Category Archives: Vancouver

Death by Delay: Police Stonewall Investigations into Killer Cops

The notion of independent oversight and investigations of police in Canada is a myth. Police have numerous methods for interfering with and obstructing investigations, derailing and diverting them to ensure charges are never brought against officers who kill and the identities of killer cops remain hidden. Among the effective ways in which police forces, killer cops, and their colleagues have frustrated victims’ families and the public more broadly is through various delay tactics such as not releasing information, asking to see incident video before filing reports, and non-cooperation on all levels with investigators. And there is nothing investigative units can do about it within existing frameworks. As the saying goes, “justice delayed is justice denied” even in the state’s own terms  (but one should never expect the same system that police are part of to deliver anything resembling justice).

This has a real impact. In addition to leaving grieving loved ones desperate for information, it has the material legal impact of ensuring that charges cannot be brought in a timely manner. Thus trials cannot start in a timely fashion and, as a result, even when officers are charged their lawyers can get charges dropped on the basis of undue delay. A nice set up.

At this point investigative units have no mechanism to compel police forces and officers to cooperate in a meaningful manner with investigations. That is they have no legal mechanism to acquire needed information, including notes from involved officers, and no enforcement mechanism to hold recalcitrant officers to standards of cooperation. They, furthermore, have pursued no legal means to charge uncooperative officers or their managers.

 

Delay in British Columbia

As one example from British Columbia, the grieving family of Myles Gray has waited almost two years for even basic details and some answers about the killing of their loved one by police after being trapped in a backyard. They have not received any. Gray’s parents have not even been told how he died. Brutally they have only recently learned that the IIO’s work has been delayed because the officers involved are refusing to give any more statements (Lindsay 2017).

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) is notoriously behind in its investigations taking unacceptable amounts of time to conclude reports, even by their own admission. The IIO currently has 12 open death or severe injury cases involving Vancouver police (Lindsay 2017).

The level of obstruction and non-cooperation exercised by the Vancouver Police Department and the IIO recently resulted in a legal challenge from the investigative body. In March of 2017 Bert Phipps, the IIO’s interim chief civilian director, filed a petition in BC Supreme Court to rule in the fatal shooting by police of Daniel Peter Rintoul in 2016. An incredible total of seven officers who witnessed the killing have refused to be interviewed by the IIO in that case. In that case the officers are making the ludicrous demand that they be allowed first to watch cellphone and security-camera video footage of the shooting before giving any statements.

Watching video ahead of time would clearly distort officers’ views of overall events, a position reinforced by virtually all available research on the matter. Psychological studies conclude that watching video of an incident may distort officers’ memories of events that took place off-camera (Lindsay 2017). Recognizing this, in 2016 the civilian heads of each investigative unit in Canada signed on to a model policy agreeing that police officers watching video prior to providing a statement would “almost inevitably influence a witness account and diminish its investigative value” (quoted in Lindsay 2017). Their policy recommends instead for a two-stage interview process, where witness officers may be allowed to watch video only after giving an initial statement and then clarify their evidence (Lindsay 2017).

The court process is itself a slow one that could stretch over years. A similar case involving a lack of cooperation by a Vancouver officer with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner was not resolved until 20 months after filing of the first petition. In that case, only decided in 2017, a judge ordered the constable to attend interviews with investigators (Lindsay 2017).

 

Situation Dire in Ontario

The situation involving investigations is dire in all of the larger provinces (where there are more cases of police lethal use of force) and particularly acute in Ontario and British Columbia. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Ontario is the oldest such unit in the country and is viewed as the “gold standard” for such units, achieving even a global level of recognition. Yet its own record over the last few years is troubling. According to the unit’s annual report, ironically delivered nine months late, a mere 28 percent of cases wrapped by the SIU in 2015 were completed within 30 business days. That is a decline from the 33 per cent wrapped within the same time frame in 2014 (Toronto Star 2017). Those numbers are both a steep drop from the nearly three-quarters of cases wrapped within 30 days in 2012 and 2013. And it should be pointed out by those, like investigators in British Columbia who point to high case loads, 2012 and 2013 were years in which the SIU had comparable or significantly higher new case loads than in either 2014 or 2015 (Toronto Star 2017). The SIU has recently claimed that it will not even continue to achieve its internal goal of 30 days for investigations because of the difficulties faced in pursuing cases now. One can surmise that much of this difficulty stems from the obstruction and non-cooperation of police forces, associations, and officers.

As it stands there is no hard deadline for the SIU for completing investigations. They can take as long as they like. A report commissioned by the government in Ontario and undertaken by Michael Tulloch, a judge with Ontario’s appeal court, has initiated some limited rethinking of these issues. The Tulloch report recommends a set deadline for the SIU of 120 days. He further suggested that where that is not met the unit must report to the public at that point with additional reports every 60 days they go over from there. Tulloch also recommended ensuring that notes prepared by any officer who is the focus of an investigation be provided to the unit directly, before the SIU even gets involved in a case.

 

It is Already a Violation of Law but Stalling Officers are Never Charged

Perhaps the most significant recommendation on the issue of timeliness and responses from officers would  be a law allowing the SIU to charge an officer with a provincial offense for failure to co-operate with an investigation. In the words of the Tulloch report: “The legislation should include a provincial offence for failing to cooperate with an SIU investigation punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both” (quoted in Toronto Star 2017).

While police forces, associations, and officers will still hold tremendous power, and have numerous ways to engage in obstruction and harassment, this would provide some mechanism to encourage timely access to information and some level of accountability.

Richard Rosenthal, the former chief civilian director of the IIO in British Columbia, commends the Tulloch recommendation. In his words: “The legislation would be an added benefit to provide the IIO with the ability to administratively charge or even criminally charge a police officer for failure to cooperate, or obstruction” (quoted in Lindsay 2017). Rosenthal, though, notes that the police chief of each force already has a responsibility in this. According to Rosenthal: “But the reality is that today, the chief of police can order the officer to cooperate and should do so” (quoted in Lindsay 2017).

Indeed under British Columbia’s Police Act, officers must “cooperate fully” with IIO investigations. Yet emails filed as part of a 185-page affidavit in the court case show that the police are trying to obstruct even on the meaning of the word “cooperate.” According to the Vancouver police association Lawyer Kevin Woodall: “From the union perspective, cooperation is a two-way street where parties attempt to work through contentious issues in a reasoned, principled manner” (quoted in Lindsay 2017). In response IIO counsel Martin Allen replies: “Ah, Kevin, we do disagree about so much. The duty to cooperate … is obviously not some nebulous duty to ‘attempt to work through contentious issues in a reasonable, principled manner.’ It is a duty to ‘cooperate fully’ with an IIO investigator” (quoted in Lindsay 2017).

This view is echoed by the BC government.  According to Donna Sitter, a spokeswoman at the Justice Ministry, the responsibility of police officers is clear. In her words: “Our view is that the legislation is clear and requires police officers to cooperate fully with IIO investigations” (quoted in Lindsay 2017).

So the issue is one of police violations of the existing laws already. Yet, despite this, nothing is being done to hold obstructing officers, at any level, accountable legally. One might well ask why not. And find an answer in the nature of the state and state violence itself.

 

Conclusion

As of April 2017 the investigative units do not even release detailed reports to the public in cases where the involved officer is not charged. That may change in Ontario as the provincial Attorney General Yasir Naqvi promised to immediately make public all Special Investigations Unit (SIU) reports in cases where no officer faces charges. This announcement was made in response to the Tulloch report on police oversight.

Sadly, in attempting to ingratiate itself with police forces and officers the IIO has provided a record of its own futility. IIO communications director Marten Youssef has made the point of highlighting, as if to reassure killer cops, that while the agency has been notified of 1,250 police-involved incidents since its inception in 2012, only a few have met the agency’s mandate to investigate death or severe injury related to officers’ actions (Lindsay 2017). Of the 139 cases that the IIO has pursued and wrapped, only 65 were referred to Crown counsel for consideration, and only a miniscule total of 10 have ended in charges. Four of those did result in guilty pleas while two were stayed. Two ended in acquittals and another two are still pending (Lindsay 2017).

Regardless of timeline these are not numbers to suggest that grieving family members and friends of people killed by police will see anything resembling, justice or accountability. And this is not overly surprising. In the end the state is very competent in protecting the state, particularly its monopoly on violence.

