Six people who were investigated for sexual offences by the B.C. RCMP died by suicide in less than two years, and the flurry of deaths has prompted concern from the province’s police watchdog.
B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office released its annual report this week, revealing that six people arrested or contacted by the B.C. RCMP for sex offences later took their lives, with the suicides occurring between January, 2014, and October, 2015.
The deaths led the RCMP to launch a review earlier this year, with a senior officer examining the individual cases and the force’s policies and protocols.
In five of the cases, the IIO said, there was insufficient evidence to establish a link between an officer’s action – or inaction – and the suicide. As a result, the office released its jurisdiction.
In the sixth case, the IIO formally investigated but concluded the officers involved did not commit an offence. The report does not say in which city any of the suicides occurred.
“Although the [chief civilian director] concluded that the involved officers did not commit any offence, the incident highlighted a concern that suspects who had been investigated by RCMP officers in British Columbia for serious sexual offences have died by suicide shortly after contact with investigating officers,” the report said.
The report said the RCMP did not appear to have any policies or guidelines aimed at “minimizing the risk of suicide under these circumstances.”
The office earlier this year forwarded the files involving the suicides to both the Mounties and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. It said the RCMP’s B.C. division responded with “a commitment to review existing training, policies and protocols that may relate to an officers’ identification of suspects who may be at risk of suicide upon release from custody.”
Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, the commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP, noted in a written statement that the IIO concluded the officers involved in the six cases did not commit any offences.
He said the RCMP appointed a senior officer to conduct a review in February, which is ongoing.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP in a statement said it is “presently considering what action can be taken under our mandate.”
Douglas King, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society, said the report speaks to the value of the IIO, which reviews all police incidents involving serious injury or death. “You’ve got certain groups of people who are probably at high risk and the more we can identify those groups, the more you can put policies in place,” he said in an interview.
The 44-page annual report is the office’s fourth since it was created after the Frank Paul and Robert Dziekanski public inquiries. It touches on a number of areas, including challenges the office has faced while conducting its investigations and the issue of body cameras for police.
The IIO acknowledges it has had trouble completing investigations in a timely manner, but said part of the problem has been slow turnaround on third-party reports – including those from the RCMP’s Forensic Assessment Centre. In three police shootings, the IIO said, it took the centre more than 450 days to complete its analysis.
The IIO said it is “exploring alternative sources” for forensic reports. Deputy Commissioner Callens said the RCMP lab provides analysis to police and investigative agencies across the country. He said once the B.C. RCMP was notified of the IIO’s concern, it assisted and ensured the cases would receive greater priority from the lab.
The IIO report went on to examine the issue of body-worn cameras for police. A legislative committee last year recommended the province take steps to implement their use. The IIO reviewed more than 70 of its investigations and determined body-worn camera footage would potentially have been of assistance in 93 per cent of them.
A spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety said the province is “exploring how the cameras may support policing and public safety.” The statement said the province will be developing standards for their use.
Last month, the Pivot Legal Society called for a pilot project that would see members of the Vancouver Police Department’s dog squad outfitted with body-worn cameras. Pivot has taken issue with how the dogs have been deployed by the force.Report Typo/Error