An ‘informal investigation’
or a cover-up?
Vancouver Police Professional Standards and B.C.’s
Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner have questions
to answer regarding VPD constable Taylor Robinson
Dec. 5, 2014
When Vancouver police constable Taylor Robinson shoved a disabled woman to the sidewalk,
VPD Professional Standards violated the Police Act with every appearance of a cover-up.
Equally disturbing is the way B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner handled the case.
After nearly four and a half years, a six-day suspension has been handed to Taylor Robinson, the Vancouver police constable who shoved a disabled woman to the sidewalk in June 2010. B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner announced adjudicator Wally Oppal’s decision on November 28, a Friday afternoon and therefore a good time to minimize media scrutiny. Buried in Oppal’s report is a very mild rebuke about a very serious matter. In their handling of this case, Vancouver Police Professional Standards officers violated B.C.’s Police Act in a manner that strongly suggests a cover-up. Equally disturbing is the way B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner handled the case.
Police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe’s November 2013 Notice of Public Hearing into Robinson provides a timeline of events. On June 9, 2010, Robinson shoved Sandy Davidsen to the sidewalk. By June 11, 2010, VPD Professional Standards officers learned of the incident. On June 28, 2010, Lowe’s OPCC learned about Robinson’s actions from a complaint submitted on behalf of the victim by the Pivot Legal Society. On July 27, 2010, the OPCC called on New Westminster Police to conduct a Police Act investigation.
Not mentioned is a barrage of publicity that began July 22, 2010. Media found out no thanks to the VPD or OPCC—or for that matter, Pivot.
To anyone who connects the dots, the dates show that no Police Act investigation was ordered into Robinson until 48 days after he shoved his victim to the ground, 47 or 48 days after VPD Professional Standards found out and 29 days after the OPCC found out—but just five days after the publicity began.
VPD Professional Standards officers learned of the incident within a day or two of its occurrence but didn’t order a criminal investigation, order a Police Act investigation or inform the OPCC, as they were legally required to do. Lowe, and later Oppal, mildly rebuked the unnamed officers for conducting an “informal investigation.” That euphemism, however, seriously downplays an egregious Police Act violation that really looks like a cover-up. Furthermore Lowe’s office has not, and refuses to, call an investigation into those VPD Professional Standards officers.
Additionally, that timeline raises a disturbing question. Did Lowe’s OPCC not order a Police Act investigation until after the media publicity? Lowe’s Notice of Public Hearing provides a fair amount of detail about a post-publicity Police Act investigation but doesn’t even mention a pre-publicity Police Act investigation.
A less detailed timeline from Pivot does indicate the OPCC ordered an investigation prior to the publicity. But Pivot doesn’t actually say a pre-publicity investigation was carried out. And Pivot might be mistaken in the first place. But if not, even more questions arise.
Did the OPCC order an investigation that wasn’t carried out? The OPCC is required to monitor these investigations and provide direction to the police investigators.
If a pre-publicity investigation did begin on the OPCC’s orders, who carried it out? If VPD Professional Standards conducted it, why didn’t the OPCC call in an outside police force? Why didn’t Pivot object? Why was Robinson still walking a beat in the same neighbourhood? And why did Lowe not mention a pre-publicity Police Act investigation in his Notice of Public Hearing?
At the very least, the case involves a serious breach of the Police Act by VPD Professional Standards that strongly suggests a cover-up. But the OPCC has questions to answer about how it handled the case.
And about its refusal to order an investigation into the VPD Professional Standards officers. The unnamed officers have faced only a mild rebuke with no scrutiny and no possible penalty. Presumably they remained with VPD Professional Standards.
The OPCC’s defence wasn’t helped by a statement from Rollie Woods, deputy police complaint commissioner and a former head of Vancouver Police Professional Standards.
Rollie Woods claimed the public hearing into Taylor Robinson
would also be a public hearing into Vancouver Police Professional Standards.
But that statement wasn’t credible at the time and has since proven false.
After the Georgia Straight publicized my concerns in December 2013, Woods sent the Straight a letter claiming that the public hearing into Robinson will also be a public hearing into the unnamed VPD Professional Standards officers. Woods stated that Lowe called the public hearing “in particular to look into why the police did not notify this office of the pushing incident and instead undertook some type of informal resolution process that is outside of the Police Act.” That statement wasn’t credible at the time and has since proven false. The Robinson hearing has come and gone with no indication that VPD Professional Standards came under any scrutiny at all.
That’s no surprise because Woods’ boss called the public hearing into Robinson and Robinson alone. A public hearing into the VPD Professional Standards officers would have to (Woods, please take notes) be preceded by a Police Act investigation into those officers. Only then could Lowe order a public hearing into them. Lowe would have to issue a Notice of Public Hearing that names the officers and details the allegations against them. Lowe has done none of those things. In fact his office still refuses to order an investigation.
I launched a formal Police Act complaint against those officers in January 2014. My complaint stated that the time limit should be waived because new information came to light in Lowe’s Notice of Public Hearing that clarifies the dates. But the OPCC rejected my complaint without ordering an investigation. OPCC investigative analyst Andrea Spindler repeated Woods’ claim that the Robinson hearing would also be a hearing into the VPD Professional Standards officers.
For reasons explained above (Spindler, please take notes), Woods’ statement wasn’t credible at the time and has since proven false.
But why bother trying to call any cop to account if it took nearly four and a half years for Robinson’s actions to draw a measly six-day suspension? And there’s no point trying to call B.C.’s police complaint commissioner to account. He answers to no one—absolutely no one at all.
That’s enshrined in legislation and was demonstrated by a farcical inquiry into the OPCC held in 2012 and 2013. B.C.’s auditor general conducted some kind of study but refused to divulge his methodology. He acknowledged that his audit didn’t question the validity of investigation decisions. Meanwhile a legislative committee met only with police interests, asking puffball questions in meandering conversations. The MLAs issued a public call for written submissions but rejected every one they received with the weird rationale that they weren’t “random.”
Apart from the impact to the victim, the Robinson case shows the need to radically reform B.C.’s system of police oversight, which allows a cop-friendly agency to act in near secrecy and with zero accountability.
Don’t expect reform to happen, though. We can look with mixed envy and embarrassment at Ontario, whose ombudsman would raise hell if that province’s Special Investigations Unit conducted itself so poorly. Ontario’s opposition parties would ask questions. Ontario’s media would demand answers. Who knows, maybe even Ontario’s activist lawyers would speak up.
But this is B.C. We do things differently here.
Postscript: I originally wrote this article for the Georgia Straight, which declined to post it. The Straight later published this instead.
Read more about the Stan Lowe/Bruce Brown/Rollie Woods/OPCC cover-up
of VPD constable Taylor Robinson’s assault on a disabled woman