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Friday, September 18, 2009

Police Act amendments give more power to police complaint commissioner

September 18, 2009
The Canadian Press

VICTORIA, B.C. — B.C.'s police complaint commissioner is getting more power to oversee investigations against municipal police officers.

Solicitor General Kash Heed says amendments to the Police Act will allow the complaint commissioner to get involved in real-time investigations of officers, as opposed to just reviewing the final results.

"The amendments to the Police Act are for us to move forward and create greater accountability in British Columbia to ensure that we have proper civilian oversight for our police here in British Columbia," Heed, a former West Vancouver Police chief, said Thursday.

The Police Act amendments were introduced earlier this year but the legislature adjourned before any changes were adopted.

The amendments ensure that officers under investigation who retire or resign will still be subject to the police complaint process. Former Victoria police chief Paul Battershill resigned in August 2008, days before he was to face a disciplinary hearing due to complaints of favouritism.

The amendments force officers to report any information uncovered during an investigation that relates to possible misconduct to the police complaint commissioner.

The commissioner will be authorized to order an investigation even if a complaint is withdrawn and will decide if a complaint warrants investigation from an internal or external force.

The commissioner, however, will not have the power to conduct independent investigations solely through the commissioner's office.

Heed said the Police Act amendments are simply a start and if further changes - like independent investigations - are required, they will be looked at.

"If it's not working, if it's not meeting our needs, if it's not creating more accountable policing here in British Columbia, I will look at furthering the process," he said.

That decision was met with disappointment by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

"This tinkering with a broken system doesn't deal with the dysfunction at the core," said Jason Gratl, the association's vice-president.

Gratl said police investigations into the deaths of Frank Paul in a Vancouver alley and Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport have represented the end of the public's tolerance for police investigating police.

Paul was left in the alley by an officer after being removed from the police drunk tank. Dziekanski died after being repeatedly stunned by an RCMP taser.

"There's only one person who appears to have any confidence left that the police can investigate themselves in B.C. and that's our solicitor general," Gratl said.

Heed said the amendments also allow the B.C. police complaints commissioner to work with the federal government and RCMP to harmonize the federal public complaints process with the new B.C. Police Act.

The RCMP polices about three-quarters of the province, with municipal officers covering the rest of B.C.

Heed said he has sent a letter to Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan asking for changes that would allow B.C. Mounties to be covered under the province's Police Act, despite the fact they are part of a federal force.

"We feel in order to eliminate any confusion here in British Columbia for the public that we have either a harmonized process or a unified process to ensure that oversight and accountability," he said.

Heed said the matter will be an important one as the province tries to negotiate a new contract with the RCMP by 2012.

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