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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Linda Bush drops lawsuit against RCMP in B.C.

April 21, 2010
Gary Mason, Globe and Mail

Linda Bush is abandoning the civil lawsuit she filed against the RCMP after her son, Ian, was shot in the back of the head by an officer at a detachment in Houston, B.C., in October 2005.

Ms. Bush announced her decision in downtown Vancouver Wednesday morning, releasing a press statement.

RCMP Chief Superintendent Craig Callens also released a statement to the press.

Ms. Bush said in an interview that while making the decision “makes her sad” she believes more can be accomplished by “working co-operatively with the RCMP than fighting them in court.”

She also said that the decision was made easier by the fact that the federal government and other provincial jurisdictions are moving to various models of civilian oversight – something that she has been calling for since her son’s death.

“The RCMP aren’t the ones fighting civilian oversight,” Ms. Bush said. “They’re quite happy to have it. In B.C., at least, it’s the provincial government that is dragging its feet in this area. We want true civilian oversight in this province and not the Alberta model that is civilian led but still uses police officers investigating themselves.

“We want to see the Ontario model here. It seems to be working well there now.”

Many felt Ms. Bush faced long odds of winning her civil suit. And then there were the ever-growing legal costs that went along with it. For the past several years, Ms. Bush has been drawing an income as a part-time bookkeeper in Houston.

Her lawyer, Howard Rubin, said today that it is difficult to “get much money out of these kinds of lawsuits and the courts are very conservative when it comes to lawsuits against the police.”

Many point to the death of Ian Bush as the event that provoked a nationwide outcry over the RCMP’s conduct in Canada, and in particular in B.C. In the years that followed, the force was deluged with criticism for its handling of any number of events and cases, culminating in the airport tasering of Robert Dziekanski.

After Mr. Dziekanski’s death, the federal government and provincial governments could no longer ignore the growing demand for civilian oversight of our national police force.

But before the Dziekanski case there was the troubling death of Mr. Bush, who had been picked up outside an arena in Houston on Oct. 29, 2005 for being in possession of an open beer. In the back of a police cruiser, Mr. Bush was asked his name and jokingly gave the officer that of his friend’s instead. He was taken to the local detachment by RCMP Const. Paul Koester.

Twenty minutes later Ian Bush was dead from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.

The officer was not charged but a coroner’s inquest into the death raised many troubling questions about the event.

The officer’s description of what happened in the final seconds leading up to the shot, seemed anatomically impossible. The police officer said he was lying face down on a sofa with the 190-pound Mr. Bush on top of him and yet somehow he reached around with one of his hands and shot the young logger directly in the back of the head.

Const. Koester refused to demonstrate how that was possible.

An independent blood spatter expert called in by a lawyer for the Bush family said blood evidence at the scene suggested it was Const. Koester who was on top of the victim, not the other way around.

It was also revealed at the inquest that the constable destroyed his notes from the evening in the immediate days after the incident. When he was interviewed by investigators three months later, they supplied him with their questions in advance.

And those were just some of the more disturbing bits of evidence that came out at the inquest.

Ms. Bush acknowledged that there will be many people, especially in Houston, who will be upset and disappointed with her decision to drop the lawsuit.

“I know that,” she said. “I do wish things had gone differently with Ian’s story. But I don’t think we were going to get anything out of this lawsuit. So it makes me a little sad. But I still think the case did draw attention to many of the most important issues around the RCMP and civilian oversight so to that extent it was worthwhile.”

Ms. Bush’s decision to abandon her lawsuit would seem to bring this troubling case to a close.


Statement by Mrs. Linda Bush
2010-04-21 10:00 PDT

On April 21st 2010 a joint news conference was held with Mrs. Linda Bush and Chief Superintendent Craig Callens – Deputy Criminal Operations Officer. Below is Mrs. Linda Bush's statement. Click here to view Chief Superintendent Callens' statement.

I have decided, in consultation with our lawyer, Howard Rubin, not to proceed with the civil court case which we filed when faced with Ian’s death. I know that many people, including some who are very close to me, will be very disappointed with this decision. I do, however, need to make the decision after considering what makes the most sense.

Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

I will start with the benefits;

Nothing we can do will give Ian’s life back to him, so the only thing we truly want is not within our reach.

Proceeding with the civil court case would give us, and Ian, our day in court. The inquest was an exercise in frustration for the family and court would hear more evidence. Individuals who were testifying would be required to answer questions regarding the investigation and be able to support their statements under oath. The civil case was meant to expose the flaws in the current system and I think that has been done.

