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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

BC moves to distance police-Crown relations

October 12, 2011
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

The death of a Vancouver man who was left intoxicated and alone in a frigid alley by police 13 years ago has the British Columbia government moving to put some distance between Crown prosecutors and police when it comes to assessing criminal charges against officers.

Attorney General Shirley Bond said Wednesday the Criminal Justice Branch will no longer allow Crown prosecutors to investigate allegations against police in the same jurisdiction. The branch will instead use special prosecutors.

The change is a key recommendation from an inquiry conducted by Judge William Davies that examined the death of Frank Paul in December 1998. The aboriginal man was dumped by police in an alley, drunk and soaking wet, leaving him to die of exposure.

No police officers were ever charged in the case, which saw Davies conclude last June that "broader measures need to be taken to ensure the public's confidence in charging decisions that affect police officers."

Davies found that prosecutors conducted themselves with integrity when deciding no charges should be laid. But he was concerned about the perception of preferential treatment by the Crown when assessing police-related cases.

Bond said police accountability is a prominent public issue in B.C. She cited not only the recommendations from the public inquiry into Paul's death, but also the inquiries into the RCMP-connected death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski and police work related to capturing serial killer Robert Pickton.

"I would certainly want to believe that we've learned enough lessons through the circumstances of both the Frank Paul case and the Dziekanski case, and the missing and murdered women (inquiry)," she said. "In fact, there have been enough circumstances in our province that we have learned lessons from."

Bond said the changes to the way investigations involving allegations against police officers will be handled in the future indicates the government is serious about Davies' recommendations. She said the Liberals want to ensure the public is confident police officers are not above the law.

Another of Davies' recommendations -- for an independent civilian-led body to conduct investigations in police-involved incidents -- was announced after the inquiry into the death of Dziekanski. The man died after her was stunned by an RCMP Taser at Vancouver's airport.

Bond said the government is planning to introduce the newly-appointed head of the civilian police investigation body by the end of this year, and expects the new office to be functioning by next June.

Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Neil MacKenzie said investigations involving police officers are already being handled by his department while the new policies and procedures are being drafted.

"The intention of the branch is to have the policy changes in place by the end of this year," he said.

The government plans to implement several other recommendations from the Davies' inquiry. They include sending automatic alerts to Crown officials if it takes longer than 30 days to make a charge assessment, and improving the system for notifying family members about the progress of charge assessments and the decisions.

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