Tag Archives: Oversight

Data Show Third Consecutive Yearly Increase in Police-Involved Deaths in BC

A database of deaths involving BC law enforcement shows an increase in police-involved deaths of civilians in the province in 2016, the third year in a row such an increase has been recorded. The database is maintained by The Georgia Straight newsmagazine, and journalist Travis Lupick, and uses information from the BC Coroners Service and the Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in the province. The records account for people dying during interactions with police and in law enforcement agency custody. Numbers for 2017 are still being compiled and assessed.

Over the period of 2009 to 2013, reported police involved deaths were at 13 or 14 each year. In 2014, the number of recorded deaths rose to 16. There were 17 recorded in 2015 and 18 in 2016. The eighteen recorded deaths in 2016 represents the highest number recorded for a single year in the database, which traces back to 2003. In 2007 there were 17 deaths reported, the second highest number.

The database records show that the increase has been driven by the RCMP, which polices 150 municipalities across the province as well as serving as a provincial and a federal force. While many of those are jurisdictions are small towns, and several notable killings by police have occurred in small towns and in the north, the RCMP is also responsible for larger cities, including Metro Vancouver centers of Burnaby, Richmond, and Surrey. In 2012, four people died during interactions with RCMP officers, while the number rose to seven in 2013, six in 2014, 12 in 2015, then 12 again in 2016.

In terms of shootings, since 2006, there have been an average of 3.8 recorded fatal shootings by police each year. Total numbers for the database include deaths in BC prisons (omitting natural causes). Deaths in prisons continue to constitute a relative minority in the reported cases. The database suggests that many of the cases of reported police-involved deaths involve issues of mental health and/or substance use. Issues like race, and racism, and impacts of colonialism are not systematically documented.

There are no official recording and communicating procedures for documenting police-involved killings in British Columbia, nor are there in other Canadian provinces. This leads the public to believe police killings of civilians in Canada occur less frequently than they actually do. We have heard people express on numerous occasions the belief that police killings of civilians in Canada in single digit numbers each year—for the country as a whole. The reported numbers obviously do not include any killings of civilians by police that police do not report.


The database can be accessed at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1aLNSF4Hkk9XdVKeuVU6ZrRO6GtSxT4t8TiMiQ6ptLrY/edit#gid=0


No Charges Against Two Winnipeg Cops Investigating Killer Cop Justin Holz, Despite “Improper Conduct”: When Cops Investigate Cops

On December 20, 2017, it was announced that no charges will be brought against two Winnipeg police officers assigned to help investigate the hit-and-run killing of Cody Severight (23) by Winnipeg officer Justin Holz (34) on October 10, 2017. Severight, of the Waywayseecappo First Nation, about 280 kilometers northwest of Winnipeg, was struck by the vehicle driven by Holz while crossing Main Street near Sutherland Avenue around 8 PM. Officer Holz had been out drinking before getting into his vehicle. He has been charged with impaired driving causing death and failing to remain at the scene of an accident.

Two other Winnipeg officers involved in the investigation into Holz’s killing of Severight were placed on administrative leave ten days after the killing.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU), the agency that investigates cases of police harm to civilians in the province, reported that it had been notified of “irregular and improper conduct of two officers.” The IIU has now concluded that no charges should be laid and reported this in an uninformative media release. IIU director Zane Tessler said in that release: “It’s kind of difficult to discuss the specifics of [my decision] given that everything is intertwined in pending matters that are still before the court.“ Indeed developing excuses for letting cops off the hook can take time and is no doubt “difficult to discuss” in a way that they public would accept.

The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) may continue its “investigation” into the two officers. Both officers have returned to duty and the WPS says it will not be commenting further. By now we have come to know what to expect when police investigate police.

Trial for Killer Cop Simon Beaulieu Hears Cops Should Be Given More Consideration Than “Regular” Citizens

Quebec City police officer Simon Beaulieu drove into and killed Guy Blouin  on September 30, 2014, backing his police vehicle over the victim who was riding a bicycle at the time. We have already documented the base policing assumptions that led Beaulieu to act in the way that he did in killing Blouin (assuming Blouin was suspicious because he was riding the wrong way on a one way street; assuming he had something to hide because he did not obey an order allegedly given to stop, etc.).

On Monday, October 23, 2017, the court heard, during Beaulieu’s trial on charges of criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing death, that as a police officer he “could not be judged on the same level as a regular citizen” (Page 2017). Said Beaulieu’s defense attorney Maxime Roy: “We can imagine that being on patrol requires more manoeuvres than your average person” (quoted in Page 2017). And Roy concluded that Beaulieu was simply “trying to do his job and apprehend a suspect” (Page 2017). Never mind that the so-called suspect was a product of the officer’s authoritarian privilege and did nothing more than ride the wrong way and, the clincher, disobey a police order (which there is no way of knowing was either given or heard).

It is no surprise that police believe they are better than “regular” members of society and should be treated preferentially in all cases. This is a rather common approach to getting killer cops off in the rare cases in which they are actually brought to trial. That it could be confidently uttered as an element of defense in a killing of a civilian who did no wrong shows the nature of the criminal justice system in the Canadian state context.


Further Reading

Page, Julia. 2017. “Defence Attorney Calls for Acquittal on all Charges Against Quebec City Police Officer.” CBC News. October 23. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/simon-beaulieu-defence-closing-arguments-1.4367741


Judge Upholds Dismissal of Charges Against Killer Cops Patrick Bulger and Mathieu Boudreau in Michel Vienneau Killing

Constables Patrick Bulger (38) and Mathieu Boudreau (26) had each faced charges of manslaughter with a weapon, assault with a weapon, and unlawfully pointing a firearm for the shooting and killing of businessman Michel Vienneau on January 12, 2015 under highly questionable circumstances. The police had been given an erroneous anonymous “tip” that Vienneau was in possession of drugs when the officers confronted him outside the Bathurst, New Brunswick train station.

On October 20, 2017, Court of Queens Bench Judge Tracey DeWare upheld an earlier court decision dismissing the charges against the two constables. The evidence in the case still remains subject to a publication ban for at least 30 days, unless the ruling is appealed.

In February, provincial court Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman ruled, following a preliminary hearing, that the prosecution failed to produce enough evidence to warrant a trial. The judge dropped charges against the officers. New Brunswick’s Public Prosecutions Services challenged that ruling, arguing that the  the judge failed to consider all relevant evidence.

An RCMP investigation later found that Vienneau was not involved in any criminal activity. A civil lawsuit on behalf of Vienneau’s partner, who was accompanying him at the time he was killed, alleges that his death was caused by police negligence.

This decision is not surprising in the least since the state consistently protects the state in cases of police killings of civilians in Canada.


Saskatchewan RCMP Shoot and Kill 22-Year-Old Indigenous Man, Brydon Bryce Whitstone (Oct. 21, 2017)

Saskatchewan RCMP shot and killed 22-year-old Brydon Bryce Whitstone of Onion Lake Cree Nation around 9 PM on the evening of Saturday, October 21, 2017, in North Battleford.

RCMP have reported that they received a call from a man, saying he had been chased and shot at from a vehicle.  Police located the suspected vehicle and gave pursuit until they immobilized the vehicle. During their interaction with the driver shots were fired injuring a man inside the vehicle.  The victim, now identified as Brydon Bryce Whitstone, was pronounced dead at around 9:40 PM, while en route to hospital.

RCMP also report that a woman inside the vehicle suffered minor injuries. She was taken to hospital, but then released into police custody. Neither her condition nor the specific reason she was taken into custody have been reported publicly at this time. Neither has it been reported publicly how many shots were fired by RCMP officers. None of the police claims have been independently confirmed.

There is no independent investigative unit In Saskatchewan to examine cases of police harm to civilians in the province. RCMP Chief Superintendent Maureen Levy has reported that the Regina Police Service is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the killing of Whitstone by RCMP officers.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice will also appoint what it calls an independent observer to oversee the investigation, but such observers are almost always former police officers, so in no way independent. Justice Ministry spokesman Drew Wilby explained at a news conference that in cases were an independent observer is requested, the ministry appoints someone such as a former police officer. Yet, Wilby suggested, incredulously, that, “This individual will not be connected to the RCMP.” But it could well be a fellow officer so no claims of independence have any credibility.

Saskatchewan RCMP are a directly colonial military force. It remains a force of settler colonial military occupation of Indigenous lands and has an ongoing history of violence against Indigenous people and communities.


Police Investigate Police in Saskatchewan Civilian Death (July 5, 2017)

Police in Saskatchewan investigate police. There is no independent civilian oversight body in the province despite ongoing calls from community advocates.

On July 5, 2017, officers of the Blaine Lake Saskatchewan RCMP allegedly responded to a call about a distraught man with a firearm in a rural area. Two officers encountered a man who they say discharged the weapon, resulting in a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The man was taken to hospital in Saskatoon and pronounced dead there. The Saskatchewan RCMP have requested an investigation into the death, which will be conducted by the Saskatoon Police Service.


Hamilton Police Do Not Bother Reporting Vehicular Killing to SIU as Required by Law

We have repeatedly commented on the lack of real, independent oversight of police agencies at all levels across Canada on this site. This relates both to the absence of true autonomy and independence but also to the lack of transparency within oversight agencies and their incapacity to hold police accountable for obstructing and blocking investigations, not cooperating with investigations, or violating policies and requirements for reporting incidents of harm to civilians.

Information secured by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) through access to information requests shows that police forces do not necessarily even report cases where their officers have killed a civilian. In this local case the Hamilton Police Service did not notify the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), regarded as the “gold standard” for oversight of police globally, about a vehicular killing involving police in Hamilton in September 2016. The collision on September 3 killed a 20-year-old male, Chokha Bayez. Incredibly an investigation was only launched into the incident when the victim’s family approached the SIU almost one month after the crash.

SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon said in response to questions from CBC that the vehicle death listed in the FOI response was not publicized by the SIU simply because Hamilton police did not tell the agency about it. Yet all Ontario police services operate under a legal requirement to immediately notify the SIU of incidents of serious injury, allegations of sexual assault, or death of civilians in which their officers are involved. Furthermore the vehicular killing is not even listed on a police board report of SIU investigations presented at the Hamilton police board in April of 2017. Clearly the Hamilton Police Services view themselves as well above the law, as do police forces across the country. They are a law unto themselves as we have long known.

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has committed to publishing the details of every police-involved fatality dating back to 1990, when the Special Investigations Unit was established, as per the recommendations of the recent report on police oversight undertaken by Justice Michael Tulloch. SIU investigations are kept secret even from the families of victims. The Tulloch report also recommended that oversight agencies start collecting demographic data including race and religion, currently not maintained systematically in Canada. The report also recommended that oversight bodies release detailed reports whenever a police officer is cleared of wrongdoing. At the same time, police officers involved in deaths or serious incidents will not be identified unless they are charged, as is current, bad, practice.


Further Reading

Carter, Adam. 2017. “4 Times Hamilton Cops were Investigated for Sex Assault and the SIU Said Nothing.” CBC News. April 20.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/siu-sexual-assault-allegations-hamilton-police-1.4077303