Lawyers demand new process
Civilian oversight sought to end police investigating complaints against police.
The family and friends of Paul Boyd won't be the only people who'll be interested to know the results of the police investigation into his death.
John Richardson, executive director of the Pivot Legal Society, hopes that there will be a detailed report on what actually happened on the evening of August 13 on Granville Street between 15th and 16th avenues. On that night, Boyd, a 39-year-old animator with a mental disorder, was shot dead by the Vancouver police.
Richardson, a lawyer, told the Georgia Straight that he wants to see how police investigators will deal with various eyewitness testimonies. He said these include claims of multiple shots fired by the police at Boyd, who had earlier attacked a couple of officers with a chain that had a padlock attached.
"What are the findings of fact about what happened that day?" Richardson asked. "How do they weight the various eyewitness reports? How far was the individual from the police officers when he was killed? There's lots of questions that are going to shed light on whether or not there was an appropriate use of force."
Richardson said that Pivot had called for an independent civilian inquiry but was ignored by authorities. He has yet to hear whether or not Vancouver police investigators have finished their probe, the results of which will be reviewed by the RCMP Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.
"In the long term, we hope that we would have civilian investigation teams that would look into excessive use of force by the police," he said. "It's not going to happen this year, but looking at other jurisdictions like Great Britain, it's an inevitable trend. It's an issue that will never go away until it's fixed."
Another Vancouver lawyer, Cameron Ward, said there's a culture of brotherhood that is unique to the police, and that it doesn't generally allow an impartial and objective investigation within the ranks. This culture, according to Ward, isn't found in other professions.
"Lawyers, doctors, and teachers are not members of paramilitary organizations that require loyalty and brotherhood," Ward told the Straight. "There is no similar culture within those other professions that demand that you stay within the ranks. There is no thin blue line in those other professions."
Ward, who spoke at a September 24 B.C. Civil Liberties Association forum on in-custody deaths, said he rejects the view that people other than the police aren't qualified to investigate the police. He cited the United Kingdom's Independent Police Complaints Commission, which became operational in 2004. The IPCC uses civilian investigators to look into cases that include civilian deaths and serious injuries resulting from police action. On its Web site (www.ipcc.gov.uk), the agency describes itself as "a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB), funded by the Home Office, but by law entirely independent of the police, interest groups and political parties and whose decisions on cases are free from government involvement".
The IPCC was created by the U.K.'s Police Reform Act of 2002. That law mandated that the chairperson and members of the commission should not be former members of the police.
Ward also said that another area of reform would be in the B.C. Coroners Service, which looks into unnatural deaths, including those caused by police. According to Ward's count, 22 people in the province died at the hands of police between 2002 and 2006.
"The coroners service does not conduct an independent investigation into the deaths but, rather, relies upon what the police disclose to the coroners service," Ward said. "There has to be a complete change in the attitude that the employees of the coroners service bring into this issue."
Ward also noted that naming former RCMP officers to the service, like current chief coroner Terry Smith, isn't building public confidence in the investigation process. Smith's predecessor, Larry Campbell, was also a former RCMP officer who went on to become mayor of Vancouver.
"The fact that the coroners service is under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, who also has jurisdiction over policing in the province, coupled with the fact that the chief coroner is a former RCMP, gives rise to a certain perception," he said.
In February this year, former Court of Appeal justice Josiah Wood released his report on the review he conducted of the police-complaint process in the province. He noted that "there is still some distance to go before one-quarter of the population in British Columbia can be fully confident that all complaints against their municipal police officers will be thoroughly investigated and processed to a proper conclusion."
Wood recommended greater civilian oversight in police investigations, although he noted that acceptance by the police of such oversight cannot be legislated. Wood, however, also stated: "But what can be legislated is an entirely different model for processing complaints against the police, one that removes that process in its entirety from their control, placing the responsibility for investigation in the hands of a completely independent investigative force and the responsibility for adjudicating the results of those investigations, and imposing discipline, in the hands of an independent civilian agency."
Robert Gordon is a former London police officer who is currently the director of SFU's school of criminology. He noted that although investigations into police actions require a certain level of knowledge and skill, it's incorrect to claim that it is beyond the capacity of people other than police.
"It's in the interest of the police to have independent inquiries," Gordon told the Straight. "If everything is kosher, then that will be displayed. If it is not, and there is culpability, then the finger gets pointed in the right direction and the individual who may indeed be a rogue officer will be dealt with. Once again, police prestige is restored." -