A. Cameron Ward Barristers and Solicitors » Opinion
A. Cameron Ward Tel: (604)688-6881
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Rich Coleman, Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety for the Province of British Columbia, has reportedly announced that the search policies at the Vancouver Jail have been changed so that new detainees will no longer be automatically strip-searched upon admission.

If true, this policy change is long overdue. In December of 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that routine strip searches violated section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The authorities could only conduct these intrusive and demeaning searches if they had reasonable grounds to believe that the subject was hiding a weapon or evidence related to the commission of the offence that resulted in detention.

Inexplicably, those in charge of the Vancouver Jail continued to strip search everyone admitted into their custody.

Our firm has filed a class action seeking damages on behalf of everyone who had their constitutional rights violated since December of 2001. We are currently seeking dates for the hearing of an application to certify the case as a class proceeding and hope that the matter will be argued in the next few months.

If you wish to become a member of the class, please contact us.

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The six Vancouver Police Department members who were convicted of 18 counts of assault after they transported three people to a remote park and beat them up have now been disciplined by Chief Constable Jamie Graham. Two officers were fired and the other four received 20 day suspensions without pay.

Several questions remain to be answered in this disturbing case. Among them:

1. How much has this sorry episode cost the city’s taxpayers?

The six were on paid leave for over a year at a cost of about $300,000 and they received the services of six experienced lawyers as the charges and disciplinary proceedings were processed. I estimate that the cost to the public of these lawyers was at least another $300,000.

2. How often do incidents like this occur but go unreported?

The beating incident came to light only because a junior officer with a conscience reported it. The others involved tried to cover it up. The evidence suggests that the beating was premeditated and was a form of “rough justice” meted out from time to time.

3. Was the public interest served in the criminal prosecution?

Special prosecutor Robert Gourlay presented a sanitized Agreed Statement of Facts that was the product of an agreement with the accused’s six lawyers. It bore little resemblance to the facts as reported by the junior officer. Judge Herb Weitzel did not have an accurate and complete record when he imposed sentence.

4. Can the VPD be trusted to investigate other incidents of alleged misconduct or excessive force within its ranks?

In my opinion, absolutely not. The Internal Investigation section of the Vancouver Police Department has proven that it is incapable of investigating its own in a thorough and unbiased manner. The Hyatt case is an excellent example. Sgt. Sweeney and Insp. Rothwell conducted a year long investigation into some fifty complaints, substantiated by video footage, that members of the VPD Crowd Control Unit needlessly clubbed civilians over the head to disperse a crowd. They produced a voluminous document that failed to identify a single officer who inflicted blows and that was characterized as a “sham” and a “cover-up” by the lawyer for the Police Complaint Commissioner. The system needs major reform.

5. What has the Police Board done to address the issues raised by this case?

Although the Vancouver Police Board describes itself as “the governing body for the Vancouver Police Department”, the silence coming from that quarter has been deafening. It resembles an ostrich with its head planted in the sand.

Check out the Chief Constable’s disposition of the case.

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Stevenson family lawyer Cameron Ward has written the Attorney General and the Solicitor General requesting a public inquiry to investigate all aspects of the fatal police shooting of Thomas Evon Stevenson on December 7, 2002. Last week, a Coroner’s Inquest classified the death as a homicide and recommended that independent investigations should replace the present process whereby the police investigate themselves.

The text of Mr. Ward’s letter of January 21, 2004.

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Martin Luther King Day

January 19, 2004 in Opinion

peacehands.jpg

Seventy-five years after his birth, the world needs Rev. King’s ideas more than ever.

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After finding the death of Thomas Evon Stevenson to be a homicide, a Coroner’s jury has today recommended that the British Columbia government implement an independent Special Investigations Unit to investigate police incidents resulting in serious injury, assault or death.

The jury heard evidence that Stevenson, 46, was shot by two members of the Vancouver Police Department on December 7, 2002 after he refused to get out of a locked stolen car on East Pender Street. He sustained six bullet wounds to his hands, chest and one arm and was pronounced dead at the scene at 9:26 p.m. Dozens of additional VPD members arrived at the scene and one of them retrieved a toy plastic gun from Stevenson’s lap.

According to inquest testimony, VPD homicide investigators met with Vancouver Police Union president Tom Stamatakis and VPD media relations officer Sarah Bloor at 1:30 a.m. on December 8, 2002 to formulate a public position on the incident. The VPD then released private personal information about Stevenson to the media.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Charles Lee told the inquest that the wounds were consistent with Stevenson holding his arms outstretched when he was shot. Although a nearby civilian eyewitness testified the scene was silent before the shots were fired, although no reconstruction was attempted by investigators and although no fingerprints of value were found on the plastic toy gun, no charges were laid and the VPD file was closed.

Stevenson family lawyer Cameron Ward commented, “This jury has recognized that the police cannot conduct credible investigations of themselves. Reform of the system is long overdue and I hope that Solicitor General Coleman takes immediate action on this issue.”

The full text of the jury’s recommendations is set out below:

“To the Solicitor General of British Columbia, we recommend that:

1. Implement a special investigations unit similar to the S.I.U. in Ontario, independent of the police, to investigate circumstances involving police which result in serious injury, assault or death;

2. Circumstances involving the police which result in serious injury, assault or death be investigated by members of a police investigation team independent of the police force under investigation;

3. Specific protocol be developed related to the investigation of police shooting.

To the Justice Institute of British Columbia, Police Academy, we recommend that:

1. More dynamic training be developed in order to simulate real life situations.

To the Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department, we recommend that:

1. Implement video-cameras in all police vehicles, or at least in any police vehicle occupied by a single police officer;

2. High risk areas in the City of Vancouver be identified and patrolled only by officers in combination with at least one other officer or a canine.

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