Surrey RCMP – the Walmart for Law and Order

Surrey, home of the RCMP’ s biggest municipal detachment, is now a political plank in the current election platforms of the two major parties in the wacky world of British Columbia politics. Unusual to be sure for an RCMP organization which historically considered itself apolitical.  The old Mountie guard remained above the pettiness— the grimy dirt of politics— it needed to be objective, forever the humble and unbiased servant of the people.

The N.P.F. is now changing those mores.

Surrey has now become the site for the ongoing battle between the RCMP– more accurately the union representing its current 800 plus members— the National Police Federation (NPF) –and the duly and properly elected government of the Surrey Coalition Party led by Mayor MacCallum. 

The NPF has taken the position that they know what is best for an  electorate which only a short time ago dramatically voted in favour of a new municipal police force, a promise that was a central tenet proposed by Mayor MacCallum and his municipal party.  

The NPF along with their political cohorts now argue that Surrey needs to retain the RCMP—the primary reason– they are cheaper.

Why pay more they say, when Surrey is already the Walmart of policing.  Their argument in point of fact fits in nicely with the new Walmart slogan “Save Money, Live Better” (the old slogan was “Always Low Prices ” which would also have worked)

For a long time, the debate pro and con has been waged in small skirmishes for the most part confined to the boundaries of Surrey. However, the calling of a Provincial election and a new Liberal promise has now thrust the issue on to the electoral and media stages as much as they can elbow away Covid.

Struggling from a very distant second in the polls Liberal leader Wilkinson is sprinkling Liberal gold dust throughout the Province. Sprinkling may be an understatement, more a fire hose, offering to  spend billions of dollars in various parts of the Province. Like most parties who get a glimpse of some sort of electoral advantage, Mr. Wilkinson is now grasping for a possible political gain by supporting a referendum in Surrey. No concern apparently for the independence of municipal politics or the duly elected government. 

The Liberal party has three ridings in Surrey which are of interest and may be in trouble; Guildford, Panorama and Cloverdale. He and his party clearly believe that his newfound stance will play well in these areas of middle class rectitude. 

The NDP government for their part having climbed on to the shoulders of poor Dr Bonny Henry to scan the horizon, now feel that this is an opportune time to ride that Covid wave. They are in a difficult spot in Surrey as their government through the Police Services department has already approved the going forward of a new police department–at least in its initial stages. When previously approached about changing his mind, Horgan quite rightly stated that the city of Surrey has the right to go forward with their proposal. The Province has no legitimate right to intervene.  

With the Wilkinson announcement the usual rolodex of commentators have now been given some political fertilizer to spread on the idea of a referendum. They already disliked MacCallum.

The NPF is the wedge. Although political neophytes, this has not hampered their enthusiasm.

Their motivation seems simple enough—they do not want to lose the membership in their union. The Surrey detachment is a flagship in the overall contract policing environment.  It is representative of the “big city” RCMP policing model, one of only a handful throughout the entire country. To lose the biggest out of your group is not the best first step for any union. 

There are other chess pieces in this process; the NDP and their leader Mr. Horgan; the Liberals under Mr. Wilkinson. Then there are the very vocal Surrey City Counsil members Linda Annis and fellow Surrey Counsel member and former Mountie himself Jack Hundial.  The centre is held by the curmudgeonly Mayor MacCallum, the dastardly wizard pulling the levers.

The NPF using house money pouring in from their new found members have begun launching ads, enlisting supporters and putting out lawn signs (which apparently, legally, they were not allowed to do–I guess they forgot to check local bylaws) . They believe, rightly or wrongly, that they enjoy the support of all the officers of Surrey in putting up the show of a good fight. However, in speaking with officers in that detachment, one does not get a sense that all are enamoured with their new union bosses.

The NPF have enlisted local politicians to spout their platform, and are receiving encouragement from former Mounties writing in to the printed media. Including, the former head of Surrey detachment Al McIntyre and ex- Deputy Commissioner Peter German (who recently authored the report on money laundering for the Province.) With the exception of one local politician, all of these individuals are of course former RCMP officers. 

The centre piece of the NPF argument is the evidence they claim to have gained from a paid for survey that they conducted. This blogger has talked about it previously, suffice to say the veracity of the survey can be questioned. But emanating from this “survey” they are putting out narratives such as: only “14%” of the current RCMP officers would switch to a new agency. That the undertaking is “costly…unsafe…unpopular”.  

As previously eluded to, the enlisted municipal political arm for the NPF come from two clearly disgruntled politicians; Linda Annis, and to a somewhat lesser degree ex-Mountie Jack Hundial. 

Ms. Annis was a member of the Surrey First political group, finished 6th in the election for counsel and was the single survivor of the overwhelming majority won by Mayor MacCallum who won on two central issues, a separate police force and a skytrain extension. 

Annis was previously a cohort of Dianne Watts, a popular mayor who believed that this would translate into a run at the Provincial Liberal leadership. It didn’t work out for her.  Interestingly, Watts first won a seat with MacCallum’s group in 1996 but then had a falling out and went on to form her own party. 

Watts enjoyed a very bonded, some would say intimate relationship with the RCMP during her time. Annis as head of Crimestoppers B.C clearly believes she has that same connection.  

Annis currently runs an ad where she proclaims that the Surrey residents are facing “an unprecedented crisis”, that moving to a new local force would “risk public safety on an unknown, untested, and under-resourced force”.

She goes on to say that the plan will result in “chaos and significant risks to public safety around the region”. This latter argument is based on the theory that any new agency will draw out resources from other departments. The chaos and risk to public safety language is simply pandering to Twitter and the rest of the media.

So on the one hand, her argument goes—no new Mounties will want to go this agency, but on the other it will be too much of a draw on resources from all the other agencies surrounding Surrey?

Needless to say, Annis is not and has never been a supporter of MacCallum.

This fight, marching in step with the NPF reeks of being a very personal battle for her.

Councillor Jack Hundial on the other hand actually ran under MacCallum’s ticket with the Safe Surrey Coalition in the past election. He has now become a turncoat.

Clearly, no longer enamoured with the Mayor and just as clearly he has been pushed from the inner political power circle. He has now gone on to form his own group with Councillor Brenda Locke, now calling themselves Surrey Connect. The reason for this falling out is not clear. This writer has known Mr. Hundial for some time and have had many personal discussions working together–usually about the failings of the RCMP. So this sea change to retain the RCMP on a personal level seems somewhat out of sync.

The talk media, especially CKNW has a very historical connection to the Liberal party. Remember Christy Clark’s radio show? They are equally motivated by the fact that they do not like MacCallum, never have. He won’t go on their shows.

Linda Annis on the other hand answers on the first ring and appears almost daily.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Indo Canadian Voice newspaper says Annis politicking “hysteria knows no bounds” and says that the enlisting of Peter German “is an utter disgrace”.

So what should we take from all this? 

First and foremost, the call for a referendum may be legally flawed.  

Furthermore, all of this debate  has little to do with the facts or the actual possible transition to another police force. The debate and the call for a referendum has descended into parochial politics. 

There is one guarantee. The cost of policing in Surrey is going to increase dramatically regardless of who wins this debate and the political tug of war. 

What the anti-MacCallum forces don’t mention is that the RCMP is currently in negotiation with the Treasury Board for a pay raise. A pay raise that will be retroactive to 2017. The RCMP has already warned the municipalities that they are currently projecting a 2.5% increase per year. 

This 2.5% increase would mean a $3600 per year per officer— or roughly $2.8 million per year. Over three years $8.6 million just to catch up. Let’s not forget that the RCMP, the very same NPF who argues about the Mounties being cheaper is arguing for a 17% increase, not a 7 or 8% increase. 

On the other side the transition to a new Force is currently projected to increase policing costs by 10 or 11%. Many argue that this figure is too low and there is not enough transparency to make a full determination. They could be right, but any transition costs money. For the opposition to now argue that the electorate did not think  it would cost any money to commit to a transfer is a bit specious. 

The voters of Surrey were and seem to have been asking for a transition for greater accountability and an ability to set local policing priorities in terms of resourcing and policing initiatives. How much are they willing to pay for that extra accountability and local input would be very difficult to measure. 

The referendum advocates clearly want to couch any future question to the electorate as a question of whether people want to see their taxes go up.  Do you know any group of taxpayers who would answer in the positive? (By the way it also costs money to run a referendum.)

Walmart is the largest private employer in the world, and the RCMP is the largest police force in Canada. Maybe, there are some similarities.

But remember, Walmart keeps prices down –partly because they proudly state that they don’t believe in unions — the Mounties now have the NPF. 

The NPF is arguing that they must keep the Mounties, they are cheaper, while also stating that they need to hire more RCMP officers. But, to the Federal Treasury Board they are saying the Mounties are worth much, much more. 

Conundrums, Aisle 5.

Dear Jennifer…

Ms. Strachan, let me be one of the first to welcome you back to beautiful British Columbia — the land of the highest gas prices, mountains, water, big trees, horrendous traffic, and where the Green Party has a pulse.

Being a born and raised Okanagan girl, no doubt you are feeling the geographic magnet that is B.C., and like Dorothy in Oz, you probably wanted to return– as there is no place like home. So with a click of those RCMP high-browns and the nod from Wizard Lucki you are now on your way.

It’s been awhile, over 16 years since you were in the policing world here in Lotus land and a lot of things have changed, so I feel bound by some inexplicable duty to give you at least a heads up on what to expect.

Let us first deal with the politicians in this land who you may end up spending some time with considering your new role. The Green party has locked arms with the NDP to see who can be more righteous; who can spend the most money, and clearly would have a love for any future unionized RCMP. It is a mixed political blessing though, as they are not pro-police necessarily, more in favour of groups like the Pivot Legal society, or the Elizabeth Fry Society.

The Federal world of Justin Trudeau and their policies still have an audience out here, even though they seem to be in a political free fall in the other parts of the country.

So don’t be fooled by the blooming Conservatism of the west throughout the Prairies. The right leanings of political philosophy has not seeped over the mountains, conservatism is merely a mirage in this marihuana infused land. There is more chance of Jody Emery being elected out here than a Jason Kenney.

President Bush was chasing Saddam Hussein when you left B.C.and the Americans were about to invade Iraq.

Paul Martin was the Liberal Prime Minister (probably one of the last times the budget was balanced).

Giuliano Zaccardelli was the Commissioner of the RCMP (who was impugned for irregularities in the management of the Pension and Insurance fund).

The RCMP was heralding the first female officer to be placed on an Emergency Response Team and the wave of female empowerment was in its infancy.

This unparalleled growth in female advancement is being mentioned because Commissioner Lucki decided that in announcing your move to head up E Division, she felt that she needed to underline your gender and not your curriculum vitae. It is a bit of the elephant in the room when it comes to the succession plan for E Division.

Ms. Lucki seems pretty one dimensional so far, aiming to fulfill her proscribed and dictated agenda, but in including you she makes you appear as a pawn in her Liberal sanctioned corporate strategy. It clearly drew attention to the possibility that your gender was a central characteristic that was needed for one to get this job. In the end it detracts from your resume, taints the appointment, and tends to confirm thoughts of the older guard.

For the record, I don’t believe the average RCMP officer gives a whit as to whether you are a woman, a man, or a variation of the two. Whether you are green, brown, wearing a turban, or wearing a Scottish tam means nothing in the current real world of policing. Gender does not imbue anyone with intelligence or leadership skills although it is quite clear that the two are equated in government corridors of power.

