fair manner. Thus far, the IIO has proven its approach to investigations are anything but on both levels.
In this matter, the IIO was advised promptly, as required, by the Duty Officer. They ordered that all members on scene be held pending their arrival. There was more than 30 officers who responded ultimately to the escalating calls. It took the IIO more than five hours to arrive from their office in Surrey. Five hours. That’s a lot of police man hours standing around doing nothing instead of serving the citizens of the city they are paid to protect.
In point of fact, the IIO investigators tried to seize the uniforms and weapons of the ERT officers who responded even though they arrived after the shooting was done and the gun smoke had cleared. This in itself shows the incompetence. In the first place ERT officers weren’t there at the time. In the second place their weapons are high-tech and very personal, sighted in for and by each individual member. In the third place, VPD doesn’t have an armoury large enough to simply replace all of those weapons for however long it would have taken the moribund IIO to process whatever request they might have had for ballistics tests on weapons that weren’t used in the shooting. It’s madness.
The IIO then upped the ante for incompetence when they held an assembly for all involved officers at 2120 Cambie, police headquarters. They gave a Charter caution to everyone in the room and said they wanted to seize all laptops from police cars that attended the scene. Seriously.
Police laptops or mobile data terminals can communicate car to car and presumably the IIO wanted to ascertain whether any responding member had off-line communications which could be germane to their investigation. So, they actually wanted to seize dozens of laptops without considering what the VPD would use in the interim. The laptops are used to query criminal databases and write reports, stuff inherently needed by the police for virtually every call they take.
Common sense prevailed when the Duty Officer told them no in no uncertain terms.
A competent investigator would have simply attended EComm on Hastings Street where the computer servers are and had all communications downloaded from the server. Where, I might add, they would have to attend anyway to get the radio traffic for the incident downloaded from another server sitting right beside it.
This isn’t complicated stuff. Detective work rarely is, it’s methodical but it requires a level of competence and common sense and the ability to use critical thinking skills. Skills apparently lacking in the IIO and exactly why the VPU and Chief Palmer are taking the stand they are.
This will be interesting to watch and could dictate the fate of the current structure of the IIO moving forward. I only hope the provincial government is paying attention because this monster is their creation and only they can fix it.
Shirley Heafey is a former Chair of the Commission of Public Complaints of the RCMP that oversees public complaints into the RCMP. She recently wrote an open letter to the next Commissioner of the RCMP which was published in MacLean’s magazine. Here’s that article: Fixing the RCMP: An open letter to the next Commissioner
Heafey sent me the piece to read and I replied to her in an email with my thoughts. I thought many of you would appreciate the discussion so I have posted it here in its entirety.
Interesting. As you may or may not know, I am a former member of the RCMP. I left the Force to transfer to Vancouver PD where I served for the next decade.
You get close to the problem in your letter, but you don’t quite hit the nail on the head, but merely deliver a glancing blow.
Leadership is exactly the problem and the problem is historic. I have often referred to the RCMP as 144 years of tradition unhampered by progress. I say that mostly tongue-in-cheek, but only mostly.
You see, the Force serves three masters. The public which it serves daily, the political party in power to whom it must answer and the traditions of the Force itself, the primary of which is never tarnish the buffalo, meaning the buffalo in the centre of its logo and badge.
This last piece is drummed into members starting in Depot and reinforced in word and deed throughout their careers. It is this aspect of things that leads to all manner of problems. From the way the Old Boys’ network works to why members feel their complaints aren’t heard to transfers instead of handling problems and covering up as best they can instead of admitting a problem. Finally, when there is a problem made public for all to see, in many cases individual members are scapegoated for the greater good.
Those are leadership issues that are ingrained. It’s why the Harper government tried Bill Elliott as the first Commissioner from outside the Force. The problem was that Elliott was by nature a bully himself and ultimately failed in the role Harper foresaw.
The culture is endemic and changing it will require a monumental shift and a leader who understands what it will take to do that. I do not see a serving member at the senior level who is that leader at this point in time. Nor do I see one emerging without someone or something to shake the leadership in the RCMP to it’s very core.