B.C. to introduce civilian oversight of RCMP

Vancouver and Victoria — The Globe and Mail

A photo of Robert Dziekanski, who was killed by a taser gun at the hands of RCMP at the Vancouver International Airport, sits on a table beside flowers at a press conference in Vancouver, B.C. October 25, 2007. (Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail)

After 11 months, four solicitors-general, two premiers and two attorneys-general, the B.C. government has finally lived up to its commitment to act on the Braidwood Commission's proposal for a civilian office to investigate police.

The new Independent Investigations Office is the legacy of the deaths of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who was stunned multiple times with a taser by RCMP in 2007, and Ian Bush, who was shot in the back of the head at the RCMP detachment in Houston, B.C., in 2004.

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Premier Christy Clark, flanked by representatives of British Columbia's municipal police and RCMP forces, said she spoke to both the victims' mothers earlier on Tuesday to outline the changes. "I can't imagine the tragic loss that each of them feel," she said. "But I was able to say to them that we, today, have introduced legislation that I hope will lighten their burden just a little bit."

Former commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. appeal court judge who looked into the Dziekanski incident, was at Ms. Clark's side to offer his endorsement of the new model.

He told reporters it was tragic that such deaths occurred "before the practise of police investigating themselves could be put to rest forever. But that day has finally arrived."

After speaking to the Premier, Linda Bush said she had no problems with the time it has taken to get to this stage. "There was a political upheaval, so I expected it to be a while," Ms. Bush said, referring to selection of a replacement for premier Gordon Campbell.

She expressed some reservations about the new model, but believes such an independent authority would have produced a more acceptable investigation into the death of her 22-year-old son. "They are trying to address concerns I expressed. I have expectations it is going to work out really well."

Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Mr. Dziekanski's mother, said Tuesday's announcement was a sad legacy of the tragic case.

"It's unfortunate that it took a tragedy like Mr. Dziekanski's death to cause this to occur."

He said that he believes an investigations office operating at the time of Mr. Dziekanski's death would have given the public more confidence in the outcome of the probe into the conduct of officers, which was done by the police.

The province, Mr. Kosteckyj said, will have to find a director who easily generates confidence in the role of the organization and thick-skinned investigators who do the same. "The hardest thing is going to be acceptance from the police fraternity."

Another challenge is to develop a corps of competent investigators. The office is not expected to be up and running until the end of the year. The investigators will have the same authority as police and will immediately step in when there is a death or serious injury involving either municipal forces or the RCMP.

"Finding people who know their way around policing but are not contaminated by their association with policing, that's going to be difficult," said Rob Gordon, head of criminology at Simon Fraser University.

The office will be headed by a civilian who has never worked in policing, but the government will allow retired police to take positions as investigators for a transition period. Prof. Gordon said the top appointment will be key. "They're going to be setting out an agency in a province that has faced significant challenges in the credibility of policing."

The B.C. Liberal government first pledged to act upon Mr. Braidwood's recommendations in June, 2010, but the revolving door of the solicitor-general's office and the party's leadership upheaval slowed progress on what was described as a "complex" creation.

Solicitor-General Shirley Bond said she was directed by Ms. Clark to move on the changes as her first priority when she took over the portfolio two months ago. The legislation had been in the drafting stage since December and includes some changes from Mr. Braidwood's proposal.

One of those changes means that Crown prosecutors, not independent special prosecutors, will handle most cases if the office recommends criminal charges against a police officer. That difference will lower the cost of prosecutions, but Ms. Clark pledged that the new office will be adequately funded.