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Watchdog wants B.C. to probe lack of prosecutions in police use of force

None of the 15 IIO cases taken to trial where officers have not pled guilty have ended in conviction
Drummers approach the Campbell River RCMP detachment. On July 8, 2021 Wet’suwet’en man Jared Lowndes was shot by RCMP outside a Tim Hortons. Photo by Marc Kitteringham / Campbell River Mirror

The head of B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office wants the government to investigate decisions made by the B.C. Prosecution Service in police misconduct cases.

Earlier this week, the B.C. Prosecution Service (BCPS) decided to not charge three officers who shot and killed a man in Campbell River in 2021, in what the IIO’s leader considers part of a troubling trend. Ron MacDonald said he plans on asking the Attorney General’s office and Public Safety Ministry investigate the low number of prosecutions in cases his office recommends for charges.

Since 2012, MacDonald said there have been about 15 cases referred by IIO where charges against officers were approved and gone to trial. While some cases ended in a guilty plea and subsequent conviction, no cases where officers contested the charges have resulted in a conviction.

“While obviously you might see that once in a while … 0 for 15 is such a low number that I believe, in the public’s eye, that raises questions,” he said.

MacDonald also said that during the past five years, less than half of the referrals for charges made by his office have actually been approved for charges, which is below the number of charges approved by police-initiated cases.

Another issue that has caught his attention is the Crown requirement that an expert report be provided for cases that depend on whether or not an officer was justified in the use of force.

“That means hiring the services of a use-of-force expert, which is almost exclusively done by former or current police officers,” he said. “My view is that most often that type of report is not necessary, and raises issues about the whole idea of civilian oversight.”

While the BCPS is a separate entity from the RCMP, MacDonald said that the two organizations often work in close concert with each other.

“If we’re supposed to be making these decisions with an organization that’s independent of police, it seems ironic that the Crown is often insisting upon opinions from police in their consideration on whether to approve charges,” he said. “The public is now asking significant questions about how police cases are treated, when compared to others.”

MacDonald said that the problem is not limited to B.C. He says the numbers of cases like this are “fairly stark.”

For the Lowndes case, MacDonald said that since the case is going to civil trial, his office won’t be releasing its report. However, he said there weren’t any factual differences between it and the summary of events published by BCPS earlier this week.

“My standard for referral is a lower standard than the Crown’s standard for prosecution.”

He said it is difficult to talk about it on a case-by-case basis, but the trend in the data from past years with so many cases not moving through BCPS to the trial stage, MacDonald said there is a “significant question about the process.”

“At the end of the day, those should lead to one of two things. One, in cases where police have been justified in their actions and most of our cases find that, our purpose is to be able to assure the public that our findings in that regard can be trusted. That helps maintain and build confidence in police and in the system of justice overall,” MacDonald said.

“Secondly, in cases where accountability may well be necessary, that too is very important. If the public is of the view that that aspect of the process is failing, that hurts the overall appearance of effectiveness and trustworthiness of our organization and the justice system in general.”

“Where police ought to be held accountable, they ought to be held accountable. Where police haven’t done anything wrong, it ought to be said clearly that they haven’t done anything wrong.”

MacDonald will be asking the minister’s office to look at the question in early May. He hopes that a review is “comprehensive,” and “is prepared to ask really difficult questions … because that’s the way change comes about.”

One of the changes he hopes to see is IIO cases being handled by prosecutors who are not involved in BCPS.

“This exact recommendation was made in the Braidwood Inquiry (into the death of Robert Dziekanski, one of the results of which was the creation of IIO in the first place). Justice Braidwood felt it appropriate to not use the prosecution service for these types of cases.

“They’re challenging prosecutions, and I think they require the appropriate approach. That includes very, very experience prosecutors … who are independent of the BC Prosecution Service. The appearance of independence is so important.”

READ ALSO: Crown says no charges in Lowndes shooting because of lack of evidence

READ ALSO: No charges in RCMP killing of Jared Lowndes shocks First Nations leaders

Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Black press in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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