Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

An RCMP investigator recently revealed that four of the officers involved in the death of Myles Gray in 2015 say they followed directives from their union not to take notes about the incident.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A group of Vancouver police officers responded to a call about a distressed man on the city’s south side, then followed him into a hidden yard to make an arrest. Minutes later, he was dead, with a broken nose, eye socket, rib and voice box, as well as brain bleeding and a ruptured testicle.

That much is clear, but the rest of what happened on that day in August, 2015, remains murky. An RCMP investigator has recently revealed a key reason for the uncertainty: Four of the officers involved say they followed a directive from their union not to take notes about the incident.

The lack of prompt note-taking appears to contravene a 2013 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and is now a subject of disciplinary proceedings against some of the responding officers, who are also accused of using unnecessary force. Experts say the alleged union meddling with the recording of notes, a core responsibility of good police work, is unusual and unsettling.

The RCMP investigator, Sergeant Robert Nash of the force’s Richmond detachment, began looking into the case in 2021, after British Columbia’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner tasked him with interviewing nine constables as part of a professional misconduct probe into the death of the man, Myles Gray.

Provincial Crown prosecutors had already declined a recommendation from the B.C. Independent Investigations Office – which investigates deaths or serious injuries at the hands of police – to lay criminal charges against the officers who responded that day. The Crown had announced that it was hamstrung by the “incomplete” and “inconsistent” accounts police had given investigators probing Mr. Gray’s death.

After that criminal process ended, the OPCC, an independent body that handles complaints against municipal police in B.C., pursued its own investigation into whether some of the officers should face job-related penalties under the provincial Police Act.

In a February report to the OPCC, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, Sgt. Nash concluded that several officers involved did take notes and upload them to the province’s police recordkeeping database in a timely fashion. But, he wrote, four constables had told him that their union representatives had counselled them against taking notes about the arrest. The report calls this a direct contravention of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that said officers must prepare “accurate, detailed, and comprehensive notes as soon as practicable after an investigation.”

B.C.’s police watchdog releases list of injuries sustained by man killed by police

Editorial: Breaking down the blue wall of police silence

Sgt. Nash also found that union representatives had edited a different officer’s statements, which were later uploaded to the internal police database – though the report says those edits were minor.

Another officer told Sgt. Nash the union had directed him to wait seven months to file his account of the failed arrest, as well as a special use-of-force report. He said his normal practice was to write these up and file them as soon as possible.

The OPCC recommended those six officers face penalties under the provincial Police Act of up to a month’s suspension without pay, for not taking detailed notes or not submitting them in a timely fashion. Those six, as well as one other officer, are also accused of abusing their authority by using unnecessary force on Mr. Gray. They could be fired for that alleged misconduct.

A coroner’s inquest into the case will begin later this month. Its aim will be to determine the facts surrounding Mr. Gray’s death and to make recommendations for preventing similar deaths.

The Vancouver Police Department would not comment on the alleged union meddling, but said all the officers remain on active duty.

A recent Globe and Mail investigation found that provincial watchdogs established to investigate when officers are involved in deaths or serious injuries are frequently stymied when police refuse to co-operate. In B.C., just 4 of 198 officers under investigation fully co-operated with the IIO in the past five years, the poorest record of participation in Canada.

In its 2013 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that police lawyers can’t help officers draft their notes or review them following incidents that are being investigated by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit. The ruling has been interpreted to apply in similar situations across the country.

“Permitting police officers to consult with counsel before their notes are prepared is an anathema to the very transparency that the legislative scheme aims to promote,” the ruling says. “It is imperative that the investigatory process be – and appear to be – transparent.”

Little is known about what happened to Mr. Gray on Aug. 13, 2015.

He ran a business on the Sunshine Coast supplying ferns and other greenery to florists in the region. On that unseasonably hot day, he was making deliveries in southeast Vancouver. While out for a walk, he encountered a woman violating the region’s rigid water restrictions by watering her lawn. He said something to her, then either grabbed or kinked her hose, causing it to spray her, according to witnesses.

The woman’s son called police, saying Mr. Gray seemed upset and unwell. Mr. Gray retreated to a secluded yard in nearby Burnaby, and eight officers eventually ended up struggling with him in the yard, where he died.

Sgt. Nash noted that the first constable to respond that August day was on leave for six weeks afterward. She finished a digital statement on the incident two days after speaking to her union representative in December, 2015. She didn’t upload it to the provincial police recordkeeping and intelligence database, known as PRIME, until January, 2016. Her required use-of-force report wasn’t uploaded until February, 2016. She is now one of the six officers facing neglect-of-duty allegations over their note-taking practices.

Since 2020, it has been Vancouver Police Department policy that officers must submit use-of-force reports within 48 hours of an incident, unless a superior grants an extension in “exceptional circumstances,” according to the VPD internal standards guide, which is posted on its website. But at the time of Mr. Gray’s death, Sgt. Nash noted, there were no rules around how quickly an officer was required to upload this information. He wrote that that the officer’s notes “did not appear to have been completed as soon as practicable.”

“However, it would appear that the Vancouver Police Union was controlling the pace at which these documents were to be completed and uploaded to PRIME.”

The report says the first responding officer identified Ralph Kaisers as the union representative who, months later, counselled her to upload her notes. Mr. Kaisers, who is now the union’s president, declined a request for an interview about the ongoing disciplinary matter, saying he is bound to confidentiality under the provincial Police Act.

One of the four officers who said they had been instructed by the union not to make any notes about the incident told Sgt. Nash he believed this directive came from Tom Stamatakis, who was the union’s president at the time. (Mr. Kaisers succeeded Mr. Stamatakis in the role in 2019.)

Mr. Stamatakis, who is president of the Canadian Police Association, a federal lobby group for front-line officers and their unions, denied that he or anyone else at the union had issued any orders against note-taking following Mr. Gray’s death.

“That’s not our practice. It’s not the training we provide,” Mr. Stamatakis said. “You’re talking about a pretty traumatic event that happened in very challenging circumstances.

“These officers were interviewed some time later, and if that’s their recollection, that’s their recollection.”

Mr. Stamatakis said several other officers told the OPCC they weren’t given that advice and submitted their notes promptly after the incident. He disagreed with the watchdog’s finding that the union had stopped some constables from immediately uploading their notes to the internal database.

“In my experience over many years of advising and supporting members, you want the information to go in as soon as possible. It’s an opportunity for the police officers involved to explain and provide context around what happened,” Mr. Stamatakis said. “So there’s really no upside to withholding information.”

Howard Morton, a former Crown prosecutor who headed Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit for three years in the 1990s, said the duty to take comprehensive daily notes is a core principle of Robert Peel’s 19th-century system of British policing, which was adopted across the Commonwealth.

“It’s critical, it’s primary evidence. These are the people who were there, these are the people who saw what happened. These are the people that applied force, whether justified or not,” Mr. Morton said.

If the allegations that the union advised its members not to take notes in the wake of a deadly incident are true, he said, this would be a new and troubling phenomenon.

“I’ve never heard of a union doing this before,” he said.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe