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Friday, March 13, 2009

Cops shouldn't investigate cops: Frank Paul report

March 13, 2009
By Suzanne Fournier, The Province

“Alone and Cold” is the title of Commissioner William Davies’ scathing report detailing how Vancouver police and the justice system failed Frank Paul, who died after police dumped him soaking wet in an alley in 1998.

“I’ve been very critical of some of the police officers that did handle Frank Paul and of the police investigating themselves ... and the manner in which they conducted their inquiry” into both internal discipline charges and possible criminal charges against the officers, Davies said in making his report public Thursday morning.

On Feb. 11 Davies, a former judge, gave his report to B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal and its release has been demanded for weeks by B.C. aboriginal leaders and the New Democrat opposition in the B.C. legislature.

Davies said the timing of the report’s release — and the fact that Frank Paul’s family in New Brunswick did not get the courtesy of an advance briefing as they requested — was up to the B.C. government.

Davies, handing out his report just across the hall from where the Braidwood inquiry is being conducted into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, acknowledged “some of the issues we dealt with have arisen at the Braidwood inquiry.”

A key issue, noted Davies, is “the public has lost confidence in the fact the police are investigating themselves.”

He admitted “there may be others who don’t share my view” but stressed he didn’t write the report to gather dust.

“I’ve recommended far-reaching changes,” said Davies, including a citizen investigation of all police-related deaths.

Paul, a New Brunswick Mi'kmaq, was dumped in a eastside Vancouver alley in December 1998 after Sgt. Russell Sanderson refused to admit him to the police drunk tank or take him to detox and instructed a junior officer to “breach” Paul.

Paul died of hypothermia and his New Brunswick family was told he died in a hit-and-run accident. Paul's cousin Peggy Clement, who testified at the inquiry, said the Mi’kmaq people did not learn the truth until three years later.

Davies was critical of Vancouver police but particularly of Sanderson, saying his evidence had to be “rejected in its entirety.”

Davies noted the VPD failed to properly investigate the death and the B.C. Coroners Service failed to properly notify Paul’s family.

Davies recommends B.C. “develop a civilian-based criinal investigation model for the investigation of police-related deaths occurring in the municiipalities policed by the 11 municipal police departments.”

Davies said “the independent investigaiton office” would be led by a civilian director, but investigators would have the status of police officers and, once advised of a police-related death, would take charge of the scene and become the lead investigative agency.

“The director would recommend to the Criminal Justice Branch whether criminal charges should be laid and, if so, which charges involving which officer or officers.”

Aboriginal leaders, who fought hard for the inquiry into Paul’s death, praised the Davies report this morning.

Tl’azt’en Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit said the report “shines a bright and clear light” on the failure of the Vancouver Police Department to safeguard Frank Paul’s life, the lack of services to aboriginal homeless people, an inadquate police investigation and the failure to lay any criminal charges in Paul’s death.

United Native Nations president David Dennis said Paul’s death was “a tragedy . . . and we have documented many, many more deaths of aboriginal people in police custody, yet no police officer in B.C. has ever been charged in connection with even one death.”

Dennis said he hopes the VPD and the B.C. government will pay attention to Davies’ sweeping recommendations.

“Just two years ago Chief Stewart Phillip and I sat in [former Vancouver police] Chief Jamie Graham’s office and he said to my face, ‘There will never be an inquiry into the death of Frank Paul.’

“Today we feel very vindicated and we are confident that Frank Paul’s family will feel vindicated as well.”

Said Davies in his conclusion: “It is important to understand that this is not just a case of investigation of one police-related death a decade ago which was done poorly.

“What this inquiry’s review has revealed is systemic flaws in the manner in which the Vancouver Police Department conducted criminal investigations of police-related deaths at that time, which continue today.

“These systemic flaws are grounded in conflict of interest — the police investigating themselves.

“I am persuaded that nothing short of a wholesale restructuring of such investigations would suffice.”

Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu issued this statement in response to the report.

"With the conclusion of the Frank Paul inquiry, I want to take this opportunity to once again apologize to Mr. Paul's family and to the community," said Chu.

"We deeply regret the loss of life caused by the mistakes our officers made, who had a duty of care for Mr. Paul. Since that tragic event we have strengthened and modified certain policies, our procedures and training have been reinforced, and we continue to work closely with our public health partners to further safeguard the lives and well being of those in our care.”

VPD spokeswoman Const. Jana McGuinness said of Paul's death: “It was a tragic and regrettable event and everyone knows it shouldn’t have happened.”

She also said VPD has made changes to its policies and procedures, particularly those regarding jail, transport and reporting of those in custody.

“We’re certainly going to look closely at this report,” she said.

“How our society deals with chronic alcoholics is inadquate,” said the Davies Commission report.

While Davies noted that many police, ambulance and emergency ward staff treat such people with compassion, “the reality is that these current services amount to little more than revolving doors.”

Davies recommends:

• A civilian-operated sobering centre.

• An enhanced civilian-based detoxification program.

• Davies also urged, “Permanent low-barrier housing designed for the specific needs of chronic alcoholics which would offer, if needed, palatable alcohol substitution and managed alcohol programs.” (Alcohol substitution is a harm-reduction appoach that involves gradually weaning alcoholics off health-destroying choices such as Chinese cooking wine or Lysol, in favour of lower-alcohol choices such as wine or beer.)

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