Time to examine B.C.’s secretive Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner

from Greg Klein, November 26, 2012

Time to examine B.C.’s secretive OPCC

Legislative committee asked to call an inquiry into the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner

I’ve asked a committee of MLAs to call an independent inquiry into B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. This bipartisan committee was struck to look into Taser use and audit selected police complaint cases handled by the OPCC. The Taser inquiry has received a bit of publicity. The OPCC audit has received almost none.

For reasons that I outlined in detail to the committee and have summarized below, I believe OPCC staff have proven themselves to be dishonest throughout the agency’s approximately 12-year history. This committee’s audit will be only the second time the OPCC has faced any official scrutiny. But there are reasons to fear the committee intends to conduct a whitewash. Therefore I’ve asked for an independent investigation, by someone from outside the province, and someone with the calibre of Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin.

Marin conducted a landmark 2007-2008 investigation into Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which is widely considered Canada’s most effective police accountability agency. The concerns that prompted Marin’s investigation, however, pale in comparison to the brazen dishonesty shown by the OPCC.

Yet B.C.’s committee of MLAs has wasted a lot of time. The committee was struck last May but the Taser inquiry didn’t start until October. It will be followed by the OPCC audit. The committee must finish its inquiry by December 31 and is not likely to do much work after early or mid-December.

Furthermore, whether in committee or legislature, both the BC Liberals and NDP have voted in lockstep to support the police status quo. They did so in their December 2008 committee decision to appoint Stan T. Lowe police complaint commissioner one week after he announced, as a member of the Criminal Justice Branch executive management, that the five Taser shocks and other brutal treatment leading to Robert Dziekanski’s death were “reasonable and necessary.”

Leonard Krog was on the committee that appointed Lowe and specifically praised Lowe for his knowledge of use of force. Krog sits on the current committee as well.

Despite increasing public concern about police accountability, the BC Liberals and NDP unanimously passed Police Act amendments in 2009 that changed nothing of substance. Last spring the two parties united again to create an Independent Investigations Office that doesn’t come close to its supposed model, Ontario’s SIU.

All that would seem to suggest exceptionally rigid party discipline, possibly at the behest of a powerful police lobby. Marin has written about the power of police lobbyists in Ontario and Manitoba.

The only other time the OPCC faced official scrutiny came from a 2002 MLA committee. That committee did touch on then-police complaint commissioner Don Morrison’s refusal to examine Frank Paul’s death, which occurred after Vancouver police dumped the unconscious man in a back alley. But contemporary media reports suggest the MLAs were mostly concerned with Morrison’s “bullying” behaviour towards his staff. In the end, Morrison was allowed to resign with a nearly $100,000 payoff.

With a few exceptions, the media have shown very little interest in the OPCC. In a short period of time, B.C.’s new Independent Investigations Office got far more publicity that the OPCC has ever received. Much Postmedia coverage of the OPCC comes from the Victoria Times Colonist, which seems to have a policy of printing only what it’s “fed” by the OPCC. Media ignorance of the subject is widespread. Most B.C. journalists think the OPCC investigates police.

B.C.’s “official” activists, the government-subsidized B.C. Civil Liberties Association, doesn’t hesitate to criticize cops. But probably because of establishment ambitions, the BCCLA will not criticize the bigshots who run our corrupt system of police accountability.

Even now that the IIO is in operation, the OPCC remains the most powerful of B.C.’s two police accountability agencies — powerful, that is, in its ability to thwart police accountability. Almost all allegations of police misconduct, including many serious assaults and all sexual assaults, will continue to be investigated by other police. The police self-investigations then get a rubber stamp or cover-up by the OPCC. The only exceptions are cases that get advance publicity, the support of an influential organization or caught on video.

Although the OPCC doesn’t investigate police, it does have the power to investigate the IIO. That results from a cynical BC Liberal/NDP ploy to evade Thomas Braidwood’s recommendation that the IIO come under the provincial Ombudsperson’s authority. Instead, the legislature put the IIO under the authority of the dishonest, police-friendly OPCC.

This secretive agency is so complacent that it evidently expects to get away with brazen dishonesty. Here’s a very brief summary of four OPCC cases that I submitted in much greater detail to the current MLA committee. These cases concern police complaint commissioner Stan T. Lowe and deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods, and their predecessors Dirk Ryneveld and Bruce M. Brown.

The OPCC hired an “expert witness” knowing in advance that he always testifies in favour of the police

The OPCC hired self-proclaimed “police psychologist” Bill Lewinski as an expert witness in its inquiry into the Vancouver police shooting death of Paul Boyd. The OPCC already knew that Lewinski always testifies in favour of police. The OPCC cited Lewinski in its March 2012 report exonerating VPD constable Lee Chipperfield.

The OPCC covered up very serious charges against New Westminster police constable Sukhwinder “Vinnie” Singh Dosanjh

The charges against Dosanjh prompted a judge to bar him from possessing firearms when off duty and to order Dosanjh to get psychological treatment. Dosanjh returned to work early this year with a temporary demotion following a three-year, seven-month paid suspension. New Westminster’s Royal City Record learned about this despite the OPCC/New Westminster police/Port Moody police cover-up. A New West police spokesperson told the Record that the OPCC “signed off” on the police self-investigation.

The OPCC helped Vancouver police cover up a June 2010 assault on a disabled woman

VPD constable Taylor Robinson shoved Sandy Davidsen to the sidewalk for no apparent reason. The media learned about the assault when they obtained surveillance video more than six weeks later. The VPD and OPCC then stated that they learned about the assault soon after it happened. But there’s no indication an investigation took place until after the media learned about the assault, over six weeks after it happened.