By now, with all that has taken place over the past four years, we feel that people are aware of our stand on the flaws in the system when police investigate police. There is now a movement towards completely independent investigation of police in cases where there is loss of life or serious harm has been done. There is much discussion about whether civilians can be trained for investigation, whether former police officers are civilian, and what exactly constitutes “serious harm”. Those issues can be settled.

The RCMP has now made a decision to use whatever outside investigation is available. In Alberta it will be ASIRT, which is a team of civilians and seconded police officers led by a civilian investigator. In Ontario, they have the SIU, which is a completely civilian investigative team. I have been told by people involved with the civilian investigative team in Ontario that it does work. In British Columbia we do not yet have any such process. It will be up to legislators to create the necessary laws and investigative body; they need to hear from us, the people, that we want civilian investigators.

Now, the costs;

Under Canadian law there is not a great monetary value placed on a human life. Ian did not have a wife and children, so no one was dependent on him, which is how the awards in such a case are determined after a death. Someone who was injured would receive an award which would consider family needs and the needs of the individual who had been harmed. We have been aware from the very beginning that the costs of proceeding in court could greatly exceed whatever we could hope to gain monetarily.

Because of his interest in seeing greater police accountability and changes made to the law, Howard Rubin has worked pro bono on this case, but going to court would still be tremendously expensive.

Aside from the financial costs, there is the enormous toll going to court would place on all of the individuals in our family, including the children. You have seen how an inquest affects the families. We would be reliving the despair, anger, hopelessness and frustration. While I have made it my life’s mission to do whatever is necessary to make the changes to the law I am no longer sure I can justify putting my family through the ordeal of a court case. As well, I do believe that change is underway, and we can accomplish what we need to do without proceeding in civil court. The RCMP is now demonstrating the will to make the changes which are necessary to bring accountability and transparency to the force, so working co-operatively will accomplish more than taking an adversarial position. I will leave it to Chief Superintendent Callens to explain the changes which have been made.

I assure you that though the direction of our work has shifted, our goals remain the same—to improve transparency of police operations and ensure accountability for police in our province and our country. Dropping the civil suit does not mean we will discontinue that work.

There are many things which I still want to see changed, including some aspects of RCMP cadet training, enhanced and on-going training in “people” skills, and a firmer definition of RCMP policy in regard to procedures to prevent serious incidents and behavior of the officers present when something catastrophic does happen. I believe that independent, civilian investigation will lead to all of these things because there will be greater transparency and accountability for police actions. People will be able to trust and have confidence in the investigations involving police officers. No officer will be put into the intolerable position of being required to investigate another officer.

The most essential need right now is the legislation to create civilian investigation. Bill C472 has been introduced to Parliament by Nathan Cullen, the MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley. If passed, this bill would provide for civilian investigation for the RCMP anywhere in Canada. I would like to see a national standard, at the least, for investigating the RCMP. There are many difficulties with the RCMP Act itself, as it has not been revised for many years. In 2006 Paul Kennedy submitted proposed legislation to the federal government to strengthen the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP. This has not been enacted, so complaints are still investigated as they were in 2006 when Ian’s case was before them.

The provincial government has improved the police act in British Columbia, but as yet it does not cover the RCMP. I want to see British Columbia adopt civilian investigation as it is in Ontario. This team may necessarily include police officers in the beginning, until civilian investigators can be fully trained. I realize that there is an overlap in the federal and provincial requests we have made, and that there may be jurisdictional conflicts. The important thing is for the problem to be solved in the best interest of all Canadians, and ultimately all police officers.


Statement by Chief Superintendent Craig Callens, Deputy Criminal Operations Officer, E Division
2010-04-21 10:00 PDT

On April 21st 2010 a joint news conference was held with Mrs. Linda Bush and Chief Superintendent Craig Callens. Below is Chief Superintendent Callens' statement. Click here to view Mrs. Linda Bush's statement.

Thank you, Mrs. Bush. I appreciate this opportunity to be here with you today.

Your input to the ongoing refinement of RCMP policy and procedures has been significant. Your efforts have contributed to the improvements that have been made at the Houston Detachment since your son’s death as well as in other areas of the RCMP.

On behalf of the RCMP, I would like to thank you for the time and energy you have dedicated to seeing this process through. I can only imagine how emotionally difficult this has been for you and your family.