Putting all that aside, you are here to replace Butterworth-Carr, who heralded not only her femaleness, but her indigenous background, and she had zero impact. She didn’t stay long, enticed by an offer to join the politicos in Victoria. She used a quick stay on the job to springboard into the double-dipping pool, no doubt financially setting herself up for a lucrative run towards pension. It is hoped that you may still a little longer, as the wheels of government turn very slowly, the ability to have any impact takes years not weeks, so some time on the job is needed.

You will be hampered upon your arrival as senior members of the RCMP demographic bubble are leaving, the experienced baby-boomers are reaching their logistical end. Some, like Butterworth-Carr, have discovered a tunnel under the Georgia Strait which leads directly to the Provincial government coffers. The sands of time are changing, whether that is good or bad we will see, but there is little doubt it is creating a vacuum in terms of experience.

Since your departure from the West, almost the entire latter half of your career seems to have been focused on O Division and HQ.

You were the District Commander for N.E. Ontario from 2009-2012; then the Officer in Charge of Criminal Operations in Ontario (interesting in that in Ontario the RCMP is not responsible for most criminal investigations) from 2012-2016; then up the ladder once again to being the Commanding Officer of O Division from 2016-2018.

And of course what resume would be complete in this day and age without being the Officer in Charge of Operations Policy and Programs in Contract and Indigenous Policing in Ottawa. You then followed that by becoming Deputy Commissioner for “Specialized Policing Services”. A steady rise for sure but I will admit to being a little concerned about this rather central Canada version of the RCMP being the substantive part of your resume.

You probably don’t need to be reminded that there is a big gap between O and E, not just a couple of vowel spaces. The fact that you survived and thrived in this non-contract world can be either seen as a plus or a minus. You may be commended or condemned for being able to breath deeply in this rarefied air, as it is a milieu where most of us in the contracts would often feel out of place.

O Division has often been accused of riding and hiding behind the curtain of Federal statutes, where a lack of enforcement and investigational strength is a theme common to those that have worked in both areas. Enforcing such Federal statutes as the Migratory bird Act; or watching the Indigenous hustling cigarettes back and forth from the U.S; or helping illegal immigrants with their luggage; has never been considered the leading edge of police investigation know-how.

This lack of operational acuity has been the standard slam against this Province for years, whether management admits to this operational schizophrenia or not. Another example showed up in the last few days, in the Mark Norman case, serious questions are now being raised about this two year investigation in Ontario which resulted in a single charge. It has been stayed as the defence counsel seems to have been a little more thorough in their inquiries than the police officers that conducted the investigation and there are implications of political interference in the process. Further Mountie embarrassment is on the horizon.

The Force in general has not had such a smooth ride for the last couple of decades and there has been a number of serious setbacks during the time that you were part of the RCMP management power group. A growing legacy of mismanagement whether looking at the carbine issue, internal sexual harassment, and a large number of failed investigations.

Mountie salaries in relation to other agencies have tanked. Recruitment is down. Staffing levels have dwindled to lows never seen before. The Mounties are being questioned over their actions at every turn, whether it be the shooting on Parliament Hill, or the latest, the Mark Norman investigation.

I am not sure of what role you may or may not have played during this last number of years but there is no doubt you have been either a witness or a participant in some of the inane programs and policies which have left this agency in a state of major disrepair. It would be interesting to hear your take and historical role in this troubled time. Actually, it would be nice to finally hear from someone, anyone, of this management era who would admit to the errors, the wrongdoing, and try to set the record straight. Not crocodile tear apologies for things like harassment, but clear, concise explanations as to things like $100 million settlements. Maybe I am asking for too much.

The RCMP in its official bio of you points to your “passion for supporting others”. In 2014 you were given the Ontario Women in Law Enforcement award for the “Mentor of the Year Award”, and then in front of the International Association of Women Police you were also given a “Mentor of the Year Award”. Clearly a 21st century new policing virtue but who knew there was such a thing. Hard to argue with someone who wants to support you though.

You have been away from the dirt and grime of contract policing, living and breathing the filtered world of a Mountie in Ontario. Previously, you were in the corridors of subject matter experts, puffed up self-important people wandering in that dazed mind numbing bureaucracy all spouting pithy truisms at any opportunity.

You have now been freed and at a time in your career where you are un-flammable.

You are back to the heart of the RCMP Criminal operations block, where your Masters degree in “conflict analysis and management” will no doubt come in handy. You are being thrown into a logjam of a multitude of unaddressed and unattended issues, compounded by lacklustre stints of some of your predecessors.

You are about to be thrown into the wolfs lair. E Division with its constant stream of issues can eat and will eat managers up so you need to be careful.

I am hoping that this will be seen by you as a chance to speak out.

My primary recommendation is to be honest and straightforward and speak to the issues. Let’s hear what the RCMP stance will be if the Surrey RCMP get ousted; let’s hear what you are going to do about the vast understaffing that is in all corners of the Force; lets hear about gender and diversity promotions and your view of this dictated policy; lets hear about the politicization of the police force mandated role, which clearly is in full swing in Ottawa; and lets hear about upcoming unionization of the RCMP.

Even if one is able to be exposed to a truly honest appraisal of the issues and opens up the debate to real dialogue, you will have accomplished something not seen in many years in this Province.

The issues surrounding the RCMP will seem endless and at times look very bleak. The constant pablum being fed to the officers of just “you’re doing a great job” is both insulting and demeaning to their intelligence. Talking openly and honestly would be a breath of fresh air.

I am not optimistic, but I stand to be corrected, and will gladly sing the laurels of someone who walks the walk, speaks to the issues and puts on display possible solutions. It seems counter-intuitive that one needs to seek an open and honest management group from a police institution, but sadly this is now the case. It has been missing and it has caused irreparable harm.

Once that is all done, then you can go and enjoy your retirement….

I do wish you the best….

Signed:

A once faithful servant

Photo courtesy of CTV News via Google Images- Some Rights Reserved

Historical Unsolved Homicides…the value of the past…….

Hundreds of bankers boxes– dusty, worn and frayed at the edges, worn down by the weight of other boxes stacked on top, often damp in the corners, all lodged in inconspicuous backroom places. Out of sight and mostly out of mind, they are spread throughout this Province and the other Provinces; the responsibility of the RCMP, the OPP, the QPP and various scattered Municipal agencies. Historical mysteries sitting, undisturbed, and now in danger of being lost forever. 

Each box has scrawled on it in black marker, a number the start of which indicates the year of the file box being created; 73-1234 or 98-5678 indicating 1973 and 1998. Most will have a surname, also written on the outside of the box, underneath the number, the first indication of the box containing information on a life lived and in all likelihood a life taken abruptly away. A snapshot of a moment in time, life stories, lives abruptly ended. 

If one lifts the uniformly folded cardboard lids and peek inside one finds manila folders, each folder containing assorted government styled papers, each folder numbered, implying some form of organization. The order of importance often seems haphazard. There will be original documents, photocopies, carbon copies, compact discs, floppy discs, even blueprints and loosely bound photographs.  Each document part of a whole, each pointing to a dramatic and often gruesome ending to a life. 

Shoved into these boxes will be exhibits, exhibit reports, and boxes of 3 x 5  index cards, clues as to the relevance of the folders. Sometimes there are many of these boxes, with this same name, or number; the more numerous the boxes the more likely that this was a long case, or a more complicated case, or a case involving more than one person. The breadth and depth of the case in direct correlation to the weight and the number of  volumes. 

In police parlance these are “dormant” cases. Technically “open” or “still under investigation” as the police like to intone when asked; but they are in a deep state of slumber, never to be awoken unless something out of the ordinary occurs. Maybe a dictated annual review, which is usually sporadicly enforced, will sometimes force a reluctant officer to pull the case from the storage room, check the final pages for any “new” information and generally meander through the boxes.

Then, under most circumstances the boxes get put back, back into the darkened rooms, a single page added indicating that there has been no change in the contained information.  Some boxes may be difficult to even find.  

The paper or original information in these boxes is now being lost, inexorably beaten up by time itself and inadequate physical storage.  They all contain the most intimate of stories, real stories of people, their backgrounds, their lifestyles and their fates.  Some of the people in these boxes have prematurely met the ultimate fate, their deaths by a variety of methods only limited by the depravity and the darkness of the human spirit. Long gone to the eyes of the original investigators, but probably not forgotten. Every old investigator cognizant of the one that got away. 

They have not been solved, the killer remains free in the world, unless time and circumstances has also caught up with them as well. 

If one believes that history, or that records of the past are important,  or that every effort should be made to solve any murder, then you may be interested in this story. For this is a story of a largely ignored problem by the RCMP and other Municipal forces and the single attempt at a proposed solution, one which proved ultimately futile. 

This is a story of a need to archive and preserve police files.  It admittedly has never been fashionable to be interested in the library sciences, or the  similar but more current world of digital archiving.  It conjures up images of dusty books, microfiche and bespectacled introspective librarians, lonely figures confined to being the keepers of untold secrets. 

This is not to say that there is not public interest in unsolved homicides; one can tune into the many Netflix docs, the CBC, read Wikipedia, or the Vancouver Sun and find stories of historical murders, served up in some form of sensationalist fashion. The RCMP post pictures of historical victims and the Coroners office publicly maps out found remains cases. Unfortunately, this is mainly public fodder and a needle in the haystack in terms of trying to solve some of these cases, designed more to entice the reader or the watcher, designed for instagram investigators, not a serious study of this dark world nor a studied attempt to make a dent in the growing pile of the unsolved.   

There is an actual need for a concentrated effort to preserve, to digitize these paper files, to capture forever the information that could be lost to deterioration and neglect. 

In this Province and for most other parts of Canada, there is a relatively short historical period of time which is of primary concern. This is mainly the period from 1960 to 2003,  the dominant ages of the paper files in this relatively new country.

In general, around 2003 many police agencies slowly began to go to electronic formats, although it varies by jurisdiction. The paper format was gradually replaced, electronic data finally being made acceptable as a possible original document pushed by the quickly developing technical advancements.

It is somewhat ironic to understand that the paper age has an actual shelf life longer than the digital age, with experts estimating that paper, if properly preserved, has a life of about 50-100 years. (In our now digital storage era, the shelf life of electronic documents is only 10-20 years. Some think that since the newer material has been electronically filed it will last in perpetuity– a largely false belief.) 

However, now the paper files are of the most immediate concern. They are   reaching the end of their shelf lives, the ink is beginning to fade, the photos are beginning to deteriorate and the memories of the investigators are becoming faulty. 

The numbers of unsolved homicide files that are on “paper” in this Province are somewhat daunting. In 2016, when this blogger began to look at this issue, there were 900-1300 unsolved homicides held by the RCMP in the Province of British Columbia alone. There was another 200-300 which would be the responsibility of the Municipal Forces and there is no evidence to suggest that those Municipal agencies have been any better than the RCMP in their preservation. If one draws this issue outward, on a national basis, the situation would be magnified by 10 times. 

In British Columbia and in the Lower Mainland, since the birth of the Integrated Homicide and Investigation Team, they alone have generated at least another additional  300 “unsolved homicides”.  To be sure, those files are being captured in an electronic format, but not a format that is in a consistent with other agencies, nor are they in a position to be integrated and compared to other similar data bases. So the problem of being able to archive and preserve all information, on a fundamental basis, is growing every year. Solvency rates are also declining– further exasperating the issue. 

