“I’m not suggesting for a moment that there is or has been any cover-ups, but there’s always a suspicion of it. But I did wish that they’d get with it, and set up this independent tribunal.”
Former commissioner Thomas Braidwood in commenting on the need for an independent agency with civilian oversight to investigate police complaints.
The tasering of an 11-year-old boy in Prince George last weekend raised almost as many questions about policing as about government services for children in care.
With few details publicly available, it is impossible to figure out why the youngster was in trouble or why a police officer felt that a taser was the most effective response.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the independent provincial Representative for Children and Youth, is considering a probe into issues related to child care. However, the investigation into the police tasering will not be independent. Investigators from West Vancouver’s major crimes unit were sent to Prince George to look into the incident.
Several groups in recent years have urged the B.C. government to set up an independent commission to investigate incidents related to the police. Most recently, Mr. Braidwood, a retired B.C. appeal court judge who looked into the tasering of Robert Dziekanski in 2007 at the Vancouver airport, urged the government in June, 2010, to create a civilian-based agency to investigate all police-related incidents throughout the province.
In response to the Braidwood Commission, Mike de Jong, who was solicitor-general at that time, said a new agency called the Independent Investigation Office would be created within a year. But Mr. de Jong limited the new agency’s scope. The new office was to be involved only with in-custody deaths or incidents of serious harm, not all complaints.
Last fall, Vancouver police chief Jim Chu stepped into the debate, urging the government to expand the mandate of the proposed agency to cover all complaints against police in order to enhance public confidence in the investigations of allegations against officers.
Without knowing whether the boy in Prince George was seriously harmed or in custody, it is unclear whether the tasering would be within the mandate of the agency promised by Mr. de Jong. But after the incident, even the RCMP in Prince George voiced its support for an investigation by an independent agency.
Prince George RCMP superintendent Brenda Butterworth-Carr in media reports sounded almost apologetic about police investigating police. She told the media that she thought an independent tribunal would be “a great thing.” But the province does not have such an agency and another police force had to be asked to come in. That’s all B.C. has, she said.
What happened to the commitment for an independent investigation office? Ten months later, the province is still waiting. Shirley Bond, the current Solicitor-General, declined to be interviewed. In an e-mail from her office, she indicated that the government may not meet its self-imposed deadline of mid-June for creation of the new agency. She stated that the government intends to open the new office this year. Also, the government has rejected Chief Chu’s request to expand the mandate of the commission. Ms. Bond said the new office will stick to incidents involving death and serious harm.
Meanwhile, complaints against police keep pouring in. The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has received 234 complaints against officers in B.C. so far this year, almost half of all complaints against the RCMP across the country. As Mr. Braidwood says, no one is suggesting that police investigations into all those complaints would involve any cover-ups. But there will always be a suspicion of it.