Lack of real-time tracking of B.C. police-involved deaths leaves room for misconduct to spread

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      Two men have died during interactions with B.C. RCMP during the last week.

      On October 12, officers responded to a report of a man having injured himself on the highway outside of Qualicum, on Vancouver Island.

      Details are vague and much remains unknown about the circumstances surrounding the man’s death. So far, he’s only identified as a 35-year-old male.

      According to CBC News, the man was apprehended by RCMP officers, a struggled ensued, and at least one shot was fired by police. The man incurred injuries—it’s unclear whether they were self-inflicted, the result of the RCMP officers’ actions, or both. He was provided medical attention but died later in hospital.

      More recently, on October 17, a man who was likely from Alberta died during an interaction with B.C. RCMP in Revelstoke.

      According to the Vancouver Sun, the man was pulled over by police, pursued for a short time, and then contained in his vehicle. The confrontation continued for more than four hours. Eventually, the man was deemed unresponsive and police moved in. He died at the scene. The cause of death remains undetermined. The RCMP has said that no weapon was discharged at any point during the incident.

      It feels like more people have died during interactions with police in 2017 than in years previous. But that notion would take quite a bit of work to confirm or correct.

      There is no real-time tracking of police-involved deaths in B.C. or of the circumstances around the loss of life these statistics represent.

      Since 2015, the Georgia Straight has maintained a detailed database of every police-involved death in British Columbia.

      The database remains available to the public. However, the last time it was updated was December 2016.

      That’s because the database heavily relied on information made available by the B.C. Coroners Service, and the coroners service is no longer as proactive about releasing details on police-involved deaths as it once was.

      As the Straight reported last June, the last time that the coroners service proactively disclosed information about a police-involved death was November 2016.

      Historically, any time that somebody in B.C. died during an interaction with police or in the custody of law enforcement or a B.C. prison, the coroners service sent out a short media release.

      Those documents included the date of the incident, the police department involved, and, if available, the name of the deceased. They also usually indicated whether or not a firearm was discharged.

      The coroners service said it stopped releasing that sort of information because a review of disclosure practices was underway. The Crown corporation would not provide a date for exactly when that change took effect, except to say that it was sometime in “early 2017”.

      Since 2015 the Straight has maintained a public database of civilian deaths that involve police or a B.C. prison.
      Travis Lupick

      On October 4, Andy Watson, a spokesperson for the coroners service, told the Straight that review had been completed and that the agency had revised guidelines for the release of information to media.

      Notably, the coroners service will not release identifying information until a formal investigation has reached its conclusion. That makes it more difficult for journalists to research specific police-involved deaths until long after the incident occurred.

      There is a second agency in B.C. that releases information about police-involved deaths. That’s the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIOBC). But the information that office shares with the public uses different measures than those that were previously used by the coroners service. (For more about those differences and the coroners’ service change in policy, see “B.C. Coroners Service information blackout on police-involved deaths raises red flags for accountability”.)

      The Straight will continue to update its database of police-involved deaths in B.C. But the information there will now lag longer behind the dates of the incidents described. 

      Travis Lupick is a staff reporter and the author of Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City's Struggle with Addiction. You can follow him on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.