June 14, 2012
Legislative committee to examine
B.C.s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner
Will that mean long-overdue scrutiny
or a whitewash of this secretive, unaccountable agency?
News that a legislative committee will conduct a random audit of B.C.s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner might suggest that this secretive, police-friendly agency will get some long-overdue scrutiny. The OPCCs handling of two cases in particular calls for an inquiry. But theres reason to fear the committee will conduct a whitewash instead. Only media vigilance could prevent such a tactic from succeeding.
The audit was announced in a single sentence at the end of a news report about an eight-MLA committee to study Taser use, one of a number of decisions rushed through on the final day of B.C.s spring legislative session.
The Taser inquiry will be the second since Thomas Braidwoods study, which lasted from February 2008 to June 2010. The OPCC inquiry will be the second time the OPCC has faced scrutiny in its history and the first time since 2002.
A second Taser study might be unnecessary but an inquiry into the OPCC is long overdue, especially given the agencys secrecy about Vancouver Police Constable Taylor Robinsons assault on a disabled woman and the numerous charges against New Westminster Const. Sukhwinder Vinnie Singh Dosanjh. Both cases call for a thorough, independent inquiry which the legislative committee might not achieve.
Const. Robinson shoved Sandy Davidsen, a woman with cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, to the sidewalk on June 9, 2010. But the assault didnt become public knowledge until July 22, 2010, when the media got ahold of surveillance video. On July 22 Vancouver police and the OPCC each stated they learned about the assault soon after it happened. A few days after July 22 an outside police force was called to investigate and Robinson was transferred to other duties. Until then he was still walking a beat in the same neighbourhood where he assaulted Davidsen.
All of those steps should have been taken soon after the assault. Evidence strongly suggests the OPCC colluded in a VPD cover-up in one of two ways. The OPCC learned about the assault soon after it happened, but helped Vancouver police cover it up. Or Vancouver police failed to inform the OPCC, as required by the Police Act, but on July 22 the OPCC claimed otherwise to cover up for their cop buddies.
The OPCC has yet to say anything publicly about New Westminster Const. Dosanjh. Like the Robinson case, media learned about this despite the secrecy imposed by police and the police complaint commissioner.
Dosanjh faced very serious off-duty charges, including being in a Port Moody house illegally, illegal possession of a firearm and assaulting a woman. The Crown dropped all charges but the judge was so concerned that he took the unusual step of placing a court order on Dosanjh. The cop was required to report to a probation officer, possess no weapons while off-duty, stay away from the woman involved and get psychological treatment. Dosanjh returned to work last February. He did get a 15-month demotion but that penalty is overshadowed by his benefit a three-year, seven-month suspension on full pay.
Port Moody police have said nothing publicly about this. Neither has the Crown. New West Police have divulged little, other than saying the OPCC signed off on the case. The OPCC has said nothing and has even deleted its online archive of news releases prior to February 10, 2012, the day New Westminsters Royal City Record broke the story. The OPCC has not issued a 2011 annual report.
These two cases typify how the OPCC works. Unless a case gets publicity, the support of an influential group or caught on video, the OPCC helps police excuse, rationalize or cover up police misconduct, including criminal offences.
Yet the OPCC will hold authority over the Independent Investigations Office, a little-known fact buried at the bottom of the BC governments June 18, 2010, media release. Additionally, the OPCC will handle more cases than the IIO. The IIO will only investigate incidents involving death or the most serious injuries. Police will continue to investigate police in other cases, including some serious injuries. When municipal police are involved, the cop-on-cop investigations will get nothing more than a review or a cover-up by the OPCC.
But police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe and his crew of ex-cops are themselves unaccountable. This audit will be only the second time the OPCC has come under scrutiny in its history. The other occasion was in 2002, when a legislative committee probed police complaint commissioner Don Morrison following a staff rebellion. The inquiry touched on Morrisons refusal to act on Frank Pauls in-custody death, but media reports from the time suggest the committee was mostly concerned that Morrison was bullying and humiliating his staff. He was allowed to resign with a $100,000 payoff.
Will another legislative committee conduct the kind of thorough, independent scrutiny the OPCC needs? It was an all-party committee that appointed Lowe police complaint commissioner in December 2008, immediately following his last decision as a Crown attorney, in which he helped exonerate the four RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanskis Taser-related death. At least one of the current committee members, Leonard Krog, sat on the committee that appointed Lowe.
