Crime & Punishment

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Archive for May 2017

A crisis of confidence

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News of the imminent departure of the Chief of Investigations of the Independent investigations Office (IIO) John Larkin was broadcast to staff of the IIO last Monday morning. Curiously enough, staff coming to work also noticed that the office of Director of Investigations Allison Hemming-Cook had apparently been cleaned out on the weekend. Her status seems murky.

Staff think she’s on sick leave. If so, why clean out her office? Hemming-Cook says she is returning on June 20th following her impending marriage and honeymoon apparently to well-known Vancouver lawyer Monty Carstairs, QC. Which sounds like a vacation not a sick leave.

I tried to get clarification from Marten Youssef, nominally the Acting Director of Communications for the IIO. All he would provide was the vanilla response, “The IIO will not be providing comment on any personnel matters.” What that triggered, instead of a clarifying communication to the staff, was an email saying the word had gotten out and Youssef got himself on the news that night to try and spin his way out of my questions.

So, the staff there are left in the dark. Is there an open slot for a new Director of Investigations or isn’t there? If it’s a sick leave, how is it that a finite date for return has been set as stated by Hemming-Cook? The word in the office is that she was told in no uncertain terms to take sick leave. Whatever the reason, staff relations there appear to be the messiest they have ever been.

It would seem that Larkin and Hemming-Cook have worn out their welcome in that office. There is a union grievance filed against Hemming-Cook and several sources have told me that she and Larkin’s replacement, retired Asst. Commissioner of the Queensland police, Gayle Hogan, were at odds with each other. Hate is a strong word and I hesitate to use it, but I have been told they “hate” each other. I make no evaluation, but what’s clear in that is there will be a rocky road ahead if she returns following her honeymoon.

All of this follows a blistering letter sent by Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer two weeks ago in which he questioned the competence of the IIO. The Chief wasn’t mincing words. He said, “Changes need to be made to the IIO’s current practices to improve the relationship between the IIO and the police. The VPD has two principal concerns. The first concern is what appears to be the IIO’s lack of investigative competence. The second concern is the rigid position the IIO has adopted regarding pre-interview disclosure which has led to unnecessary friction and distrust between the police and the IIO. These concerns need to be addressed given the importance of independent police oversight to maintain public trust and accountability.”

Well, it would seem that changes are being made although it remains to be seen if these changes will be enough to satisfy the VPD and the Vancouver Police Union who have all but declared war on the IIO.

The question of competence of the IIO is a major concern for all police departments in the province including the RCMP. I have documented many instances underlining the apparent lack thereof over the course of the past four years.

There are many reasons why. Part of it was Larkin. He was, as described by Palmer, adversarial without question. He set the tone when he stated the IIO started every investigation believing the officer involved has committed a crime and work back from there. That, in and of itself, is incredibly unprofessional and anathema to any real investigator who knows his or her job is to find the truth about what happened not enter it with any pre-conceived notion about what occurred.

Part of it is turnover, lack of training and despite protestations to the contrary, the inability to meet the BC Provincial Policing Standards. They are after all, a police agency.

Section 1 of the Standards says this: “The chief constable, chief officer or commissioner must ensure that:

  1. A Command Triangle is formed for all major case investigations, as soon as reasonably possible given the circumstances and the needs of the investigation, with officers assigned to the following roles:

(a) Team Commander;

(b) Primary Investigator; and

(c) File Coordinator.”

It goes on to say this:  “The chief constable, chief officer, commissioner or chief civilian director must ensure that:

(2) An officer assigned to the role of Team Commander for a major case investigation, or an IIO investigator assigned to the role of Team Commander for the investigation of an incident where a person may have died as a result of the actions of an officer, whether on or off duty:

(a) Has experience relevant to the type of investigation; and

(b) Meets each of the following criteria:

(i) Successful completion of a provincially-approved Team Commander training course;

(ii) Previous experience in the role of Primary Investigator or File Coordinator;

(iii) Previous investigative experience in a supervisory or management role; and

(iv) No disciplinary records of serious misconduct that would affect his/her ability to

perform the duties of Team Commander.”

Aye, there’s the rub. The CCD MUST ensure the Major Case Management model is followed and MUST ensure a Team Commander is designated who meets the criteria as stated. At this point there is not one person in the IIO qualified to be a Team Commander which involves not just training but accreditation by a provincial board made of senior police investigators who evaluate the applicant’s major case experience.

About a year or so ago, Delta Police Chief Constable Neil Dubord wrote a letter to the IIO demanding they are held to the same investigative competencies as members of his department. I am waiting to confirm, but I am told he has not, to date, received a response.

Nor has the Delta Police Union who requested a review of the fatally-flawed investigation into the shooting at the Starlight Casino which resulted in 2nd degree murder charges against Delta Police Constable Jordan McWilliams, of which I have written much.

I specifically asked Youssef how many people at the IIO had Major Case Management certification and this was his response: “The IIO operates under an MCM framework and investigations are based on that model.”

Well, that was clear as mud.