We have met and discussed some of the changes that have resulted from your direct involvement and from both the Coroner’s Inquest and the final report from the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP. The RCMP has made changes which include external investigation, review and oversight of serious incidents involving RCMP members and employees; and, the installation of video recording equipment in RCMP buildings. We both agree that these changes are needed in order to enhance the transparency of police operations and to provide a means for greater accountability to the public. The goal is to maintain and enhance public trust and confidence in the RCMP which is critical to our operations.

The first significant change to directly result from the in-custody death of Ian Bush involved independent oversight (or observation) of investigations conducted by the RCMP in British Columbia involving high-profile and serious incidents such as in-custody deaths. This independent oversight began in BC in 2006 with the establishment of the Commission for Public Complaints Independent Observer Program as a three year pilot project. At the request of the RCMP, the CPC was given contemporaneous (simultaneous) access to observe and assess the impartiality of officer involved investigations conducted by the RCMP in “E" Division. The program was formalized in September 2008.

The need for civilian oversight was taken a step further in September 2009 by the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police with a resolution that called for the establishment of an independent, civilian-led investigation agency to investigate serious incidents involving the police.

While work is underway to achieve this goal, the RCMP took the interim measure to implement a new national policy to address this important issue of external investigations and reviews earlier this year. The intent of the policy is to ensure fair, effective, thorough and impartial investigations of RCMP employees through a combination of independent external investigation, observation and review.

The policy will be used for investigations where there is a serious injury or death of an individual involving an RCMP employee or it appears an employee may have been involved in a matter that is of a serious or sensitive nature. The RCMP will refer all matters that meet these criteria to an external law enforcement agency or other duly authorized investigative agency to conduct the investigation and ensure impartiality and thoroughness.

If an independent external investigation is not feasible, due for example to the lack of available resources, the policy outlines other requirements to follow. This includes requesting a different division from where the incident occurred to conduct the investigation.

It is our hope, and we are confident, that BC will soon establish its own regime responsible for these independent investigations, oversight and review of police actions.

The second important change that resulted from the BC Coroner’s Inquest and the Commission for Public Complaint’s recommendations in 2007 is that video recording equipment be installed and used in all police buildings across the province. Since then, the BC Provincial Police Services Division (government) has been working on a set of standards for all police agencies and, in November 2009, the BC Solicitor General shared those standards and forthcoming regulations with the RCMP.

Upon receiving those new proposed standards, the RCMP in British Columbia immediately appointed a project manager to oversee the process of assessing detachments, evaluating the costs and devising an action plan and time line for implementing video recording equipment in all of our detachments.

Since January 2010 we have worked to establish province-wide internal policy and procedures for Closed Circuit Video Equipment (CCVE) installation and use and we have started the installation of CCVE and cell upgrades in some Provincial RCMP detachments across BC.

It should be recognized that many of the 120 provincial and municipal detachments the RCMP works within already have some form of CCVE equipment, however they may not comply with the new standards set by the provincial government. In some cases, meeting the standards will mean adding a camera to an area within the detachment where there isn’t one now such as a finger print room or a breathalyzer test room, while others may require more extensive upgrades.

The provincial government has laid out a three year timeframe for compliance with the proposed standards and it is the RCMP’s intention to meet the requirements of the pending regulation by fall 2012 in our detachments here in BC.

The bottom line is that we welcome the installation of CCVE cameras in our detachments to further enhance the transparency of our operations and interactions between our members, employees and the public.

It should be noted that Houston is one of the first detachments to have a major renovation to its cells which began in December 2009. Houston Detachment already had four cameras, and an additional four cameras have been installed to further enhance transparency while the detachment undergoes final renovations and CCVE installation. The entire project for Houston Detachment is on schedule for completion in June 2010.

These are some of the more significant changes that have come about since this tragic incident.

I would again like to thank Mrs. Bush for her time and commitment. We value your cooperation and partnership as we move forward to achieve these improvements in policing.

C.J. Callens, Chief Superintendent
Deputy Criminal Operations Officer (Contract)
"E" Division

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am so sad for Mrs. Bush and her family. I understand their profound loss and suffering and also I can relate to the fact that there is no help available, financially or otherwise in the province of B.C. for the families of these victims. To challenge the justice system in B.C. ordinary citizens need an infinite supply of money and in the end, these families are left destitute after paying exhorbitant costs to proceed with their case. There ought to be a law........You and your family deserve much better Mrs. Bush.