Lawyers praise proposed B.C. civilian review body

Two B.C. lawyers, who have been critical of police investigating police-related deaths or serious injury incidents, believe the B.C. government’s announcement last month to establish a civilian review body will go a long way in restoring public confidence in police after the high-profile tasering death of polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007.

Walter Kosteckyj, who represented Dziekanski’s mother and delivered recommendations to a subsequent public inquiry, called the move “a very positive thing and one of the recommendations that I had pressed for in my submission in the Braidwood Commission.”

Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward, who has represented families in 10 B.C. cases relating to injury or death of individuals at the hands of police, said: “It is change that has been long overdue. I’ve felt having police officers investigate cases of serious injury or death involving police officers does not serve the police nor does it serve the community. A civil organization tasked with the investigation will improve the investigation and restore the public trust in the police.”

In his June 2010 report into the death of Dziekanski, Justice Thomas Braidwood recommended that B.C. develop a civilian-based criminal investigative body, which he suggested be named the Independent Investigation Office (IIO). B.C.’s government announced in May that bill 12 will create the IIO and it is currently assessing the office’s location, budget and staffing requirements, but expects the office to be operational by the end of 2011.

The IIO will be the lead investigative agency in cases under its mandate, interview witnesses and gather evidence. It will be lead by a civilian (who has never served as a police officer), conduct criminal investigations in serious injury, death, or other serious incidents involving police, be able to investigate all police officers, including RCMP, have powers entrenched in legislation and report to the attorney general. The broad powers of the office are expected to extend beyond those of similar civilian bodies that exist in Ontario and Alberta.

While B.C. has the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, it is only empowered to handle complaints against B.C.’s 15 municipal police forces and not the RCMP, a federal entity.

IIO investigators will have status equivalent to that of police officers. The office’s director will have the discretion to hire ex-police officers as investigators, as long as they have not served in B.C. within the past five years. This will ensure the office has sufficient investigative skills and capacity to achieve its mandate in its initial, formative years.

Ward said he believes there will be a transitional period where individuals, who have not been police officers, will get trained to work with the IIO. Kosteckyj, who is a former RCMP officer, said he sees no problem with hiring former police officers as long as there is an arms-length relationship. Establishing an independent investigative body “is not going to happen over night,” he said, as individuals have to be hired and independent labs established to work with the investigators.

“One of the things that I would do, if I was looking to do this, is to look what they do in England, look at the Ontario model and look at Alberta and try to take the bet for all of these models. It is not going to emerge all of a sudden and it is going to take a while to get it up and running.”

Before Jan. 1, 2015, a special committee of the legislature will conduct a review of the office’s administration and general operations. The chief civilian director’s legislation will allow the office’s civilian director to appoint a civilian monitor with access to all information on an investigation. The monitor will be free to raise concerns to the director about the integrity of an investigation and submit a final report within 30 days.

Ward said he is hopeful that the IIO will be adequately funded and staffed and that the staff will not consist of solely of ex-police officers.

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