The police agencies are rarely asked about this archiving problem, but on that rare occasion that they are, the blame is usually placed on the constantly shifting policing priorities and jurisdictions. It simply has not been operational priority. 

Even if reviewed, there is no digitization of the file, so the only electronic reference to this file may be a name or a file number. The contents are not available to investigators without fully and physically reviewing the paper file. If an investigator feels an ongoing investigation may have some relevance to a historical file, whether it be a suspect or some other circumstance, they would need to go back and physically review the entire file, maybe on just a chance of finding some opaque reference. 

There is no cross-pollination of the information contained in those files, none of the more recent files can see or compare information on their files to older investigations.

The police agencies have a public relations mantra which is that no file is ever “closed” without it being solved. Technically they are right in their assertions, they don’t put a big “CH” (Concluded Here) on the file, but they are being totally misleading. They are trying to generate the impression that they are active and constructively reviewing and comparing these files on a regular basis. That is not true.

They are not digitizing these older files, and they are not actively investigating these files.  The only salvation for police management is that the public simply doesn’t know; the public assume wrongly, that all police files are instantly and readily available to all homicide investigators. 

There is one exception in this Province in terms of units re-investigating historical files in the RCMP. That is the Unsolved Homicide Unit of about 10-20 officers who review old files and selectively work historic files. Sounds good, but one needs to consider that each team in the group, may only take a new file every 8 months or so.

The other bit of sleight of hand is that the Unsolved Unit actually re-investigates only the “solved files”; files where a suspect has actually been already identified, but where for some reason the file was not being worked. It is hard to explain, but the fact is there are many files that have already identified suspects, but for one reason or another have been neglected. These files alone keep this unit busy and it only makes sense in terms of productivity to go for the low hanging fruit. 

Now if you optimistically assume that this group does 3-5 files per year, you can easily do the math and see the finger in the dyke problem here.  There is no way to catch up or even make a dent in the pile. It is not for lack of effort by this relatively small unit, it is just a matter of numbers. 

 

https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2018001/article/54980-eng.htm

The preservation of historic information is finally being recognized in various forms throughout the rest of society as various organizations are striving to cope with this growing issue.

Interestingly, some locations are actually using police inspired methods to try and solve their respective archiving problems.

At Harvard University they are in the process of trying to develop an operating system for capturing their paper and digital archives using workflow modelled after “police forensic standards”. The idea is to “create, authenticate, unimpeachable source data….” at a standard that would make the archive “suitable as evidence in a criminal trial”. Now, if capturing hundreds of homicide investigations seems to be a difficult task, Harvard is attempting to go back 375 years of history.

The problems they are encountering are similar to the police issues; files with floppy discs, zip drives, tapes, and cassettes. So they are not only capturing the information, they are also preserving the techniques that are needed to retrieve that data.

In California, in a former San Francisco Church, Brewster Kahle continues with the goal he started with in the 1990’s, which was to curate and create an “Internet Archive”. His lofty goal? To save all the world’s information.

Even to the pessimist he has been quite successful: 435 billion web pages have been preserved, 7 million books, 2.1 million audio recordings, and 1.8 million videos have been preserved and digitized, and now accessible to the Public. This archive draws 2-3 million visitors daily.

This is to say that although the archiving and digitizing of police homicide files seems both time consuming and manpower intensive, it is doable. It pales in comparison to these more ambitious projects and one would think that the goal of preserving these investigations and their contents dealing with the most heinous of crimes should be a laudable goal. But so far neither the police, or their respective government administrations, feel that is part of their duty or responsibility.

Which leads me to the more personal and subjective 2nd half of this story.

For two years, the writer of this blog, along with a couple of associates joined with the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies (ICURS) and the School of Applied Science in a proposal on a non-profit basis to digitally archive these old historic homicide files.

It was supported by many people including the former RCMP head of E Division, a former VP and CIO for BC Hydro, the Dean of the school of Applied Science, and the School of Criminology at SFU.

Without going into all the details, the business plan outlined the logistics of locating files and moving them to a secure facility where the paper files would be reviewed, scanned, and converted to a digital format, one that would eventually be shared by all those participating. The reviewing would be done by PHD students in combination with the departments of Applied Science. SFU was motivated by being able to have access to a vast database for research purposes and the hands on review would give students ideas for that research.

There were many hurdles to overcome, as one would guess; security clearances, privacy issues, physical security issues, evidence chains, research controls and results, database construction, expert and standards of review, personnel, exhibit issues, and photo issues.

This is just to name a few of the problems, but over a two year period, these questions were for the most part answered and a proposal was put forward to the RCMP and the Vancouver City Police.

Initially the RCMP expressed interest, each meeting leading to a few more questions on how the operation will be housed and how it will work. Budget issues often came up (we estimated that it would take a financial commitment of 1/2 of 1% of the RCMP E Division Policing budget) The biggest concern of course, was the RCMP turning over, at least temporarily, unsolved homicide investigations to an outside party, even though they would have the appropriate security clearances. At one time they even proposed the possibility of giving up space inside their HQ at Green Timbers to get around this continuity issue.

The possible expandability of this proposal was obvious. Other Municipal agencies, other Provinces, and in a utopia, a database of all unsolved homicide files in the country. One could also bring in the solved files, as they too could have links to other investigations and be of great value.

Of course all the information would be owned by the agencies themselves, and throughout there would be oversight by those same police agencies.

“Digital 229” was the Project name and it was a non-profit enterprise. No one involved was paid during this two year period, all the extra effort was put in on a volunteer basis.

So what happened?

It was a surprise to some, but not a surprise to others who felt all along that the RCMP would have a difficult time ever climbing out of the proverbial operational “box”, the inability to go against the way it was always done.

There is no clear answer as to why the idea died. In the end, we were not given a reason which made any sense. It was un-ceremonious to say the least, as we only heard through the grapevine that negotiations had been terminated; nobody made any direct contact with any of the parties involved.

After many attempted phone connections to re-ignite the business plan, an Inspector (who had not ever been involved in the process) wrote to us and gave up an excuse over needing “sole source funding”, which had also been previously addressed, as the reason of not going forward.

Was this the real reason? We don’t think so. It was clear this officer was directed to kill the project at the direction of some higher ups and to come up with some justification for it.

At one of the original meetings with the heads of the E Division RCMP one officer said he had one question. “What if you guys uncover a number of files that need further investigation?” In other words, if this process we proposed actually assisted in solving some files or pointing to possible suspects, where would they find the resources to re-investigate them?

I’ll admit to being slightly dumbfounded, the question seemed to indicate that the police were concerned about the actual solving of homicides. This was a through the looking-glass moment, a parallel reality where the police were actually more concerned about political administrative repercussions more than the actual solving of cases.

But, so ended an extensive effort to address the unsolved homicides in this Province.

It was and is disappointing of course. What we clearly lacked was a political incentive, one fired up by government.

A few years ago in 2010, the National Inquiry into Missing and Indigenous Women was announced. Their mandate in particular was to dig into the police handling of these Indigenous files. Sources tell me that E Division quickly found a number of officers to travel the Province and review all of these files, clearly in the hope that there would be no problems uncovered.

Of course, they reviewed all these files and then wrote a report, but we have been told they were not converted to digital files.

The RCMP had no problem funding these specific reviews nor in finding the personnel to conduct the inquiries.

So while you routinely watch Netflix, or tune in to CBC True Detective, and assume the mantel of being the next Columbo, one should realize there is a far better way of actually impacting this problem. Less dramatic for sure, but truly effective.

They are currently ignoring the history and one knows what happens when you ignore history.

So the files sit in the boxes, languishing in the file rooms, all in need of a boring librarian. We can see them and touch them, they are contained, but they are hidden from view. The veil of secrecy enshrouds them, protecting them from public scrutiny.

It would seem that at the very least it is owed to the families who have been touched in the most profound way possible. We need to preserve their stories. And maybe, just maybe, give them actual hope. A concentrated and earnest academic effort is needed to make this possible.

As to the suspects, the criminals who killed and remain unaccountable–maybe it’s time for that slogan from history to be resurrected, you know the one, the one where the Mounties “always get their man”.

After all, the past causes the present and so the future.

Photo courtesy of the kirbster via Flickr Commons – Some rights reserved

Alas, the Emperor has no Clothes…

In British Columbia, or E Division (just for this blog we will let the E stand for Emperor) there has been one area of investigation where the RCMP has been woefully inadequate, for at least a couple of decades, whether one wants to measure it statistically or in terms of impactful effort.

In the last couple of weeks, that weakness has been revealed and underscored once again, this time by the NDP government and former RCMP Peter German, in a report on money laundering, a significant sub-set in the general category of financial crime.

Inside the police community it has been well known for quite some time, that the RCMP has ignored “white collar crime”, both in term of the allocation of funds or personnel. An often quoted inside joke amongst members in talking about job transfers, was throughout their career how they had ducked and avoided being assigned to the the “fraud” section. A small reflection perhaps, but this attitude of avoiding the financial investigative groups in terms of a possible career, is not a phenomena of the last couple of years.

The growth of internet crime in the 1990’s has thrown fuel on to this constantly burning flame and left Canada with a reputation of being a safe harbour for the financial criminal. This type of crime has often been portrayed as the “victimless” crime, after all the only ones being hurt were those cold-hearted bastions of industry– the banks. The police held this view for the longest time, equally guilty of looking the other way, the problem not worthy of serious examination or study. Even today, in terms of “strategic priorities” you will find it listed fifth, right after “youth” and the “indigenous”.

This lack of a concentrated effort has now been exposed once again, this time spurred on by a new found public and media interest who have taken to conflating money laundering with inflated real estate prices. Of course, there are many fundamental economic issues causing high prices in Vancouver but the one that seems to grate on the middle affluent is the thought of illegal monies from mainland China driving up the price in real estate or on luxury cars. Of course, there are also direct links to drug dealing and therefore the opioid crisis, the other hot button issue. The monies have been traveling through the only pipeline they seem to be able to build in this Province, the one of elastic bound $20 dollar bills pushed through the conduits provided by the casinos.

In the lastest instalment BC Attorney General David Eby called a press conference to discuss a finding of Peter German in his 2nd report on the subject in this Province. Eby claimed to have been so shocked by an early edition of these latest findings that he felt it necessary to go to the public now, not waiting for the entire 2nd report.

So what was the shocking revelation for the NDP?

Well, Peter German being the intrepid former RCMP officer that he was, decided to ask how many officers were actually on the job in terms of investigating money laundering?

The answer: Zero.

Now, one would think that this information would have been known before this time, as it seems like an obvious avenue of inquiry, even for us lesser informed. At the beginning of this inquiry it would have seemed logical to search out who the investigative experts were in the field? Apparently not.

The original answer of course was not zero.

We would not be able to identify the RCMP involvement, if they did not, at the very least try to cover or fudge the actual numbers, hoping of course that there was only the one question; no follow up, no probing allowed.

The RCMP answer to German was that there was 26 “positions” .

German knows the code of when the answer is “positions” and knew enough to then ask, well how many were actually filling those 26 positions?

Answer 11.

German decided to dig further and asked of those 11 how many were actually on the job?

Answer 5.

And those 5 that were actually showing up to work, he persisted, what were they doing?