 

Further Reading

Lindsay, Bethany. 2017. “Vancouver Cops, BC Investigations Agency Lock Horns over Cooperation.” Vancouver Sun. April 16. http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/city-cops-b-c-agency-lock-horns-over-cooperation-as-ontario-mulls-jail-time-for-officers-who-wont-answer-questions

Toronto Star. 2017. “Speed Up Investigations by Police Watchdog: Editorial.” Toronto Star. April 17. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2017/04/17/speed-up-investigations-by-police-watchdog-editorial.html

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Legal Petition Filed Against VPD Chief Adam Palmer and Seven Officers for Non-Cooperation in Investigation into Killing by Cops

The story of oversight of police forces and investigations into police harm to civilians in Canada has been consistently one of obstruction, intimidation, harassment, non-cooperation, and silencing by police toward investigative bodies and officials. This has been the case in every province that has an investigative body tasked with examining instances of police harm to civilians.

In British Columbia the situation has been so dire that the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) has had to take the extraordinary step of filing a legal petition against Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer and seven officers for not cooperating with the IIO investigation into the fatal police shooting of Daniel Peter Rintoul on November 10, 2016. This is not the only case that the IIO has been stonewalled on or otherwise faced non-cooperation from police forces in the province. The IIO has previously noted problems with police not following proper procedures or providing information in a timely manner.

Another case of the VPD killing a civilian under even more questionable circumstances in which the force has not provided information to the public or the victim’s family and has frustrated the IIO investigation involves the killing of Myles Gray in 2015. Officers involved in that killing, in which Gray was beaten to death while confined in a backyard, are not cooperating with the IIO. The Gary family has been forced to file suit against the city and police to find some answers.

Not surprisingly the police association, a reactionary force, has responded to the IIO complaints with attempts to discredit the investigative body and undermine its (already limited) work. Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union and the BC Police Association has whined publicly about IIO interviews because, incredibly, officer could be incriminated (as if police have any qualms about their own interview techniques which are infinitely more forceful). Even more pathetic Stamatakis has complained publicly that the IIO investigators refer to investigations as murder investigations or homicide investigations. But the killing of a human, by cops or otherwise, is by simple definition a homicide. And there is little concern by Stamatakis that police use such terms in their investigations. Perhaps they will stop.

All of this is a continuation of police tactics of intimidation, harassment, obstruction, and interference with investigations by oversight bodies in Canadian contexts. It is one reason that there is no real independent oversight of and accountability for police in any province in Canada.


Inquest into Vancouver Transit Police Killing of Naverone Woods (23) Begins: March 20, 2017

An inquest into the killing of Naverone Woods has begun in Burnaby, British Columbia on March 20, 2017. Woods, a 23-year-old Gitxsan man, was shot and killed by a Metro Vancouver Transit Police officer in Surrey, British Columbia in December 2014. This case has generated much concern and organized protest but few answers for grieving family members. The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), which investigates cases of police harm to civilians in the province, earlier reported that Woods was shirtless and suffering from self-inflicted knife wounds when police, including the transit police officer, encountered him inside a Safeway grocery store in the Whalley neighborhood in Surrey. The transit officer then fired her gun striking and killing Woods. She was cleared by the IIO in may 2016. The Metro Vancouver Transit Police are the first armed transit force in Canada.

The inquest, heard by presiding coroner Brynne Redford and a jury, has no power to attribute wrongdoing or recommend charges. They will examine evidence around the killing of Woods and make recommendations that they have no mechanism to enforce on police.

Family and friends have consistently referred to Naverone Woods as gentle, caring, and helpful.


Family of Tony Du Sues City of Vancouver and Cop Who Killed Him

Police in Canada have a horrendous history of killing civilians dealing with mental health issues. Too often police interaction with someone experiencing mental illness or distress results in a quick deployment of often lethal force. The police solution to mental illness is death. And even more police can count on investigations units and prosecutors to use the victims’ mental health against them in deciding not to charge officers who kill quickly. Identities of officers not charge remain undisclosed leaving families without even the names (or ironically without knowledge of the personal histories, including past killings) of the officers who killed their loved ones. Often families of people killed by police in Canada are forced to file lawsuits simply to receive disclosure of basic information about the killing of their family members.

On Thursday, February 9, 2017, the family of Phuong Na Du, Tony Du, a Vancouver man shot and killed by police in November of 2014 launched a civil suit against the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department officer involved in the shooting. Pivot Legal, a local civil rights law group, announced the lawsuit right after the Crown prosecutor announced that the Vancouver police officer who killed Du would not be charged.

Tony Du experienced, who experienced schizophrenia, was killed by police after officers arrived on the scene at Knight Street near East 41st Street. Witnesses reported seeing the victim appearing distraught  and waving a two-by-four. Du was shot by one officer and hit with a bean bag round fired by another and died in hospital of the injuries inflicted by police. Police explained the decision to shoot by saying the man would not immediately comply with officers’ orders. Failure to immediately comply is too often viewed by police as an invitation to shoot and a license to kill. And investigations and prosecutors reinforce this arrogant view by refusing to bring charges against cops who kill under such circumstances.

The provincial oversight body, the Independent Investigations Office (which is not truly independent of police an trains through the police training center, the Justice Institute of British Columbia) investigated the killing and submitted its report to the Crown in the fall of 2016. That report disclosed that DU was shot and killed a mere 18 to 25 seconds after police arrived on the scene. This calls entirely into question, indeed refutes, the police claim that the victim had time to understand and respond to officers’ orders. This short time frame was neither long enough to start a conversation with Du nor enough time to assess his mental state or intentions. Pivot Legal lawyer Douglas King suggests that the police undertook instead “a very intense and rapid escalation” one that raises some “serious concerns” (quoted in CBC 2017).

Crown prosecutors are almost uniformly reluctant to charge officers given their need to work with police on cases and the perceived impact a lack of police cooperation could have on their career trajectory. So it was in no way surprising that the Criminal Justice Branch in British Columbia released a statement saying that the evidence gathered did not meet the criteria for approval of charges in connection with the police shooting death of Tony Du. Said the Crown, grimly, of the killer cop in this case: “He continued firing until the suspect was no longer a threat” (quoted in CBC 2017).

Indeed. And no charges result.

 

Further Reading

CBC. 2017. “Family of Mentally Ill Man Shot by Vancouver Police Sues City.” CBC News. February 9. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/tony-du-vancouver-police-civil-suit-1.3975168


Multiple Killer Cop Monty Robinson Loses Perjury Appeal in Dziekanski Case

Benjamin “Monty” Robinson the RCMP officer who has killed two people, most infamously Robert Dziekanski on October 14, 2007, has lost the appeal of his conviction for perjury in that case. The panel of Appeal Court judges in British Columbia upheld a lower court’s decision that found Robinson lied during a public inquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of Robert Dziekanski. In the majority decision Justice Mary Newbury wrote:

“The judge’s findings cannot in my view be said to have been unreasonable. I have little doubt that ‘viewed through the lens of judicial experience,’ the appellant had a ‘clear reason and motive to deny’ that he and his colleagues had discussed the incident and colluded in their evidence before the inquiry. The court was not left with any reasonable doubt on this point.”

Robinson had been sentenced to two years less a day for perjury in that case.

The Dziekanski killing gained international attention and shone a light on practices of public deception and lying in the RCMP. Robinson was the senior of four officers who confronted 40-year-old Robert Dziekanski in the Vancouver International Airport where the Polish traveller who spoke no English had been left without support for almost 10 hours in the arrivals terminal. RCMP almost immediately upon encountering Dziekanski used a taser on the man multiple times before pinning him to the ground causing his death on the scene. RCMP public spokespeople initially said Dziekanski had been irate and aggressive during the encounter and suggested he was drunk. The phony “excited delirium” claim was even suggested. Until the civilian video surfaced showing that in fact Dziekanski was compliant with officers, did not threaten them, and was in fact moving in the direction they suggested. The RCMP had clearly lied to the public in an effort to frame Dziekanski for his own death (a common endeavor in police killings).

The public display of deception by RCMP prompted the inquiry at which Robinson and fellow officer Kwesi Millington were found to have perjured themselves by colluding and then lying on testimony. Millington lost his appeal in a unanimous decision in July 2016.

Robinson would go on to kill 21-year-old Orion Hutchinson hitting the young motorcyclist with his SUV on October 28, 2008. His two children were in the vehicle at the time. In that case Robinson was convicted of obstruction of justice. It was found that the Mountie had used his police training to avoid charges of impaired driving by claiming that after the crash he went home and drank two shots of vodka to “calm his nerves” (a police ploy to cover drinking before the crash). The court heard that he had bragged to party guests that his training gave him a way to deal with drunk driving charges. Robinson was given a conditional sentence of 12 months in that case.

The fact remains that RCMP officer Monty Robinson killed two civilians. He has not been charged or held accountable for those killings.


Vancouver Police Kill Man in East Vancouver (November 10, 2016)

Vancouver Police Department officers have killed a man at a Canadian Tire store in East Vancouver on the afternoon of November 10, 2016. A police officer shot and killed the man after two officers responded to a call at the Canadian Tire at Grandview Highway and Bentall Street. Police claim a robbery was in process when they arrived. A second man was taken into custody. Few details have yet been released.


IIO Report Documents Police Contempt for Oversight Agencies

The problems with oversight of police, and investigations into police use of force against civilians are numerous and have been extensively documented and discussed within this project. Indeed even state bodies such as the Ombudsperson of Ontario have found, documented, and reported on the failings of police oversight agencies and practices. In addition to repeated counts of interference with and obstruction of investigations and harassment of investigators by officers and police associations, one of the recurring issues has been the lack of cooperation with investigations by officer and the withholding of required information by officers in investigations.

A new report by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of British Columbia, released publicly on August 31, 2016, highlights the dubious behavior of officers of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) during an investigation into the shooting and killing of a man who reportedly stabbed several people on a downtown street. The IIO investigators specifically criticized police for failing to file timely written reports of critical incidents immediately after the incident occurred. In addition the report noted that officer accounts were tainted not only by delays but by their having watched television reports of the incident before filing their accounts. The IIO concluded that these problems were “widespread” among officer in British Columbia.

 

Officers Fail to Comply

The IIO noted the significance of timely accounts following police use of force. In the words of the IIO release: “Such reports are essential to ensure the integrity of criminal and administrative investigations and reviews of officer decisions to use deadly force or force likely to cause significant injury” (quoted in CBC News 2016). On the matter of police viewing of news media stories about the incident they were involved in the IIO concluded: “As such, the statements of these officers were impacted by evidence separate and apart from their own recollections and memories of the events” (quoted in CBC News 2016). In this case the IIO had to rely on the memories of civilian witnesses (who may or may not have felt intimidated by police).

 

No Accountability

It is notable that while the IIO report was highly critical of the actions of two officers involved in the killing and their failure to write up reports immediately and without media influence, the IIO cleared the officers of wrongdoing. This is an all too familiar contradiction in police oversight and shows the limits (virtual non-existence) of current oversight practices and agencies.

Significantly, the IIO investigators reported that the failure to file a timely report was not an isolated incident limited to the VPD. In fact it is identifiable practice in other forces, including, most notably, the RCMP, the force that provides provincial policing and municipal policing services in many municipalities across the province (in addition to being the federal force). According to the IIO report:

“The IIO has become aware of a pattern of problems with respect to subject officers involved in critical incidents in British Columbia failing to prepare timely duty to accounts or notes of their involvement in incidents. These problems have been identified with respect to multiple files involving not just the Vancouver Police Department, but also the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and two other municipal police agencies.” (quoted in CBC News 2016)

It is a problem of police oversight and investigations into police harm of civilians that there are few mechanisms to compel police to comply and act in the mannered required by the investigation. These could be, but are not, treated as chargeable offenses. Furthermore, it is a problem that the filing of reports in a timely manner, and under specified conditions are not viewed as part of the incident of harm in question but as separate, discreet moments. The result is that wrongdoing as identified in the IIO report are not considered when assessing whether or not police engaged in wrongdoing when harming someone. The filing of reports, etc. should be considered as part of the incident and considered when assessing the actions of police over the course of the incident of harm under consideration.

 

Conclusion

Incredibly, while not finding against the officers involved, the IIO has taken the atypical step of moving to file its own complaint with the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner about police actions. There is little reason to believe that this step will result in anything approaching accountability for the officers involved. It is also telling that the IIO has not named the officers involved in such obstruction publicly. It is also perhaps ironic that forces that have adopted a “comply or die” approach to policing on a customary basis, resulting in much taking of civilian lives in the province, are so cavalier i.e. non-compliant) about complying with investigations when it affects them as respondents.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2016. “Investigation into Police Shooting Raises Concerns.” CBC News. August 31. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/investigation-into-police-shooting-raises-concerns-1.3743227