Major media outlets are reporting that the Criminal Justice Branch is set to announce today that no criminal charges will be laid as the result of the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski on October 14, 2007. The decision, coming a mere 14 months after four police officers subdued the unarmed man at Vancouver Airport in an incident that was captured on film and broadcast around the world, comes as no surprise.

While the police treatment of Mr. Dziekanski certainly looked like a clear case of excessive use of force to many observers, the result of the investigation was ordained from the beginning.

In British Columbia, we still allow police officers to investigate themselves after they kill someone. The eminent former judge and legal scholar, the Hon. Roger Salhany, QC, recently described this approach as “a bad, if not intolerable, idea” (Report of the Taman Commission of Inquiry, Manitoba, 2008).

The police investigators generally spend a long time, not trying to make a case that will stick, but trying to create an airtight defence that will absolve police of responsibility for the death. Then, unlike conventional cases where the investigators recommend specific charges, they deliver a “neutral” report to Crown Counsel that contains no recommendations at all. Little wonder then that, as far as I can tell, no BC police officer has ever been prosecuted for a civilian death resulting from the intentional application of force in the 150 year history of this province.

In this case, the RCMP conducted a lengthy investigation into the incident that involved four of its members, even taking the time and trouble to fly to Poland to reportedly try to dig up dirt on the unfortunate victim. It will be interesting to see when and whether the investigators even interviewed the RCMP members involved, or whether they followed the usual practice of “debriefing” them and inviting them to contact legal counsel and submit a statement in writing at their leisure….

A public inquiry into the matter is set to resume in January.