The RCMP destroyed records of police communications from the night Colten Boushie died and conducted a parallel internal probe into the handling of the case without notifying the civilian watchdog, according to a report from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.
The CRCC expressed “disappointment and frustration” with the police decision to destroy recordings and transcripts of radio traffic between officers who responded to the fatal shooting of Mr. Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, in August, 2016.
The CRCC also said it has “serious concerns” that it wasn’t told about a separate, simultaneous RCMP internal investigation into the handling of the case.
The CRCC is an independent body that investigates public complaints against the RCMP. Mr. Boushie was shot to death when he and four companions entered the property of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley. Mr. Stanley was eventually found not guilty of second-degree murder in a case that stirred racial tensions and sparked protests.
A CRCC report to be released publicly Monday and obtained by The Globe and Mail says the RCMP racially discriminated against Mr. Boushie’s family when they were notified of his death. In the report, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki agreed with and accepted that finding. The report did not find racial bias in other police actions.
The CRCC said the police investigation was generally professional and reasonable but it highlighted several serious shortcomings: from surrounding the victim’s family home with weapons drawn and searching it unlawfully, to failing to preserve forensic evidence, issuing press releases that inflamed public feeling and improperly handling witnesses.
When the CRCC requested records of police communications such as radio and telephone calls on the night Mr. Boushie died, the RCMP said the records had already been destroyed. They were deemed to have no evidentiary value to the criminal investigation, the RCMP said, and were disposed of in August, 2018, two years after the events in question, in keeping with records retention policy.
The CRCC investigation, however, was announced in March, 2018, less than two years after Mr. Boushie’s death. Mr. Boushie’s family also began a civil action against the RCMP before two years had elapsed. Recordings of police communications would have been relevant to both of those cases and should have been preserved, said counsel for Mr. Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste.
“They knew there was a civil case. They knew there was an investigation by the CRCC. They knew the family was calling for an inquiry and yet they go and destroy the communications from that day,” said Eleanore Sunchild, Ms. Baptiste’s lawyer. “That is unacceptable.”
The recordings would have particular relevance to aspects of the investigation that dealt with how police notified Ms. Baptiste of her son’s death. The police maintain they took a tactical approach to encircle her home and then search the premises because they believed that one of Mr. Boushie’s companions may have been inside and armed.
The CRCC found that surrounding the house with officers carrying carbines wasn’t in keeping with a reasonable risk assessment, nor was it appropriate or compassionate in the circumstances. After Ms. Baptiste collapsed in tears on hearing the news of her son’s death, an officer asked if she’d been drinking. One or more officers smelled her breath. The CRCC said those actions were insensitive and linked to a stereotypical understanding of Indigenous peoples, which led to the finding of racial discrimination.
The RCMP also proceeded to search the family home, which the CRCC said was unreasonable and unlawful.
The CRCC was surprised to learn after its work was nearly complete that the RCMP had been conducting a parallel internal investigation into the case. The internal review ran the risk of interfering with the work of the CRCC, the commission said.
The CRCC only learned of the administrative RCMP review in February, 2020, after it had completed its interim report. During the course of its review, the police force interviewed many of the same witnesses as the CRCC and didn’t pass on its findings in a timely manner, the commission said.
The RCMP’s internal review produced a 217-page report that was eventually provided to the CCRC. Its findings and recommendations were “essentially aligned” with those of the CRCC, the commission said.
The National Police Federation, the union that represents more than 20,000 members of the RCMP, took issue with the CRCC reports and the acceptance of some recommendations by RCMP senior management.
In a statement, the police union said the reports advance a perspective that disrespects its members and brings into question their dedication and professionalism. It also questioned the CRCC’s expertise on discrimination.
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