Well, long pause, they are just packaging and referring all files to the Provincial Civil Forfeiture group.

Thus the secret was out of the bag. Afterword, if you had listened closely and put your ear to the ground outside Green Timbers, you would have heard the sound of bodies scrambling in and out of conference rooms, frantic terse phone calls, the bumping together of the police and political brains entrusted with these matters — stumbling and mumbling on how could they justify such an apparent illustration of lack of operational effort.

Even for those adroit at media manipulation in the “Strategic Communications unit” must have been struggling, proposing spins that at the very least would have been difficult to say with a straight face.

Bill Blair (who had apparently been warned by Eby and given an early copy of the report) started off by admitting that indeed there had been “significant cuts” in some of the Federal units. Then his political survival senses kicked in, and the Liberal godfather of pot began his spin: “We have made very significant announcement in Budget 2019, restoring the RCMP capacity and making significant new investments in intelligence gathering and furthering steps that will facilitate investigation and the prosecution of money laundering offences”. So in translation this means; yup, we haven’t been doing anything so far, but look out now, we are coming with guns blazing.

Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett who is becoming remarkably proficient with this kind of yarn spinning, no doubt through un-wanted practise, came up with a buzz worthy comment calling the report and the findings only a “snapshot in time”. If it was indeed a snapshot it must have been taken on a Polaroid One Step.

But like Blair, Hackett when prompted feels the need to beef up his response. He said that the report “didn’t capture all personnel who are involved in cases where money laundering is a component”. He goes on to say that there are over 40 prioritized “projects” underway, and guess what, they found out that “8 of them involve money laundering.” One wonders what standard may be in play here. For instance, a drug dealer being investigated who has a house or a car, could be referred to as being a possible “money laundering” case, using this criteria.

We should also point out that it would be somewhat negligent to not understand a bit of Peter German’s former history with the RCMP. Just six years ago, German was a high ranking officer in the RCMP, the Deputy Commissioner in fact, and as such was at one time technically overseeing financial investigations throughout Canada. He was in charge during the time of the Integrated Marketing Enforcement Teams. Remember them? They were “equipped to respond swiftly to major capital market fraud”. It was by any measure a total flop with three cases brought to court during their first nine years in existence. In essence these positions have been now rolled into the BC Securities Commission, but the RCMP still have a difficult time in providing an adequate minor level of trained officers.

In his 31 years with the RCMP, German did use his time wisely, earning an MA in Public Policy and a Phd in Law from the University of London. He apparently transitioned into an expert in the area of money laundering, wrote a book on it in fact. So someone at the 2nd highest rank in the RCMP (and was rumoured to be in contention for the Commissioner ) and was responsible for areas such as money laundering, did not make a dent in this problem or more importantly did not at least become vocal about the issue while in a policing position. But now, retired and running his own consulting business he has been hired to write a report on the problem of money laundering and throw dirt at the Mounties for their lack of effort. This is not to day say that this makes his report of little value, Mr. German is a well respected learned fellow, so quite the contrary, but one has to appreciate the irony.

Those of course are just the Federal job positions. What has the Province been doing? Well the Liberals being the party in power for most of this time in question have many questions that need to be answered, and the NDP is for the most part still able to feign ignorance.

Ex-RCMP and whistle blower Joe Schalk was the Senior Director of Investigations for BC’s Gaming and Enforcement Branch and was reporting this issue for many years, as early as 2012.

This branch at the time reported to the B.C. Lottery Corporation who would have received many of the reports issued pointing out the problem. They apparently didn’t like the attention it was getting and inevitably the relationship between the two groups began to deteriorate.

In April 2014, the Ministry of Finance conducted a review of BCLC and concluded that the two groups had become dysfunctional and “adversarial”. They recommended a full review of the entire Corporation. Meanwhile, in 2014 Schalk was fired for his efforts, a victim of the old management game very prevalent in this Province, that if you don’t like the message shoot the messenger.

Even with this kind of attention and concern, BCLC, according to German, was still accepting government awards for their exemplary performance.

Schalk was finally exonerated in German’s report for “nailing the issue” and continues to speak openly about the issue, even calling for a full public inquiry. The NDP are still holding back on such an inquiry, no doubt worried that if they let “it” hit the proverbial fan, how much is going to blow back on them.

As said earlier, this is all just one component of a much larger problem in this Province and in this country which has taken root and many can share in the blame; besides the police, Federal and Provincial governments, Crown Counsel offices.

In a recent poll, 36% of Canadian organizations say they have been victimized by white collar crime.

There is the fallacy that most of this crime is too sophisticated to detect, when in fact 61 % of that crime is done by a perpetrator inside the organization. The cost for this; 1 in 10 organizational victims are in excess of $5 million.

According to Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, organized financial crime, including debit and credit card fraud, totals over $5 billion per year. That works out to a cost of roughly $600 per family in Canada.

Canada has produced some famous fraudsters in the past; Harold Ballard the now deceased but former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who was convicted of 47 counts of tax evasion, Alan Eagleson the hockey agent, and Conrad Black who in 2007 was convicted of using $60 million in company funds. Mr. Black, now apparently reformed, writes a column for the National Post.

Among the 35 member countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) bid rigging, cartels, and collusion are estimated to add 20% in costs to any government procurement initiative around the world.

Suffice to say, it is fair comment that there are some financial crime issues in Canada, not just British Columbia.

The RCMP web sites are misleading and have not been updated if one was ever trying to untangle and look behind this bureaucratic veil of secrecy. There are still references to IPOC (Integrated Proceeds of Crime) who on their site point to successes in 2006 and 2009. They are references to IMET (Integrated Market Enforcement Team) which have virtually disappeared, many members re-assigned, some others melding into the BC Securities Commission. IPOC was reviewed back in 2010 by Public Safety Canada and described their operations being severely impacted by “partners leaving…vacancy…staff turnovers..and recruitment issues..are all contributing to less than optimal performance” . It wasn’t working even then.

The RCMP still list having 27 Commercial Crime Sections across the country. They don’t really.

Re-organization in the RCMP has become a dogma, which has been combining and mutating with aggressive promotions and the push to specialization. It has been in full swing over the last number of years and German even makes reference to 2013 as being one of the recent turning points in this current system.

To understand the depth of the problem, one has to understand the depth of the re-organization, and the vast number of personnel involved.

There are four groups of agencies involved with the potential to be involved in money laundering and other associated financial crimes. The RCMP, CFSEU-BC, OCABC, and JIGIT. (Never doubt for a moment the policing ability to come up with acronyms- JIGIT being a personal favourite)

The RCMP has a Federal group named the Federal Serious and Organized Crime Unit (FSOC). It is in this group that you will find a series of Teams and officers (a team usually being about eight). It was about 2013 that various separate departments, drug sections, commercial crime sections etc. got rolled under this Federally controlled apparatus. Operational direction and the assigning of priorities began coming from Ottawa, national priorities were going to outweigh local or Provincial authorities.

Two of the teams in this FSOC deal now with Financial crimes and supposedly have some expertise in the money laundering field. Of course this is the group that German was told had 26 positions, but there were only 5 actually working, and those 5 were simply bundling up investigations and passing the information to BC Civil Forfeiture (yes, another group).

Sources estimate that there is about a 30% vacancy rate Canada wide in the Federal positions being overseen by Ottawa, and this staffing problem is clearly causing major disruptions in any consistent effort in any of these specialized fields.

Besides FSOC and the RCMP, then there is the CSFEU-BC (Combined Forces Special Enforcement unit) whose primary mandate is gangs and gang activity. In addition there is OCABC (Organized Crime Agency of BC), a Provincial organization which is the new iteration of the old CLEU (Combined Law Enforcement Unit). Confused yet.

Wait, there is still JIGIT which is the Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team. This was formed in April 2016 and consists of 36 police officers and over 200 civilian personnel. They claim to have 8 active investigations. At first glance, no matter what file/member ratio you may employ, this seems pretty light.

CSFEU-BC and OCA-BC are both managed by a Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP; in this case, Mr. Hackett. So you can see why he feels the need to defend. In his defence he very cleverly talks about the investigations inside CFSEU (40 ongoing investigations) thus avoiding outing the Feds.

The Senior Management team has representatives from all of the agencies, OCA, RCMP and CFSEU.

CFSEU and OCABC has over 400 officers and civilians.

When you consider the number of personnel involved in all these groups combined, it would seem difficult to argue that the number of officers is insufficient.

What may be the crux of the problem, what the issue at its core may be more simple at least in broad terms.

The RCMP has a now ingrained inability to be forthright; the inability to say things were tried and didn’t work, the inability to speak to their political masters and say there is not enough resources to be all things to all people. The no job too small or “doing more with less” is a never ending conundrum that leads nowhere.

Like all government groups, failure is not and can not be an admitted option. Everything is always a success, no matter how dismal the effort or how big the lie. Honesty about their lack or strength of effort has been side-lined and obfuscation is the media tool.

They just can not bring themselves to admit that they can not do it all. They are no longer capable of being a one stop shop on the Federal or Provincial level. When you combine this with low priority being given to financial crime, with the concurrent need for highly specialized academic personnel, what results is a smorgasbord of uncoordinated piece meal investigational files on all levels. Any substantial efforts are being frustrated from the very start and often met with failure. (You will note that we haven’t mentioned the most recent abject recent failure in the Silver International Investments case, which deserves attention on its own)

Throw in governments always in flux who are continually altering the political priorities, a dis-connected Ottawa, insufficient funding in both the needed technology and personnel and a recalcitrant justice system and you end up with zero prosecutions.

The same number now apparently working on money laundering.

Christine Duhaime, an financial crime and money laundering specialist with Duhaime Law said “It’s pretty serious, it’s saying there is no oversight and no real enforcement in this area for the whole province–it’s a little bit crazy”.

A telling snapshot for sure, let’s hope that someone, sometime, takes a look at the issue with a little longer lens.

Photo via Flickr Commons by Andrew Kuchling – Some Rights Reserved

And then there were none….

Last night I re-watched the 1976 movie “All the Presidents Men”; the story of an investigative journalistic effort that led to the discovery of the illegal activities of The Committee to Re-Elect, and then to President Richard Nixon himself. In the end there were many guilty pleas, and the resignation of the President himself. The two year long investigative reporting was unprecedented, and may be never duplicated in our current climate as we head forward, where we seem to only want news fixes, like a junkie in the alley looking for a cap of heroin. We want this short burst of adrenalin laced news feeding our eyes and not our heads, before we duly nod off.

The parallels to the situation in the U.S. in 1974 to today, become obvious upon review, almost startling. The Trump presidency is difficult to even fathom, but in no way do I think that Trump and the family lackeys who are already proven liars, are not capable of further deception, not capable of illegalities, in order to maintain their power.

The positive side of this, in some backward fashion, at least in the short term, has been the rejuvenation of an active and determined group of journalists who have now tasted blood. They have the resources, and the experience to both confront the administration and write about it. Even more importantly, they seem to have the backbone necessary to withstand the onslaught of government power run amok, who try to bend, or deny each and every story with a spin that is both dangerous and sometimes laughable.

The Washington Post and the New York Times seem to be the central figures in this relentless daily battle with the truth. Both are decorated newspapers. The Washington Post with Woodward and Bernstein were the central figures in the Watergate matters in 1974, which brought down Nixon. And here again the Post is providing in-depth laudatory coverage of the daily crisis, which is the Trump Whitehouse.

