Has the Georgia Straight
on police accountability?
The paper let B.C.’s deputy police complaint commissioner
get away with lying and passed up opportunities to
ask questions about the Taylor Robinson cover-up
Extensive media coverage of a disabled woman named Sandy Davidsen being shoved to the ground by Vancouver police constable Taylor Robinson has almost consistently missed one important aspect. No Police Act investigation was ordered into Robinson until 48 days after the incident, 47 or 48 days after VPD Professional Standards found out and 29 days after B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner found out—but just five days after publicity began. That fact, which strongly indicates a joint OPCC/VPD cover-up, has been reported by just one media outlet, the Georgia Straight. But now it looks like the Straight’s gone lamestream on the subject.
Actually the once-outrageous hippie rag has been mainstream for decades. Essentially a middle class consumer/lifestyle publication, it devotes a small portion of its content to news. Most of it’s advocacy journalism pushing conventional B.C. radical chic causes. The Straight covers nothing that most of Vancouver’s other media won’t cover from the same point of view. Some of the other media will also consider other viewpoints or dig into other topics, within a narrow spectrum. The Straight’s distinction is that it’s more likely than other media to cover certain subjects. For a while, police accountability was one of them.
Back in 2010 Straight reporter Travis Lupick wrote the best article I’ve seen on this subject in B.C. Three years earlier Lupick wrote an excellent feature about security guards. (That story, however, has gone out of date after the province quietly phased in a number of major changes to legislation regulating private cops.)
The Straight mentioned me in both of those stories and posted at least three of my op-ed submissions online. (Two of them are here and here.) I appreciate that, especially since my efforts to interest other media in police accountability had so little success. (Having said that, I’ve never had an “in” with the Straight. The paper has ignored or declined to use other submissions and news tips, including a tip about a Vancouver jail run by private security guards. Two and a half years later that became big news.)
In December 2013 editor Charlie Smith reported my complaint to the Law Society of British Columbia. In it, I stated that police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe took part in cover-ups regarding Robinson and New Westminster constable Sukhwinder “Vinnie” Singh Dosanjh. Two days later the Straight posted a response from deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods. Something at the Straight seemed to change after that.
Rollie Woods lied to the Straight at the same time that he scolded editor Charlie Smith
for not contacting him. That gave Smith two great reasons to question Woods about the
Taylor Robinson case, and then a third when the hearing into Robinson confirmed that
Woods lied. Instead of challenging Woods, the Straight treats him as a credible news source.
Woods resorted to cheap shots, for example saying of me, “he is often inaccurate or bases his comments on speculation,” without providing examples. Woods evaded issues through the obfuscation typical of many OPCC communications. But worst of all, Woods lied. In an especially big whopper, he claimed a public hearing that Lowe called into Robinson (very belatedly) would also be a public hearing into the VPD Professional Standards officers who initially handled the case. This is how Woods stated it:
“The Commissioner recently ordered a public hearing into the matter, 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.”
Apart from downplaying a cover-up as “some type of informal resolution process,” Woods claimed there couldn’t have been any OPCC/VPD collusion because the public hearing into Robinson would also be a public hearing into the VPD Professional Standards officers. As I’ve pointed out a number of times since, that statement is dead wrong and has to be considered a deliberate lie.
Sure, Woods could have accidently misspoke himself. But if so, the OPCC was required to issue a correction on this crucial point. The OPCC didn’t, indicating that Woods lied on the agency’s behalf.
I pointed out the lie to Smith. I don’t understand why he didn’t ask Woods or Lowe about it. That’s especially curious because Woods’ letter took Smith to task for not contacting him before posting the story about my Law Society complaint.
Moreover, Woods should be careful what he asks for. I’ve been trying for years to get media to question the OPCC about the Robinson cover-up. All this is on the public record and the OPCC, contrary to Woods’ lying denials, is free to discuss it. I’ve also challenged the OPCC directly. Here are the two OPCC statements that come closest to denying collusion.
A March 6, 2015 letter from OPCC admissibility analyst Anthony Parker refers to OPCC investigative analyst Andrea Spindler: “Ms. Spindler informed Mr. Klein in her February 7, 2014, letter that the OPCC received Ms. Davidsen’s complaint on June 28, 2010, and issued a notice directing the VPD to conduct an investigation on June 29, 2010.”
That’s an interesting way for Parker to refute the OPCC’s collusion in a VPD cover-up. He doesn’t refute it. He claims Spindler refuted it. But she didn’t. She didn’t say what he said she said.
Here’s Spindler’s actual statement: “We deemed Ms. Davidsen’s complaint to be admissible on June 29, 2010, and issued a notice directing the Vancouver Police Department to investigate this complaint pursuant to Division 3 of the Police Act.” Spindler didn’t say when the OPCC issued the order. No investigation took place until after the media found out.
Lame as they are, Parker’s and Spindler’s statements remain the OPCC’s strongest denials. How well would crap like that stand up to a media interview? For some reason, Smith passed up two great opportunities to find out, first when he was writing the article about my Law Society complaint, then when Woods lied to him.
As the Robinson hearing approached, the Straight, like the rest of the media, ignored my updates providing timely news of the cover-up. When the hearing finished without probing the VPD Professional Standards officers, the Straight missed a third opportunity to question the OPCC.
It can be argued that the Straight had a greater responsibility than other media to question the OPCC at that point, because the hearing had proven false Woods’ letter to the Straight.
Then, in December 2014, the Straight ran this puff piece. Lowe is a “pretty progressive” guy, according to Doug King, the Pivot Legal Society lawyer who represented Robinson’s victim. Lowe has “pushed the boundaries,” King enthused. Monstrously, King actually praised the way Lowe handled his client’s case.
Pivot Legal Society lawyer Doug King has big questions to answer for praising Stan Lowe,
who helped VPD cover up brutality against King’s client, and for Pivot’s own handling
of that case. But the Straight didn’t ask.
The article also cited Woods as a credible news source, even though he lied to the paper.
Once again the Straight, this time through reporter Carlito Pablo, missed a great chance to ask some obvious questions—not just of Woods and Lowe this time, but of King too.
And if King wants to claim that a Police Act investigation did take place before the publicity, where’s his evidence? An additional question is why Pivot didn’t publicize Robinson’s actions. The organization learned about them promptly and informed the VPD, but for some reason didn’t tell the media. Furthermore, there’s no evidence that Pivot conducted any kind of follow-up prior to the media publicity. It’s clear that the organization handled this case terribly.
Unfortunately Pablo’s puff piece seems to be the Straight’s last word on this topic. A week or so before publishing that, the Straight declined to post this.
The most important lesson of the Robinson case is that the OPCC’s lack of transparency and accountability allows such things to happen. That’s by far the worst failing of B.C.’s system of police accountability. But it doesn’t look like Pivot or the media care any more than B.C.’s legislature or our “pretty progressive” police complaint commissioner.
Read more about the Stan Lowe/Bruce Brown/Rollie Woods/OPCC cover-up
of VPD constable Taylor Robinson’s assault on a disabled woman