(Note: In a news release dated December 20, 2004, the RCMP stated that they would “ensure that a fully open, public and transparent investigation is conducted” into the homicide of Kevin St. Arnaud. Since the RCMP seems to have forgotten the commitment it made over a year ago, we consider it important to post the following.)

According to a letter we’ve just received from Geoffrey Gaul, Director, Legal Services, “the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of Attorney General has decided against laying any charges against Cst. Ryan Sheremetta, the officer involved in the December 2004 shooting death of Kevin St. Arnaud.” According to Mr. Gaul, “we are convinced that the Crown could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Cst. Sheremetta is guilty of any offence in relation to the events of 19 December, 2004.”

On December 19, 2004, Cst. Sheremetta of the Vanderhoof RCMP was pursuing Mr. St. Arnaud on foot across a soccer field because Mr. St. Arnaud was suspected to have recently committed a break and enter in a local shopping mall. According to Mr. Gaul’s letter, Mr. St. Arnaud “came to a stop and put his arms in the air” when “Cst. Sheremetta was approximately fifteen to twenty feet from Mr. St. Arnaud.” When Mr. St. Arnaud “advanced” toward the officer, Cst. Sheremetta fired three bullets into Mr. St. Arnaud, killing him. According to Mr. Gaul’s letter, “no weapons were found on Mr. St. Arnaud.” There is no suggestion in the letter that Mr. St. Arnaud had anything in his possession that could be mistaken for a weapon: no TV remote, no portable CD player…just some plastic pill containers. The letter does not explain how pill containers can cause an officer to fear for his life.

A few things should be apparent to even the most casual observer. First, if the shooter in this case had not been wearing a police uniform, he would have been charged immediately with murder or manslaughter. It would not have taken Crown Counsel fourteen months to reach a decision on whether or not to lay charges. Second, if his shooter’s explanation was that he fired on an unarmed man in an open field in self-defence, the Crown would have required him to try to establish that to the satisfaction of a judge (or judge and jury) in a court of law.

However, in this case the assailant was wearing an RCMP uniform, which changes everything. In accordance with standard practice in this province (unlike say, Ontario, where the police are not allowed to investigate themselves) Cst. Sheremetta’s RCMP colleagues investigated the homicide and delivered their final investigative report to the offices of Crown Counsel, the same prosecutors the RCMP work with on a daily basis on their criminal cases. To make matters even more unjust for Mr. St. Arnaud’s loved ones, although a coroner’s inquest is mandatory whenever someone dies at the hands of police, the Chief Coroner (former RCMP Chief Superintendent Terry Smith) has an unwritten, informal policy that no inquest can be held and no documents can be disclosed to the victim’s family until all criminal investigations have been completed. The family has still received no documents, not even the autopsy report.

These arrangements between the RCMP, the Crown and the Chief Coroner ensure that any police officer in the Province of British Columbia who kills a citizen will be shielded from prosecution by the criminal justice system and also ensure that the victim’s family members and loved ones will be kept completely in the dark for months, perhaps years, while layers of whitewash are applied by the authorities.

This state of affairs is anachronistic, unjust, cruel and utterly disgraceful and will ultimately bring the administration of justice in BC into disrepute. It is high time that there be a completely independent investigative process to handle serious police incidents like the shooting death of Kevin St. Arnaud. As a wiser person than me once said, “justice must not only be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done.”