Before Trump, both newspapers were in financial trouble, both cutting personnel and funding. Since Trump, their subscriptions have increased and they have been given a temporary respite from the unenviable and seemingly inevitible dwindling of subscriptions.

The sourcing of their stories, and protecting those stories is relentless. Anybody with an interest in how to conduct, and source investigations should take note. This is not an easy undertaking, their jobs are often on the line should they misspeak or be wrong in any of their reportage.

Where is television in all of this?  Unfortunately, in the last few years, it is trying to re-invent itself, it has become a medium, not a message. They are consumed with banner headlines, breathless “breaking news” but make no mistake, and they seem to have abandoned the time and effort needed for investigative reporting. Their  “news” is no longer journalism.

In an effort to capture the attention of the latest generation, they have come to believe, maybe correctly that this generation is only capable of 30 second attention spans. Therefore anything on video, twitter, Facebook, or trending on YouTube is re-invented as the news regardless of its worth. A good video of a cat up a tree jumps the news queue and becomes headline material. It is cheaply available, and citizens with their phones have become their “stringers” in the field, at no significant cost.

In covering Potus, the TV news groups; CNN, Fox, CBS etc. are for the most part reporting what the newspapers are writing, then putting a lot of talking heads around a dais to pontificate about it.  The more outrageous the talking head, the better the chance of capturing the eyes of the viewing public so we get the likes of Kelly-anne Conway spinning ludicrous analysis and misinformation about the latest Presidential gaff posing as policy.

In many ways, this President has mastered Twitter and the wants of the new age, and has reduced governing to a sitcom. His statements, such as the one where he talks about grabbing women by the genitals, is outrageous, but it goes no further than that, the outrageousness is the news, not the meaning or the implications.  The United States reputation around the world is now tarnished, and may not recover for some time. The United States is now reduced to being a large military with an unstable leader. Sound familiar?

Of course this lack of investigational interest is all applicable to Canada, with its smaller population concentrated around the cities and the borders with the U.S., our television is a smaller mirror image of the U.S. It is astonishing to see how much the CBC National news coverage now revolves around the U.S. trending stories. In  the last couple of days, hours of repetitive footage of the hurricane stories. Here they are able to rollick in the abundance of 10 second videos that are available showing  bent over palm trees, shot through a rain covered lens;  and of course always maintaining a look out for  a “Canadian” located in the centre of the storm to give them some relevancy to Canada.

I am not saying this big story should not be reported, but it should not be all consuming. Are there no issues in Canada worthy of some form of journalism? Of course there are, but they are hampered by this new age of video at all costs, and dwindling funds to conduct those stories. A journalistic Catch-22.

As I opined before, television should be written off as a model of investigative journalism as it simply does not exist at any measurable level, nor is it even possible in their new corporate mission statements.

Newspapers in Canada are in equally dire straits, The Globe and Mail, although business oriented still is the bell-weather of Canada’s newspapers, today they announced a couple of further layoffs.

But the other problem, although we are a highly literate country, is that we are no longer reading.

The newest generation has fallen prey to the love of convenience, wanting summaries, not depth in their reporting. Coles Notes versions, not the details. They need to be constantly fed only enough for them to form an opinion in a few seconds, and damn the details.

Of course, the devil has always been in the details.

This leaves us susceptible to being victimized by misleading or downright false reporting. We are often misled by the headlines, and only when one chooses to read the whole article does it make sense, and it is usually a more calm explanation than advertised.

We are manipulated as a result. Our own governmental agencies have learned that if they issue singular statements of little meaning, it goes unquestioned. The reporters can not be bothered to check the truthfulness of the statement as they are being pre-empted and diverted to a story which may have caught the attention of YouTube and the assignment editor. If you don’t believe me, check out what is currently trending on Youtube, or what the top 10 stories are on Reddit.

Justin Trudeau gives speech after speech making generalized statements of fixing this problem or the next. It goes un-examined for the most part, but we will get pics or video of his latest selfie canoeing, or of him photo bombing a wedding. It makes me think that Trudeau may be a Canadian version of Trump, one who has mastered social media, but but not the relevant issues, but he is young, photogenic and polite. The left in the United States think he is god like, as they too are only reading the headlines. He is a former high school drama teacher, born with a famous name and reputation, how could we not be concerned about what he actually understands.

As experienced journalists are being replaced by the young, the photogenic, who stand in front of endless monitors and fast-moving graphics (I assume it is their attempt to show they are on the cutting edge of technology), and push buttons which play the latest newly trending video.

And now the Americans have confirmed that the Russians and other intelligence agencies have figured this out. You just need to put out the headlines, no need for details, nothing gets checked.

Facebook just revealed the confirmation of false ads, a total of 3000 from 470 “dark accounts”, during the American election, in-directly tied to the Russians, and aimed at altering the election to a candidate they feel they can manipulate. Despite some intrepid reporting a few months ago which Facebook initially denied, it was not until two days ago that Facebook admitted to the problem. The New York Times summed it up by saying “we are in the midst of a world wide, internet-based assault on democracy”.

None of this sounds good, or leaves much room for optimism.

Will we go back to newspapers, unlikely?  Will television be simply a stopping off point where they re-package video? Likely.

There is no immediate answer to these changing times, but this generation does need to question, and it needs to go deeper than Twitter; our democracy depends on it, and we will lose faith if truth becomes the first casualty.

Photo Courtesy of : Razvan Orendovichi via Flickr Creative Commons licence

 

 

 

lawyers, judges, and the need for a speed

 

In  2016 the Supreme Court threw out its previous guidelines on trial delays, and in a 5-4 decision they said that the previous rules of 1992 had created a “culture of delay and complacency”. In other words, the previous rules had given the lawyers and the judges to much leeway, allowed them to go beyond a reasonable time limit for cases to get before the courts.  So in 2016,  they are now saying that there should be a limit, and have now put in place a guideline to put a limit of 18 months for a Provincial case, and 30 months for a Supreme Court matter.

Interestingly, when the guidelines were announced, there was a hue and cry from the lawyers. Even the minority group on the Supreme Court wrote that it was “wrong in principle and unwise in practise”.  So anytime lawyers get angry or judges speak up, I tend to perk up and take note, and in this day and age, this usually means that someone has cut into someones pay cheque.

At first blush, I thought that this 18 month parameter for Provincial Court seemed reasonable as did the 30 month parameter for Supreme Court matters.  I struggled to try and remember a Provincial court matter that took me longer than 18 months to put together; nor can I remember a Supreme Court matter, such as a homicide file which took me longer than 30 months to get before the courts once a charge had been approved.  That being said I can think of a few horrendous public files that seem to be taking forever to get to some settlement; for example the Surrey 6 file will be going on 10 years before Mr Bacon sees inside a Courtroom.  Why are these long winded affairs different than the others, is there some commonality to certain cases being a marathon more than a sprint?

How many cases are actually being  constrained by these timelines, how many are in jeopardy because of this ruling?

Statistics Canada measures the length of time for trials and the types of cases which are “completed” in adult court. So here are some of the things which stand out when you delve into the numbers:

In 2014/2015 in terms of all adult cases in Canada; 49% were completed in less than four months; 42 % between four and eighteen months; 6% between eighteen and thirty months; and 3% were greater than thirty months. So of all the adult cases in Canada, there is a potential for 9% of those cases be in some sort of time jeopardy.

Now one must also remember that this is when you lump all the adult cases both Provincial and Superior Courts into one envelope. An overwhelming 99% of all adult cases in Canada are at the Provincial level.

And 77% of those 99% adult cases are “non-violent” which include such things as impaired driving, theft, breach of probation and similar type offences.

The findings of these cases show that 63% of all cases are settled by a finding of guilt, or by guilty pleas. Probation is by far the most common sentence. Only 37% of cases end in custodial sentences, and 88% of those custodial sentences,  the average sentence was 6 months or less.

In terms of how long these cases take, the average or median length of time for the vast majority of Provincial cases is 120 days or 4 months. Clearly, these cases are falling inside the time parameters that have now been outlined, however, despite this decent average, 23,850 cases in Provincial court took in excess of 18 months.

One measurement of movement of a case through the courts would be how many times there is a court appearance, how many times are counsel and accused appearing, only to have the matter set further over. On average, again according to Statistics Canada, these Provincial matters took 5 court appearances, roughly the same amount of appearances that it took 10 years ago. So not much has changed in that regard.

That being said those matters going to a Superior Court took on average 565 days and over 15 court appearances. That is about 18 months, still in reasonable time considering these cases now have a 30 month window. (Homicide cases take an average of 493 days and 19 appearances)

In reviewing these numbers, there is one item that stands out, in terms of length of trials. That is the use of the Preliminary inquiry. For those unaware, a preliminary inquiry in effect is a trial before the main trial, where the Crown is obligated there is enough evidence to go ahead. One must keep in mind that this is a court option if you have been charged with an indictable offence, or a more serious offence under the law.

In Regina vs Hynes, the preliminary inquiry was described by Justice McLachlin as : “…the preliminary inquiry is not a trial. It is rather a pre-trial screening procedure aimed at filtering out weak cases that do not merit trial. It’s paramount purpose is to protect the accused from a needless, indeed improper, exposure to public trial where the enforcement agency is not in possession of evidence to warrant the continuation of the process.”

What is happened over the years is that Crown to avoid being rejected for trial often errs on the side of caution,  and produces its case in its entirety. In three decades of going to Court, I never experienced a case being rejected at the Preliminary inquiry stage. Its unlikely that I was lucky, the simple matter is that few cases get rejected at this stage. As a result there are two trials of similar duration and length. Now before one says that maybe it is time to get rid of what seems to be an increasing waste of time and effort for a minimal advantage to the accused, one must realize that the Preliminary inquiry as a process is fully codified in the Criminal Code of Canada beginning at Section 535.

Is there a chance it could be amended? Yes, but keep in mind lawyers in Parliament make up the vast majority of the House, so what is the chance that they are going to cut into a segment of the law society that benefits and is able to monetize some extra court work? Like the Charter of Rights a preliminary inquiry is a costly process, but make no mistake about it, it is something that benefits lawyers.

But lets at least consider the figures for those cases involving a Preliminary hearing. There were 9179 adult cases that were completed after having gone through a preliminary; 7432 were completed in less than 30 months; however, 1747 of those cases took over 30 months.

If we total those possible files that may be in jeopardy due to the length of the cases, there is clearly a problem, with just a rudimentary examination of the stats showing that in Canada there could be 25,000 cases both at the Provincial and the Superior court level.

The damage is now beginning to come to the fore and several cases have been dismissed by the courts for not meeting the now imposed deadlines. In a recent murder case in Alberta the case against the accused was dismissed, but the case had taken five years to get to court. The accused killer walked free of the charge. Is this not as damaging to the legal system as an improperly convicted accused?

A little closer to home, as another example, the police officers charged in the Surrey 6 case with four officers facing over 20 charges has yet to go trial, and that was six years ago.

The Willy Pickton case took three years to go from the preliminary hearing to the trial itself.

All countries don’t seem to share our problem, it does seem to be part of a Canadian narrative.

For instance, in comparison, the Oklahoma bombing perpetrated by Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols, which killed 168 people, took place in April 1995 and was the deadliest terror attack prior to the World Trade Centre. The FBI conducted 28,000 interviews, and collected close to a billion pieces of evidence. Both parties were tried and convicted in 1997, just two years after the event.

There are many other U.S. examples but suffice to say, none seem to match the turtle like pace of Canada. And yes, their laws are different than ours in some respects, but in terms of getting the case into court and tried our Canadian courts are,  as now outlined by the Supreme Court, clearly built on delay.

More judges are clearly needed. Walk through the Surrey Courts anytime, and count the number of unused courtrooms if you want to see it for yourself. At a glance it would appear that at least half the courtrooms are empty. In a busy place like Surrey or Vancouver, should we not also be thinking of an evening court?

It is obvious to those who participate in this judicial system on a regular basis that the goings on inside these hallowed buildings is askew. The roosters are guarding the henhouse; what the Supreme Court calls “complacency” is actually a system well suited to lawyers, a system which is slow but lucrative. Every police officer who has spent endless hours sitting around a courtroom, can easily testify to the length of trials, the constant delays, the constant abuse of the system which seems to only aid the lawyers, and of course the accused.

There are many well known cases that seemingly drag on for months, even years. The delays are almost invariably the justice system itself, which in essence is the lawyers and judges, and to a lesser degree the Sheriffs.  (A recent case in Victoria was thrown out because there were insufficient sheriffs to get the accused to the courtroom, which after having spent 3 decades going to court was a new one on me)

Ask anyone who has had to be a witness to a case recently, and ask them what they thought of their experience there. To a person, I am betting, they will say that they will never get involved again, as they sit there day after day, delay after delay, usually all in aid of the accused. They sit on hard benches for hours on end, often taking time off work, only to have the case dismissed; or to be told to come back another day. Meanwhile the lawyers seem to be always scurrying about with a practised harried look on their faces.

It is a system that must change. Eliminate endless court appearances, look at getting rid of the Preliminary inquiry, appoint more Judges and Sheriffs. Always keep in mind that a wronged person going to jail is a horrible outcome that must be avoided at all costs, but the accused person walking free because of simple inefficiency is equally in-excusable in this 21st century.  Lawyers undoubtedly will be in favour of more judges, but don’t expect them to be carrying the torch for remedies which impinge on their livelihood. It will be interesting to see how many cases get dismissed before someone steps in to push things forward.

Photo Courtesy of the Author

Epilogue: On Wednesday the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs issued a 205 page report on legal reform in light of the Jordan decision. Not surprisingly they say that the justice system is in “urgent need of reform”. They say the courts need to do a better job of managing files (you think?) and they point out after numerous interviews of judges and lawyers in the system; that it takes 5 to 10 times longer for cases to get through the system compared to the U.K. , Australia, and New Zealand. They point to the Stinchcombe decision and the need for more urgent disclosure (see previous blog) and they also say that lawyers need to shorten the number of motions etc. They also affirm the “culture of complacency”. The Liberal government, and in particular Jody Wilson-Raybould are offering up no solutions yet, and in fact they are farther behind in Judicial appointments then ever.

Police Salaries….the end of an era

During the last few months, on Facebook, Twitter, and the other sundry social media sites that are shared with friends and police officers, there is constant talk and sometimes outrage at the lack of a pay raise amongst the RCMP officers.

All of it is true, in terms of no pay raise for several years, and the fact that the Federal Liberals are now dragging their heels in terms of coming to an agreement. Statistics say that the Mounties are 72nd out of 80th in the police “universe”, which is the lowest that has been seen in recent memory. The RCMP members are thinking that an anticipated police union may lead them out of this quandary, and restore them once again to a salary befitting the “National” police force.

At one point in the 1990’s, the Federal Government of the day and the RCMP had a memorandum of understanding that stated that the RCMP would never lead in salary, but would not fall below 3 or 4th in the police universe. That was eventually ignored, and there have been many ups and downs since, in terms of salary levels, including wage freezes during times of austerity.

Currently Bill C-7 which would give the RCMP the ability to unionize is sitting in limbo, waiting for the re-introduction to Parliament. However, the RCMP members are having a hard time getting organized and now have two police political groups fighting for their support. The RCMP for their part in trying to slow this process down, will not allow the use of office computers to help in that organization.  Of course it is difficult to organize a group which has never been organized in a formal fashion, and one that is spread out across Canada. Clearly RCMP management is not going to assist their own members in this organization as the longer they delay it, the longer they avoid some difficult bargaining. The Federal Liberals equally don’t seem to be in any rush.

Meanwhile, the Feds are negotiating with a lot of the Federal public service groups, and they are telling the RCMP they have to wait their turn.

In the next decade it is anticipated that there will be drastic changes coming to the National police force, and other municipal and Provincial forces as well,  as exponential growth in these services come under increased scrutiny.

To understand the issue, one must understand the current levels of salaries and how they got to where they are today.  How does a police officer compare to the other types of employment? Where do they fit in, in comparison to the average family, or individual incomes?

Current Police salaries

Currently an RCMP officer after 3 years makes $82,108

A Vancouver City Police officer after 4 years     $83,000

A Saskatoon police officer after 5 years              $97,260

A Toronto police officer by 2018 will make        $98,450

In comparison

A lawyer who is a 1st year Associate in a firm   $63,250

An Industrial/Mechanical Engineer                     $61,944

A Mining Engineer                                                   $59,612

In 2014 according to Statistics Canada, the average “family” or combined income:

In Saskatchewan       $77,300

In Ontario                   $73,700

In British Columbia   $72,200

In Alberta                  $102,700

The Average in Canada in 2013 was $76,000

The Average individual salary in Canada is $47,914.00

The figures may seem distorted to be sure; is it possible that a police officer, with no or little education other than high school, and with a 6 month or less training period, is making, within 3 years, a salary greater than all family incomes in Canada (with the exception of Alberta). And not just a little bit more, the  “individual” RCMP officer is making a salary 12% higher than a “family” living in British Columbia.

Economists and the federal government consider middle class at its highest to be $120,000. (If you read my previous blog you would have seen that the average officer working at IHIT in the RCMP is making $154,000 per year with overtime).

In 2011, Statistics Canada said that the top 10% of Canadian society made above $80,400. In other words, currently a 1st Class constable who has 3 years experience in the RCMP, is making in the top 10% of Canadian society in terms of salary.

Of course, it will be argued by many of the profession, that their job is unique, that the dangers, responsibilities and complexities of their jobs make them worthy of these salaries. This could be a lengthy study all by itself, on what are the determinants in developing a relevant and appropriate salary; how do you measure officer safety, responsibility, etc., in order to make that calculation.

As an example, if one looks at the “danger” factor,  the most dangerous professions in Canada are not policing jobs; in fact the five most dangerous industries according to the Workmen’s Compensation Boards of Canada are, fishing and trapping, mining, logging, forestry, construction, and transportation and storage.

If safety and danger were the biggest factors, why is it that prison guards who are in positions where there safety is being threatened on a constant basis while their average salary is only $45,000 per year. Clearly there are other factors that need to be considered.

For years, the RCMP salaries have been based on a ratcheting scale, on what other police entities earn in Canada, often referred to as the “police universe”.  These other police services are unionized without a legal ability to strike, so inevitably resort to some arbitration process. Over time these arbitration processes seem to grow these salaries. Arbitrators generally favour a union over management, and in trying to establish a “fair result” usually increase the salaries at some level.  The other Agencies then determine their contract stance based on the latest won arbitration, and the ratcheting process or cycle begins.

The RCMP simply tags along for the ride. If Calgary is higher, or Edmonton, or Toronto, then the RCMP salaries go higher. All members of the public service in Canada have for years, used this ratcheting arbitration process to their benefit.

However, Governments and municipalities are now beginning to feel the pinch, and it is becoming a bigger topic amongst officials in City Halls throughout Canada.

Last week in Winnipeg, city counsel said that they need to consider reducing the number of police officers and that the union needed to be more reasonable in their demands. When contract talks fell apart the union once again applied to go to arbitration. They are seeking 3.5% to 4.0% wage hikes.

In 2005 the police budget in Winnipeg was $127 million and in 2015 is $216 million, an average annual increase of 7.5%. The police numbers from 2005 to 2015 had increased by 17%, and the police ratio to civilians increased to 1/509. Also, in this 10 year period the crime rate dropped by a staggering 40.65%.

In Toronto last week it was revealed in article in the Globe and Mail that 52% of Toronto Police Service made over $100,000.  600 more individuals joined the list in 2014 over 2013. Again there are complaints that the “leap-frogging of salaries” is a big part of the problem, along with generous overtime, and secure pensions. Again they point to the falling crime rate and state that these are  “contradictions that no city can tolerate”.

Of course, good salaries and benefits attract new employees. Canadian Business magazine ranked the job of police officer as the 16th best job in Canada sandwiched between an Aerospace engineer and an economic development director. They cite the level of salary vs level of education, and the security of the job itself. They point to pay increases of 17% from 2009 to 2015.

Workopolis listed as the top “surprising” jobs which can make over $100,000.00; teachers, police, firefighters and paramedics. So it is not just police but all first responders that have been beneficiaries of this ratcheting growth in salary dollars.

Suffice to say, for the last twenty years or so, policing as a “profession” went from a working class level job to one of high middle or upper income.

There is the argument that can be made, as in Canada, this has been a golden age for all. In Canada in all fields, saw a 135% increase in annual salaries from 1970 to 1980.

Yes, the RCMP has fallen behind in terms of the police “universe”, but in the real world universe they have been doing remarkably well for the last several decades. Politicians are starting to take notice.

We have now reached a stage where administrators of City budgets, and Provincial Ministers are beginning to look at this unimpeded growth and they are considering ways to start pushing it back. The salaries are out of line with the general public in many ways. Between 2000 and 2010 spending in the Canadian government increased by 25% but spending on police increased by 52% according to Statistics Canada. Police salary increases for the most part exceeded inflation during this time period which itself was at 29%.

The RCMP and the other agencies are going to need to develop their arguments as to how and why they deserve such lucrative compensation. This is not to say that they don’t deserve a pay raise, but they need to be prepared to articulate their job functions, especially in light of declining crime rates. Simply being a “first responder” is not enough.

Policing in general has always suffered from a lack of financial accountability, a lack of justification for what they often say is their value to society, and they need to get more sophisticated in that argument. The RCMP is already seeing government pulling or tearing at the edges over such things as severance pay.

My guess is that a union for the RCMP, if it ever comes about, will be a devastating blow to the government, in that it will inflate the policing budget, and the individual officers will be facing an up hill battle in terms of salaries and benefits negotiations, as the government struggles to control costs. Keep in mind that police salaries make up about 90% of a police budget. To control costs, salaries will have to come under audit.

Reducing the numbers of officers in the RCMP to counteract this problem, may be premature or alarmist, but it is a real possibility, and the police officers of today need to be prepared to take an active role in their future, and be prepared to conform to a changing economy as the golden era comes to a close. The once blue collar job of policing has become white collar, and caused increased expectations amongst the police themselves.

Demands for more money will attract public resentment, despite the police having a generally favourable perception in Canada, and there will be demands for greater responsibility to both justify and control those costs. Automatic increases will cease to become the norm, and even certain secondary functions police agencies have taken on during times of prosperity will be on very tenuous ground.  It is going to be a difficult time. As Warren Buffett once said “only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked”. The value of a police officer and how much society is willing to pay will certainly be the fundamental question.

