Josiah Wood, Q.C. has delivered his long-awaited report on the British Columbia municipal police complaints process. He essentially endorses the status quo, but recommends enhanced civilian oversight powers. Unfortunately, he recommends that police continue to investigate themselves, consigning this province’s system to the dark ages for the foreseeable future.

As Mr. Wood puts it, the investigative responsibility “should remain with the police until such time it becomes apparent that civilian oversight in this province cannot be successful unless responsibility for investigating police complaints is transferred to a completely independent investigative unit…I am not persuaded that point has yet been reached in this province.” (p. 51)

Well, Mr. Wood, with all due deference and respect, speaking as one who has been involved in a host of cases involving serious injury or death, I beg to differ. The police investigations in those cases have invariably been grossly deficient. In fact, my observations mirror the findings of Mr. Wood himself, arising from his file audit:

“Some investigations lacked investigative rigour. This revealed itself in the following ways: investigations going only far enough to justify the underlying police conduct…failing or refusing to interview other witnesses…failing to investigate in a timely fashion…failing to conduct a full investigation of potentially criminal allegations…” (p. C-35)

In the files I have handled, without exception, the police investigation of police-involved incidents of use of force resulting in serious injury or death have “lacked investigative rigour”. Here’s just one example: the year long VPD internal investigation into complaints that members of the VPD “crowd control unit” used excessive force when they clubbed demonstrators outside the Hyatt Hotel. The investigators failed to identify or interview a single police officer involved, though the entire incident was captured on videotape and complete records were available of who was on duty. The complainants and their backgrounds were extensively questioned and probed, but not one police officer was even named, let alone questioned!

For me, no amount of “civilian oversight” is a substitute for independent civilian investigation of serious matters, from the very outset. That is the way more enlightened jurisdictions deal with these cases; places like Ontario, Quebec and Great Britain. The government of Northern Ireland, in particular, has recognized that civilian investigation is imperative to restore and retain public confidence in policing.

Here’s my gratuitous advice to anyone who has the misfortune to be a victim of an apparent use of excessive force by police: if you have the resources, immediately hire a good independent private investigator to fully investigate the incident. If you lack the resources to do that, forget about the matter and move on with your life. Do not, under any circumstances, put your faith in the ability of police investigators to investigate their colleagues, for you will be facing years of frustration, anguish and disappointment.

To view the report, go to:

Meanwhile, here’s the first few lines of the Vancouver Sun’s February 9 editorial:

Civilian probes would boost confidence in police
Published: Friday, February 09, 2007

The long-awaited report on British Columbia’s police complaints process offers many solid recommendations, but it should have gone a lot further than it did.