The reality is that even though the IIO endeavours to follow the model as is required by the Director of Police Services for the province, they simply cannot meet the standard inasmuch as they have no accredited commanders and precious few who have had the investigators’ course.

Is it any wonder that Palmer, whose department follows the Provincial Policing Standards is lacking confidence in those who are responsible for investigating his officers and expecting them to get a fair shake?

Any which way you look at this, four and a half years into this, this is a mess. Perhaps, in the words of a former IIO investigator I spoke to today, “This is the messiest it’s ever been.”

That speaks volumes.

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Leo Knight

@primetimecrime

Written by Leo Knight

May 24, 2017 at 1:15 am

Reports are scathing of the RCMP, but little will change

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Two reports were released Monday by the Public Safety Minister in Ottawa. The first, was written by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP and can be found here.  The CRCC broadly reviewed workplace harassment and bullying in the Force.

The other was authored by former Auditor General Sheila Fraser. It looked at four particular cases where harassment lawsuits were filed individually by female members Catherine Galliford, Alice Fox, Susan Gastaldo and Atoya Montague. That report can be found here.

The RCMP has had both reports for several weeks but thus far has had little positive reaction to either report both scathing in their criticism of the Mounties essentially saying the organization is  dysfunctional and the harassment and bullying was systemic. Where have we heard this before?

I have long described the RCMP as “144 years of tradition unhampered by progress.” These two reports just reinforce that statement.

None of this is new. There have been a number of reports over the past decade or so and successive commissioners have mouthed all the platitudes including the current one, Bob Paulson, who has been described by a number of officers to me as the biggest bully of all. I cannot argue. Indeed, Galliford told me this is the fifth such report she has participated in.

Both reports recommend some form of civilian oversight for the Force. If that is to happen then the RCMP Act will require the appropriate amendments, if not re-written in its entirety, given the recent union certification application made by the newly formed National Police Federation.

But even then I am not sure much will change. The problem is the culture within the RCMP. It, in and of itself, causes the dysfunction. Part of it is the Old Boys network. For example when Gary Bass was the CO of E Division (BC) his sycophants were referred to as the Bass Boys Club or BBC for short. Promotions literally depended on whether one was a member of the BBC.

When Craig Callens took over upon Bass’ retirement nothing changed except the name. The sycophants were then referred to as being on “Craigslist.”

Another significant issue is the “go along to get along” unwritten rule. Members don’t dare colour outside the box. But the overriding issue is the, again unstated policy, not to do or say anything that could damage the reputation of the RCMP. This is at the heart of the problem.

If a member has a complaint about a superior, even if validated, which is rare, the member is discouraged from pushing it for the good of the Force or the miscreant is simply transferred. Out of sight, out of mind so to speak.

The RCMP Act was re-written in 2014 ostensibly to make it easier for the Commissioner to fire the “bad apples.”

The CRCC report identifies what the RCMP has done since it’s last report on the matter in 2013 were simply small initiatives that had little or no effect.  Said Ian McPhail, Chair of the CRCC in the report, “If the last 10 years, over 15 reports and hundreds of recommendations for reform have produced any lessons, it is that the RCMP is not capable of making the necessary systemic changes of its own accord.”

Stunning words. Paulson’s response? Meh.

Well, to be fair he did put out a one page response in which he gave no reaction to the major recommendation common to both reports, the establishment of civilian oversight committee or board that will assume control for administration, finance and human resource management of the RCMP.

This is his response: “These reports make recommendations that require careful review and consideration. They will no doubt help improve policies to further support a healthy and respectful workplace as the RCMP continues moving forward.” How about that for tepid?

McPhail’s report also says that little has changed in the RCMP from their previous report in 2013 to the present day. Paulson’s response? “It should be noted that many of the reports’ judgments rely on the historical context of RCMP transformation efforts that are not, in my view, reflective of current RCMP environment, policies or processes.”

Yeah, that sure sounds like he is seized with the findings and recommendations doesn’t it?

Paulson has already announced he is leaving at the end of next month. We don’t yet know who his replacement will be, but unless the Trudeau government picks a strong leader – a real leader  who can take the Old Boys’Network by the scruff and shake the heck out of it – nothing will change. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau telegraphed today that the appointment will be either a female or someone well-versed in aboriginal issues. Leadership qualities apparently are not the criteria.

Equally, I don’t think Ralph Goodale, the Public Safety Minister, has the intestinal fortitude to take on the RCMP because any effort to establish some form of civilian oversight with authority over the Commissioner’s office will be fought every step of the way by seniour management in the RCMP. Take that to the bank.

The female members who were interviewed by Fraser were told that the Minister is “absolutely committed to follow the recommendations.” I’m sure Fraser believes that. I, on the other hand, don’t buy it for a second.

I spoke with former West Vancouver Chief and former BC Solicitor General Kash Heed to get his take. He said, “Nothing will change in the RCMP. There are consecutive reports over the past 15 years; Kennedy, Duxbury, Brown ‘et al’ calling for the same changes. The organization will not change unless they are redefined and stick to just federal policing.”