Photo Courtesy of Government of Alberta via Creative Commons at /www.flickr.com/photos/governmentofalberta/6071163974

(Signing of the 20 year RCMP contract in K Division – Alberta)

EPILOGUE: This week it was announced that the RCMP are finally getting their pay raise which is retroactive. 1.25% dating back to 2015, another 1.25% dating back to January 2016 and a 2.3% market adjustment as of April 2016. So a 4.8% increase overall. Although at first blush, in these economic times,  this would seem to be in line with other pay increases. However, when you look at it in terms of inflation, the inflation rate in 2015 was 1.13% and in 2016 1.43%,for a total in the last two years of 2.56%. So the raise going back to 2015 and 2016 does little more than reflect inflation rates. The 2.3% market adjustment number is the real gain. This is not seen as being enough to move the RCMP up into the higher echelons of the municipal agencies which many were seeking, and there is a growing protest currently underway. It will be interesting if it draws any outside public or government support in light of the arguments made in this column. I wish them luck, but cracks are beginning to show in the RCMP and there is little doubt more will beginning in the next few years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls –an inquiry???

Missing and Murdered Woman Image

So here we go again.

Since Confederation, Canada has embarked on over 450 inquiries or commissions. So one would think we should be somewhat expert on the makeup and conduct of these inquiries.

In Canada we seem to have developed an obsession with navel gazing; an obsession to examine and study all contentious issues often delaying any real change.  It is often the political route of greatest convenience, playing to a particular audience, in the hope of postponing structural change, or at least delaying it till it finally eaves the headlines and goes to the back pages.

An inquiry by its very definition means an investigation. To be effective, a normal expectation, is  that this “investigation” will be impartial and balanced. So what can we expect, especially in terms of the police investigational front.

One will remember that this latest inquiry was spurred by a Liberal election promise from Justin Trudeau and the seemingly ever increasing demands of indigenous group to visit the issue of murdered and missing women and girls. Defining what the indigenous groups see as the root goals, or why such an inquiry will be helpful,  are often obscure, but seem to always revert to a call for an ill-defined form of “justice”. What results will appease this request may be intangible in the end, but that is the goal.

The government estimates that this newest inquiry will cost $53.86 million.

This does not include $16.7 million that the Department of Justice will provide “to increase the number of “culturally-responsive services for indigenous victims and survivors of crime” and to establish the new Family Information Liaison Units (FILU’s) in Provincial and territorial victims services offices, to assist families and loved ones of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. These new units will apparently help families to find the information they seek from various agencies and services (including police, prosecutors, social services, child protection services and coroners) and they will communicate this information to the families in a culturally grounded and trauma-informed manner”[1]

It is difficult to measure what a “trauma informed manner” means or how it would be different than others in any victim services office which already in most circumstances have an aboriginal court worker.

So the grand total will be $70.56 million.

This is not the first time we have had such an inquiry dealing with Indigenous issues, from August 1991 to November 1996 there was the longest running royal commission ever;  the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. That inquiry, at that time spent a staggering $60 million of public funds, and thus was the most expensive royal commission in Canada’s history for the time. The sad thing is that despite the length and the monies, nothing of any note seems to have come of it and very little reference is ever made to it.

So this newest inquiry with half the time of the last one,  may go on to bear the distinction of it becoming the most expensive inquiry to date.

It has not been without opposition. Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, during the election, said that there was no need for further study; so of course in 2015 the Liberals and the NDP were pushing and promising that if they took office, they would conduct a National Inquiry.

At the time Harper had rejected calls for a formal inquiry saying enough studies have been done and that crimes should be investigated by the police. He went on to say during a year end interview with the Globe and Mail that “we have dozens of reports on this phenomenon, including pretty comprehensive reports from the RCMP, and others, on the nature of the crimes involved”.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said that Harper by stating that another inquiry was not on the top of his to do list, called his comments “condescending, disgusting, and racist” and that they underscore the “dire need for a national inquiry”.

How saying that he didn’t feel a need for another inquiry due to all the previous reports is “rascist” seems to defy explanation, but it is a charge  which indigenous groups seem to have no problem in going to, especially in the current political environment.

It should be pointed out that after the Conservatives loss, and now in opposition, these same Conservatives have now had a change of heart, and now feel it prudent to be in favour of the inquiry as well.

This inquiry, as the title implies,  is to look into murdered and missing women and children.  So we may ask, what in general terms is the scope of this issue. What are the actual numbers that come under this heading.

In total numbers, between 1980 and 2012 there have been a total of about 1200 files, although some indigenous groups estimate it is much higher and say the measurements are not taking all the factors into consideration.

So when the issue began to become a political football, in 2014,  the RCMP conducted a National overview of Aboriginal homicides, and then provided updates to the data in 2015.

The major and central complaint of the indigenous groups is that the police and the government in general do not pay attention to these issues and therefore many investigations are incomplete and unsolved, or did not receive the requisite attention.  So lets look at this issue. According to the RCMP report:

“The overall solve rate for female homicides occurring in RCMP jurisdictions for 2013 and 2014 was 82%. Homicides of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women had similar solve rates of 81% and 83%. A solve rate of 81% for homicides of Aboriginal women indicates that 26 of the 32 homicides recorded in 2013 and 2014 have been solved. 

Relationships between the offender and victim for 2013 and 2014 showed a trend similar to that found in the 2014 Overview (1980-2012). Offenders were known to their victims in 100% of solved homicide cases of Aboriginal women, and in 93% of solved homicide cases of non-Aboriginal women in RCMP jurisdictions in 2013 and 2014. Current and former spouses and family members made up the majority of relationships between victims and offenders, representing 73% of homicides of Aboriginal women and 77% of non-Aboriginal women in RCMP jurisdictions in 2013 and 2014.”

They go on to state:

“The updated data reflects that 9.3% of unsolved Aboriginal female homicide and missing persons cases captured in the 2014 Overview have since been resolved. In 2013 and 2014, 32 of 85 female murder victims in RCMP jurisdictions were Aboriginal – more than a quarter of the total number. Missing and murdered Aboriginal women continue to be overrepresented given their percentage of the Canadian population.

The update revealed the unmistakable connection homicides have to family violence. Most women, regardless of ethnicity, are being killed in their homes and communities by men known to them, be it a former or present spouse, or a family member. Prevention efforts must focus on stopping violence in family relationships to reduce homicides of women, and we are moving forward with many initiatives on this front.”

One cannot deny the data. These are the facts. The vast majority of aboriginal women are killed by persons known to them, be it spouse or not, and the vast majority of these cases are solved and charges are laid.

(If you read the previous blog you will see that in the general population the police have a 48% solvency rate in 2016).

The report does show that there is little doubt that the aboriginal women are over-represented in terms of the overall population as they only represent 4% of the population. However this is not a policing problem, this is a political and cultural problem.

One would think that the facts of  that this would seemingly  throw some water on the constant talk that indigenous murders are ignored or not investigated properly. [2] Apparently not.

In terms of our expectations of a balanced and fair investigative inquiry.  Who are the Commissioners that are going to conduct this inquiry, and how do they interpret their mandate.

They state that they are to “examine and report on the systemic causes behind the violence…by looking for patterns and underlying factors that explain why higher levels of violence occur”. To “examine the underlying historical, social, economic, institutional and cultural factors that contribute to the violence”.

The “commission will examine practices, policies, and institutions such as policing, child welfare, coroners, and other government policies/practices or social/economic conditions”

They are then to recommend:

“concrete actions to remove systemic causes of violence and increase the safety of ….recommend ways to commemorate missing and murdered indigenous women and girls….and provide its recommendations to the government of Canada by November 2017 and a final report by November 1, 2018”.  (They also suggest you go to their website if you have any ideas on how to commemorate these murdered women.)

Of course in B.C. it was only in 2012 that we also had  the Commission of Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Women, which was presided over by Justice Wally Oppal who produced a 1148 page report with 63 recommendations, at a cost of $10 million. It was a report that addressed the policing issues as well and outlined several recommendations in how to improve the system in particular with regard to the missing persons reports. Oppal said in reference to this new inquiry,

“Before we start embarking on a national inquiry, we have to ask ourselves what will we learn from an inquiry- and I don’t think that there’s anything more that we can learn”.  He thought that the national inquiry could easily go to $100 million in terms of the overall cost.

Any inquiry can also be defined by its process, which can come in two forms. One is an evidentiary type process where there is an open and public review of important issues and events, events which would otherwise not come to light.

The other possible purpose of an inquiry is to be more of an information gathering forum to expose persons to the issues and generate public discussion. If this is the preferred method then one would have to believe that indigenous issues, whether it be education, funding, or residential schools, is not something that has been discussed or been the subject of any previous inquiry.

Although it would be difficult to argue that indigenous issues are in need of more public exposure, nevertheless this will be the  format followed by this group. This inquiry has  stated that it is not going to be a “courtroom” thus not an evidentiary inquiry that we would normally envision. So we are in for an information gathering program where all that appear before it will be accepted as fact and not questioned.

As to the Commissioners themselves, it would seem to be common sense that any inquiry and the persons conducting it have a degree of impartiality, and to achieve a balance in measuring the evidence should have different backgrounds and expertise. It is unspoken but it needs to be somewhat independent from government and impartial and not represent a particular held view.

This inquiry has named five commissioners; all of whom, although highly educated and experienced in the academic and legal indigenous issues, are all of indigenous descent. Furthermore and more incisively all of these commissioners have been gainly employed by the legal and justice system representing the indigenous perspective.  If this inquiry was on the fishing industry, would it seem right that all the commissioners of inquiry would be fishermen? Of course not. However, they expect us to believe that they will be impartial and not have an agenda.

The Justice Minister, who will eventually accept their report is also of aboriginal descent and in a rather short legal career also worked on behalf of the indigenous people. Can we expect her to look at the results of the inquiry with impartiality?

(Believe it or not, this heavily weighted group is not enough for some indigenous groups who have complained that none of the five are Inuit or from Manitoba.)

So we have a biased indigenous supportive group, with a broad mandate, and an enormous budget now embarking on at least a year of gathering “evidence” or testimony from indigenous people. And in their own words, don’t expect the traditional “western courtroom”. The goal apparently is to “incorporate indigenous customs to the process”. “Evidence” can come in the form of “…traditional story-telling, poetry or art”. Clearly there will be little or nochallenge made to the narrative provided by the indigenous groups. [3]

This will not be as once hoped an inquiry into the real issues of poverty, lack of education, drug and alcohol abuse, or living in isolated circumstances. Nor is about the third and fourth generation of the indigenous people living on a reserve welfare style system sapping both their pride and their culture.

What are we going to get? Hours upon hours of unchallenged oral history of abuse and neglect, hours and hours of discussion of the Residential schools, colonialism, and the ensuing various forms of cultural abuse.

In the end there will be a long list of recommendations, some of which will be impossible to complete, all of course needing further funds; for further reconciliation, more counselling and education, separate schools and medical systems to name a few. I suspect that these commissioners who are already fully versed in the indigenous perspective for all these matters could probably  write the report now.

They with little doubt will recommend:

“make prevention of violence against aboriginal women a genuine priority”

Call for further “police accountability” and “improve police in missing person policies”.

Oh sorry, those were already the recommendations from the Oppal Commission.

