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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Self-policing an 'unwinnable' battle for RCMP, inquiry hears

September 23, 2009
Ian Bailey, Globe and Mail

The optics of police investigating themselves in such cases as the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski presents an “unwinnable” image problem, the officer in charge of the investigation into the Dziekanski case says.

RCMP Superintendent Wayne Rideout Tuesday told the Braidwood inquiry into Mr. Dziekanski's death in October, 2007, that police conduct “very competent and thorough” investigations through the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team he formerly led.

But the image issue is daunting and could only be resolved by reforms that might involve some B.C. version of the Special Investigations Unit employed in Ontario, an agency that operates independent of police to investigate cases of serious injury or death involving police and civilians.

“My preference would be homicide investigators conduct homicides, and that a separate body conducts investigations of police incidents because I think that prevents people like the IHIT team from finding themselves in these unwinnable perception problems,” Supt. Rideout told the inquiry.

The line of thought seemed to pique the interest of inquiry head Thomas Braidwood, a retired appeal-court justice, who asked where the necessary expertise to conduct investigations would come from if not from the usual investigators.

“I have given it considerable thought,” Supt. Rideout said. “There are hybrid models that exist where there are accommodations of police investigators, civilian oversight. Perhaps that is a workable model.”

It was not entirely clear if Supt. Rideout was referring just to the RCMP, IHIT or all police, in principle.

After an extensive investigation that included a trip to Poland led by Supt. Rideout, IHIT submitted a file on the case to the Crown, which eventually concluded that charges were not warranted against the four Mounties involved in the October, 2007 confrontation with Mr. Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport.

Mr. Dziekanski died of cardiac arrest after a struggle with police in which he was tasered five times. The use of the taser has not been specifically linked to his death, but its application has prompted a furious debate about the police use of stun guns. There has been an equally intense debate in B.C. on whether police can investigate officers involved in such cases.

Supt. Rideout has spent 27 years with the RCMP, including five as head of IHIT, an 86-officer unit formed in 2003 to investigate homicides in the Lower Mainland region outside of Vancouver and Delta. Last year, he was appointed operations officer for the Surrey detachment.

Supt. Rideout's comments came as he was called to testify Tuesday on an e-mail disclosed this past June that forced a temporary halt to the inquiry because it laid out a scenario at odds with the testimony of the four Mounties.

Chief Superintendent Dick Bent wrote in the Nov. 5, 2007, e-mail to Assistant Commissioner Al MacIntyre that Supt. Rideout had said four officers went into the situation planning to taser Mr. Dziekanski.

Supt. Rideout bluntly rejected the suggestion in testimony that came hours after Supt. Bent said the comments were true, as far as he knew, at the time that he wrote them. However, Supt. Bent conceded he had no notes to back them up, and was not aware of any follow up on the matter. Under questioning, he said it did not become an issue until it was disclosed in June.

Supt. Rideout said his superior's comments were inaccurate. “That is not what happened,” a frowning, stone-faced Supt. Rideout told the inquiry.

He said IHIT found no evidence to indicate the four officers made plans in advance to deploy their tasers, nor was there any such suggestion in notes he made of a conversation he had with Supt. Bent.

He was not asked why he thought Supt. Bent made the comment he did.

“Chief Superintendent Bent is a highly respected member of the RCMP, who occupies an extremely demanding role within this region,” he said.

“He is someone I personally respect a great deal, but the way he portrayed my comments in [the passage] is wrong.”

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