The Harper Government removed Paul Kennedy from leadership of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP and replaced him with a real estate lawyer and political operative who has no police management experience. They had already appointed a career bureaucrat as the first civilian Commissioner. He too had no police operational experience. Since Commissioner William Elliot’s appointment, leadership of the RCMP has been in constant turmoil and he recently completed another house clearing of senior police executives.
It is troubling that, after more than three years, Elliott has been unable to build an effective management team. Defanging of the CPC and continuing disquiet within top ranks ensures the RCMP will continue its dysfunctional operation.
After the Braidwood Inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, The Davies Commission into the death of Frank Paul and other fatal encounters between citizens and police, British Columbians had an expectation of reform in policing and police oversight. That appeared to be happening and Solicitor General Kash Heed was designing major change.
An example of Heeds transparency intentions came from quick public release of a Use of Force Audit examining policing in the troubled Victoria region, where former Vancouver Chief Jamie Graham was experiencing familiar difficulties. When Vancouver Police Chief, Jamie Graham left his position while being investigated for failing to cooperate with investigations into 50 allegations of wrongdoing by members of his force. This resulted in the termination of any proceedings against him, despite a ruling by the Police Complaint Commissioner that he had engaged in “discreditable conduct.”
In what I believe was a dirty trick operation to sidetrack Solicitor General Heed and his intended reform, Heed’s campaign team was accused by RCMP of electoral offenses. Similar acts to the allegedly improper behavior occurred in neighboring ridings, but Kash Heed’s campaign in southeast Vancouver was the only one targeted for investigation. Not only did the RCMP focus on Vancouver-Fraserview but they kept pushing to advance charges after a Special Prosecutor declined to prosecute the MLA. The result was a leak of embarrassing information by police which resulted in resignation of the Special Prosecutor.
By comparison, RCMP have often dragged their feet for years on files involving their own people. Recently an impaired driving charge against a member was thrown out of court over delays because the trial came three years after the Richmond constable’s arrest. Unprecedented acts against Heed were prioritized. As a result, he is sidelined from Cabinet while a second prosecutor slowly reviews the electoral practices.
Since Heed had been the driving force behind police reform in BC, it is now sidetracked, probably doomed at least until a change in government. By then, a new 20-year local policing contract will be in place without the oversight controls wanted by Heed. The minister carrying on negotiations with the RCMP now is ex-Mountie Rich Coleman who is untroubled by the old-boy style of operation where transparency and accountability are anathema.
While the need for improved police oversight continues as much or more than ever, sincere efforts toward new approaches are abandoned. Changes will be mere window dressing. The Attorney General’s department has had control of the file since Heed’s removal as Solicitor General and its thoroughly discredited Criminal Justice Branch helped block meaningful police reform. By review of testimony at the resumed Davies Inquiry into Frank Paul’s homicide, it is clear that CJB and police worked together to subvert justice, protect police from discipline and defeat accountability.
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association added to the dialog by its report on Police Involved Deaths. The report is sub-titled “The Failure of Self-Investigation” and it demonstrates that BC leads Canada in deaths of citizens after contact with police. This unfortunate distinction has belonged to British Columbia for years.
Katie Derosa of the Times Colonist contributed an excellent special investigation titled Who is policing our police?
We do not need more examples that dramatically prove the need for transparency, oversight and civilian control of law enforcement. However, ProPublica and PBS’ Frontline partnered on extended coverage of police stories involving murder, violence and concealment in New Orleans. These should convince any reluctant citizens about the importance of effectively managing law enforcement agencies.
Louisiana is a grim situation with a long history that includes abject poverty, racial conflict, unqualified police with poor training and low wages, gangsterism and political corruption. However, it demonstrates clearly that society must never tolerate armed thugs conducting illegal acts under cover of authority. British Columbia is not in the chaos of NOLA but we can be much improved from where we are now.
UPDATE – First published November 19, the above is updated November 23 with: ——————-
The BC Civil Liberties Association discovered existence of an audit report has been prepared examining RCMP contract policing performance. Here is part of their release which can be found HERE:
“The BCCLA has discovered that the province of B.C. completed a secret audit of the RCMP’s performance under the controversial untendered 20-year policing contract signed in 1990. As the province prepares to sign on with the RCMP for another 20 years, the BCCLA is calling for the immediate disclosure of the audit and its results.
“The province was wise to do an audit, but we’re not sure why they’d keep the fact that they did an audit, as well as the audit results, secret,” said Robert Holmes, President of the BCCLA. “This is a multi-billion dollar, untendered contract. The secrecy around it is unacceptable.”
When the BCCLA asked for the audit results and any correspondence or reports based on the audit, the government demanded more than $700 before they would search for documents related to the audit. When the BCCLA asked for a fee waiver, the government then refused to release any documents other than the audit itself because release of those documents would cause “harm to law enforcement”, contained “policy advice or recommendations”, and would cause “harm to intergovernmental relations or negotiations”.”
During an interview last April, Kash Heed was congratulated for prompt release of the use of force audit conducted in Victoria. He said, “There are more to come, involving others.” We should have been watching because, without Heed’s commitment to transparency, those have been gathering dust in Victoria.