B.C.’s new police oversight agency says it was ready to be called into action on its very first day – but that doesn’t mean it was expecting the phone to ring.
Less than 10 hours after the civilian-led Independent Investigations Office opened its doors, the agency that will investigate incidents of death and serious harm involving police was handed its first case, a fatal RCMP shooting in Prince George.
“I’m not going to lie – there was a bit of surprise [Monday] night when we received that call,” Owen Court, the office’s spokesman, said in an interview.
Mr. Court, however, added that the office’s goal was to be ready to conduct an investigation as soon as it opened. He said staff – 10 of whom have been sent to Prince George – are fully prepared.
The office was notified of the shooting at 7:36 p.m. Monday. The Prince George RCMP detachment said it had been in a standoff with a single suspect. During that incident, one shot was fired, resulting in the person’s death.
The office’s first round of investigators arrived at the scene at 12:12 a.m. Tuesday.
Mr. Court said once the investigation is complete, chief civilian director Richard Rosenthal will determine whether an offence took place. He’ll also issue a public report, explaining his decision.
Mr. Court could not say when the investigation would be complete.
“It’s too early to say that. Timely investigation is one of our primary goals and it’s one of the commitments we’ve made to the public. That said, not at the sacrifice of quality. Being thorough is the No. 1 goal here,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we essentially want to turn years into months, and months into weeks. Our goal is to be able to turn these investigations over a lot quicker than, say, the public’s used to seeing.”
Mr. Court said there were no hiccups in getting the office’s first investigation off the ground.
“No, thankfully there weren’t. A lot of planning and preparation has gone into this,” he said.
Public inquiries into the deaths of Robert Dziekanski and Frank Paul both recommended an independent, civilian-led agency investigate serious incidents involving police. Mr. Dziekanski died following a confrontation with RCMP at Vancouver International Airport in 2007. Mr. Paul died in 1998, after Vancouver police refused to let him in the drunk tank and left him in a cold, wet alley.
B.C.’s Police Act was amended last year to allow the office to be established.
In a brief statement, an RCMP spokesman said the incident that led to Monday’s shooting actually began one day earlier. Corporal Craig Douglass wrote officers were made aware Sunday morning of a serious criminal offence that occurred in a rural area.
Cpl. Douglass said officers set up and maintained a perimeter, looking for a single suspect. He said an “interaction” occurred Monday night. No officers were injured.
RCMP referred all inquiries to the Independent Investigations Office.