It’s hard to argue that. But that sort of institutional change would have to come from government. The same government lacking in the same sort of leadership that’s needed in the RCMP.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Leo Knight

@primetimecrime

Written by Leo Knight

May 16, 2017 at 3:04 am

VPD Chief fires broadside at the IIO

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Vancouver Police Chief Constable Adam Palmer fired a broadside at the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) in an 8 page letter in which he questioned their competence and motivations in the way they conduct their investigations.

Palmer addressed the investigation into the officer-involved shooting at the Canadian Tire store on Grandview Highway that occurred just before Christmas. I have previously discussed that incident in this article: IIO missing the obvious, again

There’s more on it here: Competence at heart of VPD / IIO court petition

In the letter Palmer outlines 36 separate concerns the VPD has with the IIO resulting from that incident. Many of which question their competence. And rightly so.

The chief concludes this explosive missive with these words: “Changes need to be made to the IIO’s current practices to improve the relationship between the IIO and the police. The VPD has two principal concerns. The first concern is what appears to be the IIO’s lack of investigative competence. The second concern is the rigid position the IIO has adopted regarding pre-interview disclosure which has led to unnecessary friction and distrust between the police and the IIO. These concerns need to be addressed given the importance of independent police oversight to maintain public trust and accountability.”

What is not said in this is the or else. What might the chief do if the IIO does not react appropriately? The obvious answer is to exercise the 30 day ‘shotgun’ clause afforded to all the chiefs in the original Memorandum of Understanding with the IIO. Doing so will have the natural effect of causing other chiefs throughout the province and the RCMP Deputy Commissioner to reconsider whether they will do the same. In my opinion, the first domino to fall will topple the rest.

What then, will the government do? If some or all of the police agencies opt out the IIO ceases to exist. It will have no mandate. With no mandate and no one to oversee what else would result?

The government will be left with a lot of egg on their face and scrambling to try to figure out where to go from there.

I have been saying for much of the past four years since its inception, that the IIO needs to be blown up, metaphorically, and fundamentally re-thought.  Thus far, the government, despite all the adverse publicity, the internal complaints, a legislative committee, separate internal and external investigations and direct pleas from former employees, have been kicking the can down the road, saying everything is fine. Well, no, it’s not fine.

The public need to trust their police services. In cases where the police, in providing that service, have to use force in the execution of their duty and serious injury or death results, the police need to have confidence that their actions will be competently and thoroughly investigated. At this point in time, as evidenced by Palmer’s letter, the police have no such confidence in the creation of the government, the IIO. Make no mistake, they own this. They created this monstrosity, only they can fix it. But they need to be seized with the importance of that. I suspect this letter from Palmer may stimulate that. If it does not, then the government deserves its fate.

Albeit, one week out from election day I rather suspect the Premier will push it aside and claim it’s a serious issue that needs to be looked at thoroughly and a week out is not the time. Perhaps so. But she has been ignoring it for four years as have successive Solicitors General, Shirley Bond who oversaw its creation and Suzanne Anton who keeps her head firmly planted in the sand.

For the record, the incompetence at the IIO is not going to be fixed anytime soon. Chief Palmer in his letter acknowledges that “many of your investigators have less than two years experience.”  The IIO has had incredible difficulties retaining good folks. In the past four weeks four more experienced investigators have resigned. They are leaving because it is a toxic workplace. And that is on the leadership of the organization, or more accurately, the lack thereof.

Since the departure of the original Chief Civilian Director Richard Rosenthal in September, the government has replaced him with a career bureaucrat who I am sure is good at pushing papers around and ordering staples but he knows the square root of bugger all about the matters his agency is responsible for investigating.

The man overseeing investigations is John Larkin. He is referred to in Palmer’s letter as “adversarial.” And that is at the heart of the problem. The IIO, as it is constituted should not be adversarial. Their role should be to seek the truth. If that truth leads to criminal charges against a police officer then so be it. That’s the system. But Larkin believes their role is to start off believing the police involved committed a crime.

That attitude is evidenced in Palmer’s letter in paragraph 13 where he states, “The IIO Chief of Investigations specifically characterized this matter as a “murder investigation” during a conversation with the VPD Major Crime Section (MCS) Inspector. This use of such a biased and inflammatory term infers that VPD officer(s) committed a serious criminal offence. The term “murder” used in this context is presumptive and inappropriate. The VPD Inspector felt it necessary to remind the IIO Chief of Investigations that it was an “officer-involved shooting.”

I applaud the actions of the Chief Constable.  What he is demonstrating in this is support for the people at the sharp end of things. But equally, he clearly states he supports the need for civilian oversight. What he complains about is incompetence of the IIO investigations. And that needs to get the attention of the government.

It’s their mess and the public needs to have confidence in their police service and the police need to have confidence in those providing oversight. That is what needs to be fixed.

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Leo Knight

@primetimecrime

Written by Leo Knight

May 3, 2017 at 12:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized