The Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia, the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in the province, is investigating a police-involved death during an incident in Vancouver on July 13, 2019. According to the IIO, Vancouver Police report that officers responded to a report of a person throwing property from the upper floor of a residential building on Bidwell Street in Vancouver. A man fell from an upper floor to the ground shortly after officers entered the building. He did not survive the fall.
Tag Archives: VPD
A man died after going into medical distress during an arrest in South Surrey involving members of the RCMP and Vancouver Police Department (VPD) on the afternoon of March 19, 2018. Surrey RCMP report receiving multiple calls about a man apparently in some distress in the roadway near the intersection of 10 Avenue and 161A Street around 1:40 PM.
According to a media release by the Independent Investigations Office of BC, the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in British Columbia, the man went into medical crisis when RCMP “tried to gain control and take him into custody.” The man had reportedly first been confronted by an off-duty VPD officer. Emergency Health Services arrived and attempted to provide aid but the man was declared dead around 3 PM.
Once again the question must be asked why police were the ones sent to interact with someone in personal distress but posing no threat to the public. Questions must be asked about the role the off-duty VPD officer played in confronting the man initially.
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
It has been announced that the BC Coroners Service will hold a public inquest into the fatal shooting of 51-year-old Phuong Na (Tony) Du by Vancouver police in 2014. Du was killed by Vancouver Police Department (VPD) officers in public while in some psychological distress on Knight Street near 41st Avenue in Vancouver.
Two officers responded to calls about DU with one firing a been bag gun at him and the other shooting him with a firearm. Du was taken to hospital where he died from the injuries inflicted by police. Du experienced mental illness.
The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in British Columbia investigated the killing but charges were not recommended by the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) for the two officers responsible. The CJB claimed the use of a firearm by one of the officers was justifiable on the basis of his belief that his partner’s life was in danger, despite the fact that the other officer was armed.
In February 2017, Tony Du’s family launched a civil suit against the City of Vancouver and the police officer who fired the fatal shot in the killing. Lawyers representing the victim’s family note that Tony Du was killed between only 18 and 25 seconds after police arrived on the scene. This time was no where near long enough for police to begin a conversation with Du let alone establish his mental condition.
The public inquest into the police killing of Tony Du will commence on February 5, 2018, at the Burnaby Coroners Court. As per usual, the coroner’s jury will be able to make recommendations that might prevent deaths under similar circumstances but which police are under no obligation at all to follow. The jury cannot make any finding of legal responsibility or blame and can not recommend charges against any killer cop.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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