Thursday, July 12, 2007

RCMP must accept real accountability

The Ian Bush case should surely convince politicians that it's time to bring accountability to the RCMP.
Bush was 22 when he was arrested for drinking a beer outside the Houston arena before a hockey game. He gave false name and was taken into custody. Thirty minutes later he was dead, shot in the back of the head by an inexperienced officer. They were the only two people in the detachment when he died.
The night of the shooting, RCMP officers didn't ask Const. Paul Koester what happened; they supported him, told him it wasn't his fault and advised him to get a lawyer. Officers testified at the just-concluded inquest that they considered Koester a victim. Ambulance attendants were initially denied access to the detachment. Bush's body was left there for 24 hours, allowing decomposition that made the eventual autopsy more difficult.
RCMP officers attended the autopsy and offered theories about what might have happened to the pathologist. He forgot to examine a visible bruise on Bush's thigh.
Koester, didn't provide a statement on what happened until 18 days after the shooting. Then, it was a written statement prepared with the help of a lawyer. He shredded his original handwritten notes after the RCMP investigators said they didn't want to see them.
And RCMP investigators didn't interview him until three months after the shooting. Then, they asked only the questions that they had provided to Koester's lawyers two days in advance of the meeting
No one in Canada - including police officers - has to answer police questions. But if the shooter had been anyone other than a fellow Mountie, would investigators really have patiently waited three months for the first interview? Would they have missed the chance to interview a person involved in a shooting that first night?
Most people expect RCMP officers to have loyalty to the force and fellow Mounties. That's expected. It also makes it essential that they not be in charge of investigating possible wrongdoing by fellow officers.
In this case, the RCMP investigators accepted Koestler's eventual statement that Bush attacked him. He was kneeling, the officer said, with Bush choking him from behind. He feared for his life pulled his gun, reached around behind his back and shot Bush in the back of the head.
But at the inquest, RCMP investigators couldn't demonstrate how that was physically possible. One of Canada's leading blood-splatter experts testified the shooting could not have happened in the way the RCMP claimed.
No one except Koester knows what happened that night. But most people would conclude that the RCMP did not conduct a credible investigation. Most people would certainly believe that things would have been handled differently if they had shot an intruder.
The RCMP had pointed to the coroner's inquest as an independent. But the Coroners Service took an extremely narrow view of its role. The coroner barred evidence on the RCMP investigation of Bush's death and ordered the jury not to bring in any recommendations dealing with the issue.
The RCMP public complaints commissioner will now review the shooting. But the review won't be public and it will be based on the evidence prepared by the RCMP investigators.
The case isn't some oddity. There have been other deaths in B.C. in the last few years that have cried out for an independent investigation.
The solution is clear. Ideally, have a specialized unit investigate all such deaths and other serious cases involving police; failing that, at least require an outside police force to conduct investigations into shootings involving an RCMP officer.
It's hardly threatening. But the RCMP is opposed to any outside accountability. Federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day is dodging the issue. Provincial politicians have no stomach for it.
We ask a lot of police and give them great power. But we also have every right to expect them to be properly accountable for their actions.
Footnote: Const. John Ward of the B.C. media section conveyed The RCMP attitude to public oversight. When Gary Mason of the Globe and Mail suggested the public had an interest in knowing RCMP policies on handling prisoners like Bush, Ward was clear: "The public doesn't have a right to know anything," he said.


Anonymous said...

Ward makes it quite clear. It's none of the publics business to question the actions of the guys we hire, give the authority to carry a weapon and it seems need a lawyer with a few staged questions to somehwere down the road get to answer those questions. Some folks have written that it was the Guys fault for giving the junior cop a false name. Seems that sort of event can have you end up dead. Next time I happen to talk to a cop I will first insist I write the questions, pass them throught my lawyer and expect a couple of months prior to by answering the question. Almost forgot I should burn any notes. If this is Justice I weep for the family. I figure the horesment have lost a lot of credibility while protecting one of their rookies. dl

Anonymous said...

Ian Mulgrew, of the Vancouver Sun, wrote (July 11, 2007) a good comparison between how the 1992 killing of Danny Possee by the RCMP was handled by the coroner's service and the Ian Bush case.

A few quotes: "As in the Bush case, the pathology and the forensic work were sloppy and police failed to reconstruct the crime scene to verify the officer's account. Similar to the Bush case, the police version of the killing did not match the forensic science."

"At the Possee inquest, as at the Bush proceedings, the sparring and antagonism between the lawyers became unseemly and did not aid the discovery of the truth or ease community concerns."

One BIG difference: "Former Vancouver mayor, now-Senator Larry Campbell was the coroner in the Possee inquest.

He thought it well within the mandate of the coroner's act for an inquest to probe all the circumstances that surrounded a death and the concerns in the community about how that death was handled by public agencies such as the police.

Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety (the minister responsible for the RCMP), has said he is still thinking about the issue of the RCMP investigating itself. Don't look for anything new from Day... he had the RCMP investigate repeated allegations that there were improper monies changing hands when he took over the Okanagan–Coquihalla riding in 2000... he owes his political career to the RCMP.

Anonymous said...


I wrote: "he had the RCMP investigate repeated allegations that there were improper monies changing hands when he took over the Okanagan–Coquihalla riding in 2000..."

Day was not the minister responsible for the RCMP when allegations about the Reform Party's Jim Hart resigning for $$ first surfaced. However, Day was Minister of Public Safety (the minister responsible for the RCMP) when 'new' information about Hart/$$ came to light in March 2007 and the RCMP did investigate this new allegation... Day did not refer the new information investigation to an outside agency to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Anonymous said...

First off, a very good column by Mr.Wilcocks.

The reference to Stockwell Day is an interesting one. First we heard new information that appeared fairly clear that some financial arrangements were in place prior to Mr.Hart resigning his post as MP to clear the way for Stockwell Day.

Next we hear the RCMP announce that they do not consider this to be “new information” and there will be no further investigation. Shortly afterwards Mr.Day announces that the investigation into the RCMP will not be a public one. Interesting coincidence.

On another note I reminded of our last Federal election. The RCMP felt it was necessary during the election period to announce that the Liberals were being investigated over the leak with the income trust announcement.

Hear we are over a year later and no further word from the RCMP on this investigation. Kind of begs this question was it really so pressing that it had to be announced during the election ?

I am not suggesting wrongdoing on the part of either Stockwell Day or the Federal Liberals, however one does have to question exactly what type of things really occur behind closed doors at all levels with the RCMP.

This Ian Bush case is but another example that it is time that the RCMP had an independent ombudsman to oversee and investigate their conduct.