Should three ex-cops be on five-member committee recommending new police complaint commissioner?
Every once in a while, I'll take a look at the bcpolicecomplaints.org blog created by Greg Klein.
He's a Vancouver writer and editor who's been a relentless critic of B.C. police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe. The former Crown prosecutor will soon be leaving this position after a decade on the job.
In particular, Klein has maintained that media outlets, including the Straight, have failed to adequately hold Lowe accountable for his responses to cases involving Vancouver police constable Taylor Robinson, New Westminster officer Sukhwinder "Vinnie" Singh Dosanjh, and former Victoria police chief Frank Elsner.
In the case involving Robinson, Klein has written that Lowe's office learned on June 28, 2010, that Robinson shoved a woman with a disability onto the sidewalk in the Downtown Eastside. This information came from the victim, Sandy Davidsen.
Klein maintained on his website that when Lowe learned of this, he was obliged under the Police Act to conduct an investigation, as well as a probe into the VPD's professional standards officers who failed to notify his office of this incident.
"Lowe and his staff did none of those things," Klein wrote, noting that a Police Act investigation was only launched on July 27, 2010.
Robinson continued walking the beat in the neighbourhood until July 22, 2010, when video of the shoving incident was broadcast on the TV news.
Klein's version of events was vehemently disputed by the deputy police complaint commissioner, Rollie Woods, in a letter to the Straight.
"I also need to remind you that as per section 51.01 of the B.C. Police Act we are barred from publicly reporting any complaint or even confirming that a complaint has been received," Woods wrote at the time.
Klein continues to insist he was correct and has lambasted the Straight on his website for not challenging Woods on the veracity of his comments. Klein thinks that other media outlets have also given the Office of the Police Complaints Commission a soft ride.
In the case involving Dosanjh, Lowe didn't order a public hearing after the officer was suspended from the force in 2008. This followed an investigation that he allegedly entered a Port Moody woman's home and assaulted her. Charges were stayed.
In 2017, Dosanjh was charged with sexual assault in Victoria in connection with a 2005 incident that occurred when he was off-duty. A court date has been set for June 3, 2019.
Last August, Klein wrote to Solicitor General Mike Farnworth accusing Lowe of "extraordinary leniency". That's because no hearing was ordered even though a judge imposed a peace bond on Dosanjh in connection with the Port Moody case.
In the case of Elsner, retired judges acting for Lowe's office concluded that the former chief committed six acts of discreditable conduct under the Police Act. Three of those involved workplace harassment and another involved "deceit". Klein has criticized Lowe for only calling for an investigation after the media began reporting on allegations of sexual impropriety.
Fast-forward to this week, when an all-party special legislative committee to appoint a police complaint commissioner recommended Lowe's successor.
It's highly unlikely that the legislature, which hires the police complaint commissioner, will go against the wishes of the committee.
The incoming commissioner, Clayton Pecknold, is a former Mountie with a law degree from Dalhousie University. This happens to be Attorney General David Eby's alma mater.
Pecknold is past director of emergency communications for ECOMM 911. He's chair of the Police Records Information Management Environment board of directors. He's a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Since 2011, Pecknold has been assistant deputy minister and director of police services, policing and security branch. This is part of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, which is headed by B.C.'s "top cop", Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
According to a government news release this week, this branch oversees the regulation of policing, law enforcement, and private security in B.C. This means that Pecknold has been working closely with municipal chiefs for seven years.
Pecknold has clearly been deeply embedded in policing and police culture for a very long time. He's been the key provincial official overseeing regulation of policing—and soon, he'll become the person that complainants must rely on to provide a fair hearing in their objections to the actions of municipal police officers.
Three of the five members of the special legislative committee are former cops: ex-RCMP officers Garry Begg, Rich Coleman, and Mike Morris. The two other members are NDP MLA Rachna Singh and Green MLA Adam Olsen—like Begg, both in their first terms in the legislature.
According to a report released by the committee, there were 56 applicants to succeed Lowe. Eight were short-listed for interviews, which took place on November 19 and 21.
Nothing is revealed about the identity or even the backgrounds of the other applicants. There's no indication if any of them were Indigenous or if they were lawyers with a demonstrated track record in filing lawsuits against police forces.
According to the report, those who made the short list did so "based on their leadership and senior executive process, their understanding of the police complaint process and investigative and review process principles, and their dispute resolution, mediation and conflict resolution experience".
In the end, the committee unanimously sided with Pecknold, including the Sikh woman of colour (Singh) and the Indigenous appointee (Olsen). This provides an imprimatur for people of colour and Indigneous people that Pecknold will guard their interests.
But is it right that three ex-Mounties should have been on the committee—and formed the majority on the panel?
While Coleman, Morris, and Begg clearly have expertise in policing, there is a question of optics here.
Yet there hasn't been a peep of criticism from two organizations that hold themselves out as groups that hold police accountable: the Pivot Legal Society and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. It's safe to assume that they are fine with this arrangement.
Then again, these two organizations, like the media, have also come under scathing criticism from Klein for being toothless public watchdogs over the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner.
Klein doesn't hold back when it comes to speaking out on this topic.
It's easy for some people to dismiss Klein as a crank when his concerns have not been taken up in a serious way by the media, politicians, or groups that make a big public display from time to time of holding the police accountable.
Certainly the words that Klein sometimes uses—crooked, corrupt, cover-up, et cetera—have not endeared him to influential figures in the political, policing, media, and NGO worlds.
But at the same time, it's hard to argue with one of his central points: there has been a correlation between belated media coverage of incidents involving police and public disclosure of the police complaint commissioner's actions. This occurred in the cases of Robinson and Elsner. In the case of Dosanjh, no hearing was ordered.
Klein has been a canary of sorts for those interested in greater police accountability, even if he isn't always listened to by the elites.
And if Pecknold fails to order prompt investigations or public hearings into serious allegations of wrongdoing, Klein isn't likely to remain quiet.
Pecknold, as a long-time bureaucrat involved in overseeing the police, probably already knows this.