Globe and Mail’s Ian Bailey writes Police related deaths in British Columbia:
British Columbia had twice as many jail and police-related deaths as much more populous Ontario in a recent 15-year period that was the focus of a study on the issue for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. (Link attached)
The study, released Wednesday and calling for reforms in the investigation and prevention of such incidents, also finds that B.C. had the highest number of deaths a year of any of six provinces and territories for which numbers were available.
This is not news to anyone who has followed recent history but it is worth considering because, with no announcement made, the Liberal Government this month surrendered to the province’s police agencies and abandoned the effort to improve and radically revise police management and accountability.
I noticed that former policeman and past Solicitor General Kash Heed spoke publicly last week about how the BC government had lost its appetite for affecting real change in police accountability. Until derailed by electioneering misconduct, Heed had focused on forcing change on reluctant police agencies. Observers expected the Solicitor General’s problems to be swept under the bumpy Liberal carpet but the usual friendly partnership between police, prosecutors and politicians misfired. An offended police group conducted a smear campaign targeting Heed. There were two purposes. One was to settle an old score and the other was to discredit the driving force behind unwelcome change.
Aided by a couple of newspaper people, a whispering offensive had been mounted against Heed because he offended tradition and stomped on the Thin Blue Line in West Vancouver PD where he was trying to improve ethical standards. As newly arrived Chief, he disciplined senior officers after they fumbled a situation involving a police station drinking party that resulted in a traffic smash and impaired driving arrest of a WV officer. She was in a motor vehicle collision on her trip home from the soiree but, to make matters worse, she was soon approved for promotion in the small West Van service.
Kash Heed was also quick to suspend a young officer, one of three policemen who attacked a middle aged newspaper vendor after a day of off-duty drinking. Heed acted quickly and publicly and most active police officers wished he had used a Jamie Graham styled stall, admitting nothing and merely waiting for public uproar to subside. Heed was seen by his uniformed colleagues as too rash when it came to internal affairs. A fairly nasty smear effort was directed at Heed largely because he favored modern police methods that included strict accountability. The usual style was cover your ass, turn inwards and stay loyal.
The West Van struggle became moot when Gordon Campbell invited Kash Heed to run for the Liberals in a safe seat held by Wally Oppal. The Liberals were in trouble in South Delta and they reasoned that the sitting Attorney General could capture that seat and leave his old one to the new guy. A Dave Basi style operator was assigned to manage Heed’s Vancouver campaign and Liberal dirty tricks began. The outcome was that Heed was successful but Oppal defeated when he ran into the independent buzz saw Vicki Huntington.
As desired by Heed, he was installed as the Solicitor General and quickly went to work on his pet projects of police modernization and accountability. He was particularly insisting on guarantees in a new RCMP service contract that their officers would face the same standards of local accountability that Heed was preparing for municipal forces.
Heed also supervised an intense audit of policing in the Victoria area where questionable practices were under scrutiny. The audit identified many difficulties that needed to be addressed with external direction. Heed’s plan for new policing rules was unpopular with senior RCMP but their position was weak after numerous recent problems, worst of which was the Dziekanski killing and the failed cover-up efforts. Heed had enemies still in West Van and Victoria and, with RCMP brass after his scalp, he was at risk.
The election problems for which Heed deserves to be accountable made him vulnerable. Despite a Special Prosecutor finding that misconduct was limited to campaign workers, the rumor mill was being stoked and the Special Prosecutor was discredited when it was revealed that his office had made a financial contribution to the Liberals. Donations by lawyers to government election campaigns is so common that insiders tend not to give them second thoughts. However, the folks mounting this effort had media friends and Heed was embarrassed and soon stepped away from Cabinet so that a new prosecutor could review the file once again.
This week’s reappointment of ex-cop Rich Coleman as Solicitor General was Gordon Campbell’s signal to all that Kash Heed was now gone for good along with his intentions of truly reforming police accountability and local civilian management. There has been a full surrender by the Liberals. Gordon Campbell owed RCMP brass a favor. The only changes that will go forward now are cosmetic ones aimed at preserving the status quo.