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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Police-related deaths higher in British Columbia

October 27, 2010
Ian Bailey, Globe and Mail

British Columbia had twice as many jail and police-related deaths as much more populous Ontario in a recent 15-year period that was the focus of a study on the issue for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The study, released Wednesday and calling for reforms in the investigation and prevention of such incidents, also finds that B.C. had the highest number of deaths a year of any of six provinces and territories for which numbers were available.

“We have what looks like people dying at a higher rate in British Columbia than in any other jurisdiction in the country that provided data,” said David MacAlister, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University and author of the report.

The study covered 1992 to 2007 – the period for which statistics were available. It crunched data from B.C., New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, the Yukon and Ontario. Statistics were not available elsewhere.

In that period, 267 people died in police custody in B.C. – 53 per cent of them accidentally – though the numbers declined from 24 in 1992 to 11 in 2007. That compares with 113 people in Ontario, which provided data only from 1992 to 2006 and has three times the population of B.C.

B.C had the greatest number of deaths per capita, with one per 254,550 people a year, compared with one for every 1.63 million people in Ontario.

Mr. MacAlister, director of SFU’s Institute for Studies in Criminal Justice Policy, said he did not have a theory or explanation to explain why the numbers are so different in B.C.

His research concluded that one person died every three weeks in B.C., every 6.5 weeks in Ontario, every 19.5 weeks in Saskatchewan, every 31 weeks in New Brunswick, every 45.5 weeks in the Northwest Territories and every 71 weeks in the Yukon.

David Eby, executive director for the civil liberties association, said the findings speak to failings in the manner in which B.C. deals with such cases.

“It’s safe to say the safeguards that are supposed to be in place to prevent these deaths in B.C. are not working,” he said in an interview.

He said he was referring specifically to recommendations from various coroners’ inquests and accountability measures when police are accused of using excessive force.

Mr. Eby said the association is hoping the report spurs the government to step up its plans to establish a civilian-led Independent Investigation Office, which would probe in-custody deaths or police cases involving serious injury.

Currently, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which is a civilian oversight body, investigates public complaints against officers in B.C.’s non-RCMP municipal forces. The federal Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP deals with complaints against the Mounties.

Former solicitor-general Mike de Jong has said legislation creating the agency could be tabled next year. Rich Coleman, this week named Solicitor-General in a cabinet shuffle, was not available for comment.

Mr. Eby also said he hopes the report will encourage B.C. to look at how to make recommendations from relevant coroners’ inquests more meaningful.

“It’s embarrassing that B.C.’s numbers are so out of whack,” he said.

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