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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Feds told RCMP to consider skipping Taser inquiry

February 25, 2009
Chad Skelton, Canwest News Service

VANCOUVER - Senior RCMP officers were advised to consider skipping the Taser inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski because B.C. has no authority to investigate a federal police force, according to internal e-mails obtained by the Vancouver Sun.

However, Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass, the RCMP's top cop in B.C., dismissed the idea, saying the force should voluntarily participate, regardless of jurisdictional concerns.

"Frankly, I don't care what Ottawa's position on it is at this stage," Bass wrote in an e-mail on Feb. 19, 2008, the day after B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal announced the inquiry. "The provincial force will co-operate."

In an interview Wednesday, RCMP spokesman Sgt. Tim Shields said Bass's reference to Ottawa referred to the Department of Justice, which advised the Mounties they were not legally required to attend.

Two weeks before Bass's e-mail, on Feb. 1, 2008, B.C. RCMP Chief Supt. Dick Bent - deputy head of criminal operations - sent an e-mail to federal Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeney, the RCMP's second-in-command in Ottawa.

The e-mail, obtained by the Vancouver Sun through the Access to Information Act, outlined Bent's concerns about the RCMP participating in a provincial inquiry.

"The obvious question is with respect to the jurisdiction of the province to have an enquiry into any federal government agency/department," Bent wrote.

The e-mail, which was copied to Bass, noted that Bent had recently had a meeting with RCMP Complaints Commissioner Paul Kennedy when the issue of jurisdiction came up.

"It was Paul Kennedy who said that there are a number of court cases which are clear that the provinces have no authority to investigate or hold enquiries into federal departments," the e-mail said. "He went on to say that it is his belief that even if we wished to co-operate, that the RCMP, or any other government entity, may not be able to waive that jurisdictional issue."

Bent closed his e-mail by writing: "Part of me feels that we need to be as transparent and co-operative as possible and hate to be seen as saying, ‘Sorry province, but you don't have jurisdiction.' " However, he added, "There are, as you well understand, larger issues here which potentially affect other federal government agencies, not just the RCMP."

Despite those concerns, Bass ordered the release of a statement the day after Oppal's announcement, confirming the RCMP would co-operate.

In an internal e-mail attached to that statement, Bass wrote: "I think we should avoid any legalistic jargon which leaves any room for suggestion that we may opt out at some point or under some circumstances."

Shields said Wednesday that Bass was always committed to participating in the inquiry, and Bent's e-mail was meant only to outline the legal issues involved.

"There was never a question that we would not participate," he said.

Shields added it is the B.C. RCMP's policy to participate in any provincial inquiry it is asked to attend.

"Technically, as it's written under the law, because we're a federal agency, we (don't) have to participate," he said. "But we . . . have a moral duty to be transparent, open and accountable to the citizens of British Columbia."

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