Whether in committee or legislature, the NDP has supported every BC Liberal ploy to thwart police accountability, most recently the legislation that will create an IIO far less effective than its supposed model, Ontarios Special Investigations Unit. (See backgrounder below.)
The wholehearted co-operation of two otherwise warring parties suggests the influence of a powerful police lobby, a subject Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin has written about concerning Ontario and Manitoba. That hardly bodes well for this committee.
Who will watch the committee the B.C. Civil Liberties Association? The BCCLA does not criticize the OPCC, except for extremely rare occasions when the BCCLA takes issue with a specific OPCC decision. The BCCLA will not criticize the OPCCs police culture, secrecy or unaccountability.
Media might rely on the Victoria Times Colonist for first-hand coverage of the committee. That paper has never printed a critical view of the OPCC, even in its letters section. Instead, it often portrays the OPCC in an overwhelmingly positive light. This type of coverage has been going on so long that it appears to be a formal Times Colonist editorial policy.
Other media, however, might have already made inquiries about Robinson and Dosanjh. That might have prompted the legislature to form this committee, with the intention of whitewashing Lowe and his ex-cops.
Media vigilance is essential to scrutinize the OPCCs untouchables. Im appealing to B.C.s fourth estate to watch this legislative committee closely and to make your own inquiries about the OPCC. This is a secretive, unaccountable agency that will continue to support the police status quo, even police criminality, after the IIO begins operations.
June 14, 2012, backgrounder
B.C.s new Independent Investigations Office:
Not what its made out to be
Legislation has guaranteed that B.C.s Independent Investigations Office, scheduled to begin operations this month, will fall far short of its supposed model, Ontarios Special Investigations Unit. Moreover B.C.s secretive, unaccountable Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner will have more influence than the IIO, to the detriment of police accountability.
- The IIOs transparency will be limited to a monitor who can review its investigations. But the monitor will be appointed by the IIO director.
- The IIO wont be able to lay criminal charges against police, as the SIU director does.
- The IIO will simply present evidence to Crown attorneys, who have been notoriously reluctant to charge police. The BC government claims it will ensure impartiality by having Crown lawyers handle cases from outside their own region, or by hiring special prosecutors. But neither tactic worked in the Robert Dziekanski case or maybe the tactics unfortunately worked as planned. The four Richmond RCMP officers were exonerated by Crown attorneys in Victoria (one of whom was Stan T. Lowe, now B.C.s police complaint commissioner). On a later review, the four Mounties were granted reduced charges of perjury, a decision by special prosecutor Richard Peck (who has represented police and the police complaint commissioner).
- The IIO will answer to the attorney general/justice minister, leaving it open to political interference.
- The IIO will not answer to the provincial Ombudsperson. Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin has been crucial in keeping the SIU relatively transparent and effective.
- Instead of coming under the Ombudspersons authority, the IIO will come under the authority of the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, a product of police culture and a secretive agency thats accountable to no one. The OPCC will have the power to investigate the IIO.
- Police will continue to investigate police in almost all incidents, including some serious assaults. When municipal police are being investigated, the cop-on-cop investigations will be reviewed by the OPCC.
This legislation disregards Thomas Braidwoods recommendations. For example one of his key points was that the IIO should come under the provincial Ombudspersons authority. The continued vigilance of Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin has been crucial to keeping that provinces SIU relatively transparent and effective, making it by far Canadas best police oversight agency. But instead the B.C. government has put the IIO under the investigative authority of the OPCC. As indicated by the cases of Vancouver Police Const. Taylor Robinson and New Westminster Police Const. Sukhwinder Vinnie Singh Dosanjh, the OPCC sides with police and operates in secrecy whenever possible.
Media coverage on the IIO has neglected these points, instead focusing on Richard Rosenthal as a person.
The BC Liberals point out that Braidwood supports their legislation. But to do so, Braidwood changed his position radically. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has repeatedly congratulated the government for its legislation, falsely stating that it marks the end of police self-investigations. But the BCCLA is close to the NDP. The NDP voted unanimously in favour of the legislation and has supported every previous BC Liberal ploy to thwart police accountability.
The fact that two otherwise warring parties agree on this issue suggests the influence of a powerful police lobby. Thats a subject Marin has written about concerning Manitoba and Ontario.