The OPCC used obviously dishonest tactics to dismiss a complaint I made against three Vancouver police officers in June 2006

Among other problems, the OPCC lied about the Criminal Code, refused to act on a VPD breach of the Privacy Act, used highly subjective reasoning and held wildly contradictory statements against me. These problems are not a “he said/she said” matter. They come through clearly in the OPCC’s own correspondence.

Additionally, the OPCC deleted its online archive of news releases prior to February 2012, when the Sukhwinder Singh Dosanjh case came to light. The OPCC also stalled for 10 and a half months before releasing its 2011 annual report. The report summarizes just 12 out of 1,151 cases and is written in cop jargon.

Unlike Ontario’s SIU, OPCC staff don’t answer to the provincial Ombudsperson or anyone else. It shows in their work. This committee will be only the second time the agency has faced official scrutiny. For a number of reasons including rigid party discipline, there’s reason to doubt the committee’s intentions. The problems emanating from the OPCC are much worse than those that prompted the Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation into the SIU. We need a similar investigation into the OPCC, conducted by someone from outside the province, and someone with the calibre of Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin.

Greg Klein

 

Backgrounder: My November 23 appeal to the legislative committee

November 23, 2012

from Greg Klein

To all members of the Special Committee to Inquire into the Use of Conducted Energy Weapons and to Audit Selected Police Complaints:

I’m writing to request that your committee call for an independent investigation into the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. I believe the problems emanating from the OPCC are much more serious than this committee has the time, power or will to deal with.

I’ve sent you four cases which show a pattern of not only bias but outright deceit among OPCC staff including police complaint commissioner Stan T. Lowe, deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods, and their predecessors Dirk Ryneveld and Bruce M. Brown.

In addition, I understand you’ve been given information stating that the OPCC rubber-stamped and covered up a Saanich police investigation into four other Saanich officers who pinned an unarmed, non-violent university student face-down on the floor of his own home and Tasered him five times in 40 seconds, causing the victim to spend 16 days in hospital and undergo several months of recovery; that the OPCC later hired Ross Poulton, the Saanich officer who conducted the internal investigation; and that Dirk Ryneveld, the police complaint commissioner at the time, now does legal work for Saanich police.

I don’t need to repeat information from the three submissions I sent you on September 11, 2012 (and re-sent on October 4) and the fourth submission on November 20. These cases strongly suggest that throughout its history, the OPCC has shown a pattern of secrecy and dishonesty.

The problems that led Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin to investigate that province’s Special Investigations Unit, leading to his September 2008 report Oversight Unseen, weren’t nearly as serious as those manifested by the OPCC. Yet the OPCC continues to get away with obvious dishonesty. In doing so, the agency is a smear on the integrity of all public officials and agencies in B.C.

Incredibly, your committee’s inquiry will be only the second time the OPCC has ever faced official scrutiny. The other time was 2002, when another bipartisan committee of MLAs looked into then-police complaint Commissioner Don Morrison. That inquiry resulted from a staff mutiny. Contemporary media accounts reported that the committee did hear that Morrison refused to look into the Vancouver police involvement in Frank Paul’s death. But the inquiry seemed mostly concerned with Morrison’s “bullying” behaviour towards his staff.

At one point the committee considered letting Morrison keep his job provided he took management training. That might have addressed his behaviour, but not the ethical problem shown by his inaction on Paul’s death. In the end, Morrison was allowed to resign with a nearly $100,000 payoff.

Ethically, there’s no indication anything’s improved at the OPCC. Again, I need not repeat the info I sent you earlier. But I’ll emphasize that the brazen nature of the OPCC’s dishonesty suggests both complacency and arrogance. They expect to get away with this. Certainly they’ve faced no official scrutiny for 10 years.

I’d like to believe that your committee will provide that much-needed scrutiny. But will you? Whether in committee or legislature, both of your parties have voted in lockstep, repeatedly supporting the police status quo.

That happened, for example, with a previous MLA committee (which included your fellow committee member Leonard Krog) that appointed Stan Lowe police complaint commissioner. Inexplicably, the committee made the decision despite the fact that Lowe was a member of the Criminal Justice Branch executive management that unanimously decided to exonerate the four RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski’s Taser-related death. One week after Lowe’s announcement that the five Taser shocks and other brutal treatment were “reasonable and necessary,” Krog praised Lowe for his knowledge of “appropriate use of force.”

Lowe also claimed Dziekanski was resisting arrest, when in fact he was writhing in pain. Lowe tried to smear Dziekanski with irrelevant information that the RCMP dug up in Poland. And a committee of MLAs unanimously decided Lowe was the best candidate to oversee the police.

The result of that decision comes through clearly in some of the info I’ve sent you.

In fall 2009, despite growing public concern about police accountability, both your parties united to support Police Act revisions that changed nothing of substance.

Last year both your parties united to support an Independent Investigations Office that doesn’t come close to its supposed model, Ontario’s SIU. I’ve previously sent you detailed info on that topic.

I think all of that indicates exceptionally rigid party discipline. It defeats the public will and the democratic process.

Is there an MLA among you who isn’t under enormous pressure to conduct a whitewash of the OPCC? If not, do you actually have the time and the power to conduct a thorough inquiry?

Again, the problems regarding the OPCC are considerably worse that those that prompted the Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation into the SIU.

I’m appealing to this committee to call for an independent inquiry into the OPCC, by someone from outside the province, and someone of the calibre of Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin.

Greg Klein

 

 

 

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