COLUMN: Police oversight a must

The public needs to have confidence in police at all times in order for our system of law and order to function properly.

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) is looking into the shooting death of 20-year-old Hudson Brooks outside the South Surrey district RCMP office on the morning of July 18.

It is the sixth investigation into an officer-involved shooting that the IIO has instituted since April 1. While police have said that Brooks was “suicidal,” he apparently was not armed. The shooting has provoked a wave of anger in South Surrey and many people say the shooting was an over-reaction by police.

The IIO has emphasized the importance of getting witness accounts of what happened on July 18 and particularly wants to hear from civilians. Anyone with information, or who witnessed the incident, is asked to contact the IIO’s toll-free witness line at 1-855-446-8477.

Officer-involved deaths are deeply troubling. This shooting took place just a few days before the lead RCMP officer in the October 2007 Taser death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport, Benjamin “Monty” Robinson, was sentenced to two years less a day for lying to a public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death. Two other RCMP officers were exonerated, but Robinson, who has since resigned from the RCMP, joins Const. Kwesi Millington in facing jail time for their role in what has been deemed a cover-up.

The Dziekanski death at the hands of police, and the subsequent Braidwood Inquiry into police actions, played a key role in the establishment of the IIO. It has proven controversial.

The most recent practice prior to the IIO had been to have other forces investigate, with cases remaining “all in the (police) family.”

Some current and former police officers are also angry at the IIO over the laying of murder charges against Delta Police Const. Jordan MacWilliams, who was part of an emergency response team called to deal with a distraught man outside the Starlight Casino in New Westminster in November 2012. Mehrdad Bayrami was shot and killed, and following an IIO investigation, MacWilliams was later charged with murder.

After further investigation, the Criminal Justice Branch of the ministry of attorney-general announced earlier this month a stay of proceedings had been entered, saying evidence in the case “no longer satisfies its charge approval standard for the continued prosecution.”

This brings up the question as to why the charges went ahead in the first place. Some feel the IIO was looking for a scalp to hang from its belt to justify its existence.

However imperfect the IIO is, the public needs to have confidence in police at all times in order for our system of law and order to function properly.

The IIO was designed to show that an outside agency, which is not in any way beholden to police, can conduct an impartial investigation into deaths or serious injuries at the hands of police.

There have been too many questionable cases in recent times in B.C. to leave investigations of police-involved death or serious injury in the hands of police.

The fact that police (and the IIO) cannot lay charges in B.C. is another safeguard. That duty is performed by Crown counsel in this province. While some could argue that the Crown erred in allowing the MacWilliams charge to proceed at first, there’s something to be said for taking a second look at the evidence.

It’s far too early to tell what the IIO will come up with in the Brooks case. It will likely be months before any results are known. However, having the IIO investigate the matter is better than what used to take place.

Frank Bucholtz is the recently retired editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader. Reach him at frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

 

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