Monday, January 11, 2010

Blue line strangles justice

The effort continues to prevent accountability for wrongdoing in law enforcement, including police involved homicides. Who is responsible? Mostly, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan and the Harper Government with assistance of the Province of British Columbia.

The Conservative Party of Canada stands silent, allowing the RCMP leadership to continue its stubborn policy of defensiveness, foot dragging and disinformation. Harper's government disemboweled the watchdog agency that pushed the force to improve performance and accountability. Commissioner Paul Kennedy is dropped. His position remains empty as does that of the Deputy Commissioner. The complaints agency is rudderless, dead in the water, unwanted by its masters.

Yet, the CPC is needed as much as ever. The RCMP has proven repeatedly that it is not trustworthy when investigating itself. Moreover, assigning another police force to "investigate" police involved deaths is worthless. In the latest case, an unarmed mentally-ill man was shot dead by RCMP, a few miles from my North Vancouver home.

Vancouver Police major crimes unit took responsibility for reviewing the incident but announced the outcome before beginning the investigation. VPD spokesman Lindsey Houghton said the victim had been involved in a criminal offense, his car was stopped and he refused to comply with police commands. So, there we have it, another deadly shooting justified. The victim earned his outcome. Further details in 2012.

This is merely a continuation of standard policy. One police agency is as blind to faults of others as they are to their own. In the same way that police forces rally round to mourn the loss of a fellow officer, as took place in Ottawa days ago, they draw the blue line tight to protect against accusations by outsiders. It's like the old joke about why sharks won't eat lawyers, if given the chance. It's professional courtesy.

In the end, police care about police and politicians care only about politics. The RCMP claimed it was not involved in the court action to stop Justice Braidwood from from finding misconduct in the Dziekanski death. Yet, who paid for the lawyers that went into Supreme Court, and subsequently the Appeal Court, to argue that Braidwood should be silenced and his honest conclusions withheld from the public? These were the same lawyers paid by the RCMP to sit through each and every hour of the Commission hearings, seeking to convince that down is up and black is white.

As I read through the recent high court cases, I concluded the real purpose was not to prevent Braidwood from finding misconduct by the YVR four, it was to reinforce the principle that no action by RCMP management could be discussed or faulted in the Commissioner's report. Braidwood himself knew that his provincial mandate prevented him from reporting broadly about the federal police hierarchy so the court cases were designed to firmly seal those limits and remind Braidwood that he was not welcome to stray.

Of course, the subjects that Braidwood cannot discuss, ones that relate to actions or non-actions of police management, are the responsibility of Peter Van Loan and the federal government. If the Conservatives wanted the whole story on the table, they would have authorized Braidwood to examine the issues in their area of responsibility. But then, they are already sitting on reports calling for major changes in RCMP governance and, for reasons unknown, they choose to do nothing,
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