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Saturday, June 19, 2010

EDITORIAL: Braidwood sets RCMP's course

June 19, 2010
Times Colonist

The RCMP`s future is now at stake.

The report on Robert Dziekanski's death has brought into question the force's ability to continue to function effectively. The response to the Braidwood inquiry report, from RCMP management and governments, will determine it can survive as an effective police force.

It's not just the questions about the competence, training and judgment of the four officers who responded to a call at Vancouver airport two years ago. Those are serious, but things go badly -- tragically -- wrong in any large organization.

The more profound problem is the Braidwood inquiry's findings about what happened afterward.

We ask police to take on a hugely difficult task. Many officers face personal danger. Some are killed or kill on our behalf on the job. We give them great powers so they can do the required work effectively.

But we recognize the risk that those powers can be abused. We demand accountability and honesty from police forces and a commitment to the public interest, not their own. We believe that what police say -- in court or in public statements -- can be trusted.

Inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood's report found that was not true in this case.

The officers' actions were not justified, he found. They caused Dziekanski's death. The report on the Taser use "consistently and deliberately misrepresented and overstated" Dziekanski's actions and chose self-serving language to justify the officers' reaction.

The account of the incidents to investigators by all four officers were "deliberate misrepresentations, made for the purpose of justifying their actions."

Braidwood rejected their evidence at the hearings and concludes they lied to justify their actions.

The inquiry also considered RCMP media statements on the death. Braidwood found the initial statements were not deliberately misleading. But "the factual inaccuracies, consistently self-serving, painted Mr. Dziekanski in an unfairly negative, and the officers in an unfairly positive, light." The decision not to correct the inaccuracies was an "error in judgment," he concludes, not an attempt to mislead.

But the inaccurate statements, coming from the police as they investigated themselves, naturally eroded public confidence in the impartiality of the investigation.

The solution, Braidwood found, was to end the practice of police investigating themselves in cases involving death, serious bodily harm or any offence that could involve the appearance of bias. The Davies commission of inquiry into the death of Frank Paul after he was left in an alley by Vancouver police called for the creation of an independent investigation unit, staffed by civilians without connections to police.

Braidwood repeated the recommendation. "The perception that investigators will allow loyalty to fellow officers to interfere with the impartial investigative process, even if not justified in a given case, can lead to public distrust and undermining of public confidence in the police," he noted.

The province acted quickly. Soon after Braidwood delivered his report, Attorney General and Solicitor General Mike de Jong announced that the province will create a civilian investigations unit that will conduct criminal investigations into police-related incidents.

That is a crucial first step toward restoring confidence. The province has also promised to appoint a special prosecutor to re-open the investigation into Dziekanski's death and its aftermath. That is another welcome step.

We value, highly, the work of police officers. Braidwood notes the actions of these officers should not reflect unfairly on the thousands of RCMP officers who have earned a well-deserved good reputation while protecting communities.

But the Dziekanski case has, he says, galvanized public antipathy for the force and its members.

That damage could have been avoided with a thorough independent investigation, as well as honesty from the officers involved.

This case, along with several others in recent years, has damaged the force's most important assets -- public support and trust. Braidwood has set the RCMP on a course that could restore its ability to do its job.

The sooner de Jong follows through on yesterday's commitments, the better for everyone.

1 comment:

Values said...

When someone complains about the RCMP, the RCMP gets to invesitgate itself and routinely finds itself innocent of any wrong-doing. This happened when Ian Bush was shot in the back of the head while in jail and when Adam Dormer was tasered five times for offering Constable Casey Murphy a high-five. Will an independent third party conduct retroactive invesitgations into their situations? How will they find justice?