UPDATE: On Thursday, October 25, 2007, Mr. Ward will be speaking at “Aboriginal Deaths in Custody”, a public forum to be held at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre from 9:30 to 4:00. Other speakers include author Warren Goulding, pathologist Dr. John Butt, Kyle Tait’s mother Noel Tait and journalist Leonard Cler-Cunningham.

The forum precedes the Frank Paul Inquiry, which is scheduled to commence November 13, 2007. The Commissioner has issued a ruling on standing, that can be linked here: upload


At a BCCLA forum on police in-custody deaths in Vancouver yesterday, speaker after speaker recounted their experiences with a justice sytem that is hopelessly skewed in favour of the police, at least as far as police-involved homicides are concerned. Linda Bush, Sylvia Fee and Delores Young, each of whom lhad a loved one shot to death by police, expressed frustration at the secretive and biased investigative process that followed the separate incidents and inevitably cleared the police of any responsibility.

For my part, I said that the time for a measured, polite response to the problem is over: real reform is needed. I called for an end to the system whereby police investigate themselves in these cases, and for meaningful changes to the BC Coroners’ Service.

When police investigate their brethren, their investigations are so flawed as to amount to corrupt whitewashes, especially here in Vancouver. Every VPD investigation of a death at the hands of a VPD member follows the same script…all the officers involved leave the scene, consult their union rep and joint lawyer and, weeks later, after other investigative results are in, their lawyer delivers typed statements on their behalf. The members involved, whether witnesses or perpetrators, are never interviewed right away and often are not interviewed at all. The opportunities for collision and tainting are rife. Police investigators would never conduct a criminal investigation of civilians this way. There is no wonder that no police officer in BC, in my memory, has ever been prosecuted for a death resulting from the intentional application of force.

Although it is mandatory for a coroner’s inquest to be held in the case of every death in custody, the BC Coroner’s Service is either incompetent or biased, or both, in the way it handles these cases. Though it has the power to conduct independent investigations, it merely collects the police investigative results. Why, I asked, do we have a former senior RCMP officer heading up an agency that has the responsibility for investigating deaths caused by actions of the police? At the very least, there is a perception of bias.

Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin, former head of the Ontario SIU (Special Investigations Unit) said that it is only a matter of time before BC leaves the “dark ages” and moves to a civilian investigative system. “Police should never, under any circumstances, be investigating themselves where there’s a serious injury or death-full stop”, he said.

BC Solicitor General John Les, who was invited to the forum but declined to attend, reportedly called Marin’s comments “juvenile” and “inappropriate”.

By the way, on January 15, 2004, a five person coroner’s jury conducting an inquest into the death of a man who was shot six times by two VPD officers called on the BC Solicitor General to “Implement a special investigations unit similar to the SIU in Ontario, independent of the police, to investigate circumstances involving police which result in serious injury, assault or death.”

The Solicitor General has not done anything to implement those recommendations, perhaps because he considers them to be juvenile and inappropriate. Click below to see the jury’s recommendations in the case of Tom Stevenson: