Vancouver Police Chief Constable Adam Palmer fired a broadside at the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) in an 8 page letter in which he questioned their competence and motivations in the way they conduct their investigations.
Palmer addressed the investigation into the officer-involved shooting at the Canadian Tire store on Grandview Highway that occurred just before Christmas. I have previously discussed that incident in this article: IIO missing the obvious, again
There’s more on it here: Competence at heart of VPD / IIO court petition
In the letter Palmer outlines 36 separate concerns the VPD has with the IIO resulting from that incident. Many of which question their competence. And rightly so.
The chief concludes this explosive missive with these words: “Changes need to be made to the IIO’s current practices to improve the relationship between the IIO and the police. The VPD has two principal concerns. The first concern is what appears to be the IIO’s lack of investigative competence. The second concern is the rigid position the IIO has adopted regarding pre-interview disclosure which has led to unnecessary friction and distrust between the police and the IIO. These concerns need to be addressed given the importance of independent police oversight to maintain public trust and accountability.”
What is not said in this is the or else. What might the chief do if the IIO does not react appropriately? The obvious answer is to exercise the 30 day ‘shotgun’ clause afforded to all the chiefs in the original Memorandum of Understanding with the IIO. Doing so will have the natural effect of causing other chiefs throughout the province and the RCMP Deputy Commissioner to reconsider whether they will do the same. In my opinion, the first domino to fall will topple the rest.
What then, will the government do? If some or all of the police agencies opt out the IIO ceases to exist. It will have no mandate. With no mandate and no one to oversee what else would result?
The government will be left with a lot of egg on their face and scrambling to try to figure out where to go from there.
I have been saying for much of the past four years since its inception, that the IIO needs to be blown up, metaphorically, and fundamentally re-thought. Thus far, the government, despite all the adverse publicity, the internal complaints, a legislative committee, separate internal and external investigations and direct pleas from former employees, have been kicking the can down the road, saying everything is fine. Well, no, it’s not fine.
The public need to trust their police services. In cases where the police, in providing that service, have to use force in the execution of their duty and serious injury or death results, the police need to have confidence that their actions will be competently and thoroughly investigated. At this point in time, as evidenced by Palmer’s letter, the police have no such confidence in the creation of the government, the IIO. Make no mistake, they own this. They created this monstrosity, only they can fix it. But they need to be seized with the importance of that. I suspect this letter from Palmer may stimulate that. If it does not, then the government deserves its fate.
Albeit, one week out from election day I rather suspect the Premier will push it aside and claim it’s a serious issue that needs to be looked at thoroughly and a week out is not the time. Perhaps so. But she has been ignoring it for four years as have successive Solicitors General, Shirley Bond who oversaw its creation and Suzanne Anton who keeps her head firmly planted in the sand.
For the record, the incompetence at the IIO is not going to be fixed anytime soon. Chief Palmer in his letter acknowledges that “many of your investigators have less than two years experience.” The IIO has had incredible difficulties retaining good folks. In the past four weeks four more experienced investigators have resigned. They are leaving because it is a toxic workplace. And that is on the leadership of the organization, or more accurately, the lack thereof.
Since the departure of the original Chief Civilian Director Richard Rosenthal in September, the government has replaced him with a career bureaucrat who I am sure is good at pushing papers around and ordering staples but he knows the square root of bugger all about the matters his agency is responsible for investigating.
The man overseeing investigations is John Larkin. He is referred to in Palmer’s letter as “adversarial.” And that is at the heart of the problem. The IIO, as it is constituted should not be adversarial. Their role should be to seek the truth. If that truth leads to criminal charges against a police officer then so be it. That’s the system. But Larkin believes their role is to start off believing the police involved committed a crime.
That attitude is evidenced in Palmer’s letter in paragraph 13 where he states, “The IIO Chief of Investigations specifically characterized this matter as a “murder investigation” during a conversation with the VPD Major Crime Section (MCS) Inspector. This use of such a biased and inflammatory term infers that VPD officer(s) committed a serious criminal offence. The term “murder” used in this context is presumptive and inappropriate. The VPD Inspector felt it necessary to remind the IIO Chief of Investigations that it was an “officer-involved shooting.”
I applaud the actions of the Chief Constable. What he is demonstrating in this is support for the people at the sharp end of things. But equally, he clearly states he supports the need for civilian oversight. What he complains about is incompetence of the IIO investigations. And that needs to get the attention of the government.
It’s their mess and the public needs to have confidence in their police service and the police need to have confidence in those providing oversight. That is what needs to be fixed.