February 10, 2012 in Opinion
I came across an op ed piece by someone named Leo Knight in one of Vancouver’s free tabloids, in which he, as presumably a lifelong recipient of taxpayers’ money, harps about the families of the murdered women allegedly wasting public funds at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. The great thing about a democracy is that all of us are free to express our opinions, however inane they might be. Mr. Knight’s ill-considered remarks are certainly amusing.
The police are people who do difficult and sometimes dangerous work that most of the rest of us couldn’t or wouldn’t be willing to take on ourselves. Most of the women and men who choose the law enforcement profession as a career are dedicated to public service and perform their duties conscientiously. Some aren’t so dedicated or conscientous and some make mistakes. All of us are human, and mistakes made in good faith can always be forgiven.
What I find unforgiveable are those cases where police use the taxpayers’ money to investigate their own mistakes and try to minimize them by manipulating public opinion in their favour. It certainly doesn’t happen all the time, but it has occurred in so may serious cases I have handled that I get frustrated and discouraged when I see the police use my tax dollars to engage in the same predictable ham-handed cover ups and whitewashes.
Here are three of the most egregious examples of police cover ups I have encountered:
The 1998 “Riot at the Hyatt”: It wasn’t a riot at all, but Vancouver police waded into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators and beat many of them with wooden nightsticks. Several young people were seriously injured. The Vancouver police investigated the matter for over a year and issued a voluminous report concluding that the victims’ complaints of excessive force were unsubstantiated. The investigators failed to identify any of the police officers present and neglected to interview them. The police used taxpayer money to stymie a public hearing and to defend my clients’ lawsuit until the day before trial, when they settled.
The 2000 beating death of Jeffrey Berg: Vancouver police constable David Bruce-Thomas beat and kicked Berg to death in the presence of two of his VPD colleagues. The internal investigation was handled by Bruce-Thomas’ VPD friend and car racing teammate Rob Rothwell, who cleared Bruce-Thomas of any wrongdoing without interviewing any of the three police officers who were at the scene. Instead, self-serving and exculpatory written statements of the three VPD constables were prepared and delivered by the lawyer all three visited some time later. It took Crown Counsel years to decide not to charge Bruce-Thomas with a criminal offence in respect of the homicide. At the subsequent coroner’s inquest, Bruce-Thomas confirmed that Berg, who had no criminal record but was a suspect in a break and enter, was unarmed and did not touch or threaten any of the police officers. Bruce-Thomas claimed that he couldn’t remember inflicting many of the blows that were responsible for over a dozen separate bruises found on Berg’s body. The retired judge who later presided over a public hearing into the Berg family’s complaint himself had a major amnesiac incident requiring hospitalization during the hearing. The family’s complaint was ultimately deemed to be unsubstantiated.
The 2004 fatal shooting of Kevin St. Arnaud: The RCMP investigated the incident wherein RCMP Cst. Ryan Sheremetta shot and killed Kevin St. Arnaud, an unarmed break and enter suspect, after chasing him across a snow-covered soccer field in Vanderhoof. Although Sheremetta’s testimony at the coroner’s inquest was so incredible that he was subjected to a year long investigation for perjury by the RCMP (which ultimately cleared him), no charges were laid in respect of the homicide. The RCMP investigation was so inadequate that they failed to canvass the neighborhood for eyewitnesses. The eyewitnesses who testified at the coroner’s inquest, including Sheremetta’s own RCMP partner, disputed his account and confirmed the forensic evidence disclosing that the two men were facing each other about 5 metres apart when Sheremetta pumped three bullets into St. Arnaud’s chest.
So, do police cover up and whitewash their mistakes in serious cases? In my opinion, absolutely. Does the criminal justice system work in those cases? Absolutely not.
Have the police covered up or whitewashed their actions in the missing women investigations? At this point, it sure looks like it to me.