The father of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, famously said in the 19th century that the police are the public and the public are the police.
He also noted that the police are “the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence”.
But it’s hard for the community to take comfort in Peel’s words when it comes to the death of Myles Gray.
In August 2015, the 33-year-old businessman from Sechelt was killed by six Vancouver police officers in the 8300 block of Joffre Avenue in Burnaby. According to documents filed in court, Gray was pepper-sprayed and died with significant bruising to his face, forehead, and head.
Gray also had lacerations to his face, a broken nose, a dislocated jaw, hemorrhaged testicles, a broken right orbital bone, bruising and cartilage damage across the throat, a fractured sternum, a fractured rib, and ankle and wrist bruising.
Gray, a landscaper, came to police officers’ attention after telling a woman that she shouldn’t be watering her lawn. Water restrictions were in place at the time.
According to a VPD news release, he “became agitated” when he was initially stopped in the 3600 block of Southeast Marine Drive. Reinforcements were called even though he wasn’t armed and didn’t have a criminal record.
The Justice for Myles Gray Facebook page describes him as a “kind, caring, loving person”.
Police, however, claimed on August 13, 2015, that following an altercation that left him dead, six officers were sent to hospital, including two with “significant injuries” who were released the same day.
The VPD alleged that chemical agents were used to subdue him, but this didn’t work. Gray was 5-10 and in good physical condition.
Normally when there’s a police-involved death, the civilian-oversight system kicks in and there is an independent investigation. There’s also a coroner’s inquest.
But in this instance, almost 30 months after Gray’s death, the Vancouver Police Department was continuing to oppose allowing the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. to conduct a second interview with one of its officers.
As a result, the IIO announced in October that it had filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court to seek a judicial order forcing this officer to cooperate.
The VPD continued stonewalling. It was only on March 2 that the IIO announced that the matter had been resolved. The police officer was interviewed, the court petition was withdrawn, and the investigation is continuing.
The public was notified through a statement on the IIO website. There’s no mention of this remarkable development on the VPD website.
Attorney General David Eby has stated that police officers are obliged to cooperate with the IIO. Eby forged a reputation before entering politics as a civil-liberties lawyer who took police brutality seriously.
But there has been not a word from the Vancouver police board, which has a mandate to provide general direction to the VPD “in response to community needs”.
The seven provincial appointees to the police board, as well as Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, gave Chief Adam Palmer a blank cheque to refuse to cooperate with the civilian investigation office.
Many people, including Eby, fought for years to have independent oversight of municipal police in B.C. The public silence of police-board members on the VPD’s obstruction of an independent probe should set off alarm bells for every citizen of Vancouver, even after the court petition has been withdrawn.
Not only does Gray’s death raise a red flag about police accountability, it also has financial ramifications for taxpayers. Why should one publicly funded body, the IIO, have to take another publicly funded body, the VPD, to a taxpayer-funded court to address something already resolved through provincial legislation?
There are no public funds available for counselling for families coping with the loss of loved ones killed in encounters with the police. There are no public funds available for these families to be represented by legal counsel at coroner’s inquests. There are no public funds available to conduct mandatory drug-testing of police officers, including testing them for steroids.
But there’s massive funding available for lawyers to draft judicial-review applications, prepare arguments, and delay investigations of police, sometimes enabling the officers to eventually retire, making them no longer subject to the Police Act.
The president of the Vancouver Police Union, Tom Stamatakis, said in 2016 that independent civilian oversight of police is “absolutely necessary”.
“But they should investigate in a timely way, and it should be done transparently,” he told CBC News.
Yet on March 1, Stamatakis tweeted that there’s not a single province in Canada with civilian oversight “where witnesses don’t face jeopardy”.
Stamatakis also declared in his tweet that witnesses are “typically bullied & pressured” to provide information to investigators who are looking for—or are set up to find—discrepancies that can be “used to allege wrongdoing”. Stamatakis seems to be suggesting that the deck is stacked against police with civilian oversight.
In the meantime, a family waits more than two-and-a-half years for answers about why their son and brother died at the hands of police. It’s shameful.More