Of course, there has to be the token kicking of the police and much made of the odd police case where the missing persons investigation was not done thoroughly. As I write this, the RCMP Federal watchdog the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission recently reviewed the police actions in the northern communities. Interestingly it stated that the police policies are “outdated”, “records are incomplete” and “supervisors failed to provide guidance” (that I would not ever take issue with ) however more tellingly report that a persons ethnicity in terms of thoroughness of investigation that “there was no significant difference in the way they were handled”. They further noted that their were no “articulated steps” in 24% of aboriginal cases, but it was actually higher in non-indigenous groups at 26%.

At the end of this new inquiry there will be the requisite Mountie response, saying they have already addressed the issues and have already re-written policy and provided further training. They will tearfully promise to pledge their understanding and apologize for something.

And oh yes, the inquiry will recommend a statute or monument or similar token to the missing or murdered indigenous women. Not as noteworthy apparently are all the non-aboriginal women who have died of domestic violence.

And finally, and maybe more importantly, this will not help the indigenous people. They should be opposing this style of inquiry. Government, the police, and Canadian society has passed this stage. They need real solutions to complex problems and the forward thinking leaders of their groups need to come forward. They need economists, sociological and psychological experts, financial and business groups and the politicians to start developing a real policy on indigenous issues. They need to deal with the hard issues, such as the isolated surroundings in which many of the indigenous groups live,  they need to address the changing culture where indigenous groups in most areas have lost the ability and desire to live off the land.

Instead this will be a forum for self–flagellation.

This inquiry is just delaying real decision-making and what possible solutions there may be for another two years. Recommending more money and counselling, will be the outcome, but it should not be seen as a basis or as platforms for real solutions. Indigenous leaders themselves need to lead some problem solving efforts and get over the constant cries of victimization. Not because it didn’t exist and continue to exist, but because it is time to move on and lead their people from this morass.

This is an attempt to delay facing real issues, and provide for more selfie-inspired moments for the Liberals. This is too easy for them, and the indigenous people should not have been duped into this style of inquiry.

Indigenous children are growing up in abject poverty, in violent drug and alcohol-laden surroundings, and in isolation. Legal corruption runs amok in Band administrations and should be part of an investigative inquiry on its own. Indigenous isolated teens are drinking copier fluid, and joining suicide pacts, while clean drinking water is not available in many communities. This has been going on for decades and vast sums of monies have been spent.

The indigenous leaders, the politicians, and the legal and social worker community which dominates and flourishes in this current inquiry system should be ashamed.

Former Supreme Court Justice Willard Estey stated at one time when referring to the Canadian soldiers inquiry regarding Somalia in the mid 1990’s, that the inquiry process has been “abused beyond usefulness”. Truer words have never been spoken.

[1] c.gc.ca/eng/14701

[2]

http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/missing-and-murdered-aboriginal-women-2015-update-national-operational-overview#p4

[3] https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/02/07/missing-indigenous-women-inquiry-offers-update-at-first-media-conf

Image Courtesy of Tracy O via Creative Commons licence with Some Rights Reserved

Update: June 3 2017… So here we go…the Committee  is off to a rollicking start. First it has been slow to get going (who would have thought that about any government inquiry); indigenous groups are complaining that having to call in to schedule themselves to testify, or having to go online is too much of a burden for them; and now the Committee is likely going to ask for more time and money…none of this was predictable of course….meanwhile Justin is meeting the Pope and asking that he apologize to the indigenous groups….nobody could make this stuff up.

2nd Update:

July 12th, 2017: Marilyn Poitras has now reseigned from the Commission; two weeks ago Michelle Moreau resigned; before that three other inquiry staff members resigned; and now a Manitoba group wants new commissioners appointed. This has become a farce.

Policing the Downtown Eastside amidst the collapse of the Four Pillars

LI like you am being worn out by the “epidemic” of the Fentanyl crisis. It is reported daily on all newscasts, camera footage of someone bent over an addict, trying to revive them with the usual punch in the ribs and a dose of Narcan. It is dramatic and it is sad and it is repetitive.

What ever happened to the “Four Pillars”?

Remember that political and social policy. Championed by Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen up to 2002, Larry Campbell from 2002-2005 (made Senator thereafter) and then carried on by Sam Sullivan until 2008. The current mayor Gregor Robertson rarely speaks of it, now seemingly wanting to distance himself from it.

The intent of the policy was to make illicit drug use a public health problem, not a policing issue per se, something more manageable if removed from being strictly a policing enforcement issue. The four pillars (you will be forgiven if you can’t remember what they were) were: prevention, enforcement, treatment, and harm reduction. So enforcement of the drug problem was still there, but in a reduced role and was to take a backseat to the goals of treatment and harm reduction. Admirable no doubt. Successful?

Lets analyze the four parts. How would you score each of these initiatives?  The 1st “Prevention” is almost impossible to measure, but surely no one would argue that the problem is declining or anything close to being termed a success. In fact one could argue there has been no measurable gain despite the efforts of many.

“Harm reduction” as defined by the Harm Reduction International group says that harm reduction refers to “policies, programs and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of psychoactive drugs in people unable to or unwilling to stop”. Harm reduction seems to accept the fact that most people throughout the world “continue to use psychoactive drugs despite even the strongest efforts to prevent the initiation or continued use of drugs”[1] They go on to say that the “majority of the people who use drugs do not need treatment”. This of course is the one and only initiative that seems to get government financial support whether it be pop up injection sites, or issuing Narcan kits for emergency service personnel.  This is the area where they could argue that they are making progress, but that would be difficult as we approach 800 overdose deaths. It is of course the easiest pillar and one that does not require longer term planning and development. If this is the only pillar which is working of course than we are simply on a never ending treadmill.

Thirdly there is “treatment”. This is now the media drum beat as there seems to be a consensus that there is an almost overwhelming need for treatment programs.  Just today another 38 beds were announced by the Provincial government for females. This has been obvious to many working in these streets for many years, and became especially acute after the closing of Riverview Hospital in 2012. At Riverview they dealt with the intertwined mental health issues which are an undercurrent among the downtrodden on the Eastside. One can not separate the mental health issues from the drug problem.

Treatment becomes more complicated when you are forced to consider the underlying problem of whether people are willing to go to treatment and recognizing that this is not a one-step method with the need for repeated follow up. Like alcoholism, it requires continuous vigilance.

Finally there is the “enforcement pillar”. Now relegated to fourth enforcement has now virtually disappeared.  So why is this?  Basic math seems to me that if there were fewer drugs on the street it would mean less overdose deaths. Wouldn’t an obvious at least partial cure for the problem right now, be to try and stem the flow of the drugs to the area. You will never stop it, but heightened fear amongst the drug dealers delivering fentanyl-laced products to the downtown core seems logical.

There are several problems and causes but first one must understand the nature of the policing world which has gone through some major structural changes which have for the most part done away with street level drug enforcement.

In the 1980’s the RCMP would often team up with the street crews of the Vancouver PD in the downtown Eastside, and do “street enforcement”. That no longer happens. We have entered the age of specialization and integration (something which I will write about more than once). No longer is street enforcement in vogue, but promotion and the monies are heading into specialized ” integrated “units where they can “partner” and deal with drugs on an “international” scope.

In the past there were various policing street crews, both in the RCMP and VPD and the assorted street crews and patrols and for the most part had a very strong grip on this postal code.  The officers had a good handle on who was doing what, who was bringing in the drugs, pimping the women etc. and the other assorted “trouble makers” in the area. There was a strong enforcement presence and those that walked the beat in the area were tough and there were street rules that needed to be followed. It was a symbiotic relationship between the criminals and the police.

The RCMP used to have a drug section based out of Vancouver. That is no longer. Every RCMP drug section and other Federal sections were part of a re-organization leading to the creation of “FSOC”,  the Federal Serious and Organized Crime section.

In this re-organization, the RCMP  has now done away with individualized specialized sections such as Drugs and Commercial Crime thus allowing the Federal priorities could be re-aligned into what Ottawa and the management of E Division felt was best.

In other words all of the officers were put in a big pile and then divided up in a number of teams. If your background was commercial crime, it didn’t matter, as your next case could be a drug file or a customs file. Likewise a Drug section folded into FSOC could have a white-collar crime file to attend to, or a file involving terrorist activities. In other words this re-organization has done away completely with any thought that expertise in an area must be developed and practiced over time. If this seems ludicrous, it is. Sources inside this change wholeheartedly feel that this has become a bureaucratic nightmare.

Why this re-alignment? According to the RCMP official website:

“With the federal re-engineering initiative, efforts have been under way to focus investigative priorities on groups involved in organized crime rather than specific commodities or criminal activities such as drugs, illegal firearms, contraband, or financial crimes.”[2]

The Province seems to have no handle or understanding of this transformation among the police. On July 27th, 2016 Premier Christy Clark announced that a Joint Task Force will work with the lyrical “Overdose and Alert Partnership” and Senior Police officials “to build and strengthen the actions already in place to prevent drug overdoses”. [3] Of course this is a way to keep away the critics from the back door and also give the appearance of a large investigative pro-active frontline group.

The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General to whom the police report in this Province, Mike Morris is quoted in the government press release as saying:

“Due to the elevated overdose rates we are now seeing, it is critical that we further develop strategies to facilitate a rapid and safe medical response to drug overdoses. Police in B.C. have been responding to the issue of fentanyl on a number of fronts with front-line police working directly with individuals engaged in high levels of substance abuse, as well as new or casual users, on a daily basis. Officers work with outreach teams and service providers to educate individuals on the overdose prevention strategies provided by health care professionals.”[4]

Again no mention of enforcement. It would appear that the Provincial response in terms of the police involvement is to have the police fully involved in the harm reduction strategy. There is no mention of increased enforcement to assist in this effort, the police are there as pseudo social workers according to Mr. Morris.

In an online “exclusive” on the RCMP Web site they state that “VPD and FSOC managers recognized that the way forward for policing transnational organized crime in Vancouver was to re-visit the integrated team concept” that they have developed “an integrated working relationship with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland security investigations and CBSA, conducting collaborative operations amongst all agencies” and in fact according to VPD Mike Porteous at the time it was “working great”.

This news release was caused by their pointing to the undeniable success in Project Photoaxis, which had led to seizures in South Africa and numerous arrests of persons involved in the heroin trade. This file started in 2013, ran for two years until May 2015 when 28 persons were arrested and 37 kilos of heroin were seized in Belgium, South Africa and parts of Canada. In January 2016 the RCMP decided to issue a press release on this project, which could lead one to believe that this was a recent success.

Inspector Cal Chrustie one of the RCMP heads of this this project even went as far as to say that “we smashed the distribution and supply networks so significantly that our Liaison officers and partner agencies abroad aren’t seeing any activity there”. [5]

This further underlines the fact that “integrated” investigational teams stressing long-term investigations, using thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars is the focus of the day. (It should be noted that not insignificantly there is no mention made of the cost of this operation but there is little doubt that it was in the millions of dollars)

At the bottom of the story, Chrustie admits that there was only 1 Canadian involved, and there were no charges in Canada.

The other story, which the Police groups called, a press conference for was for Project Tainted, also in 2015, but this one at least was geared to the rapidly growing Fentanyl crisis. This too was a “joint forces operation” involving VPD, RCMP FSOC, and the Burnaby and North Vancouver RCMP and the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU). This too would have to be deemed a success as the usual parade of officers stood in front of the media showing off their seized wares of guns, drugs and bundles of money.  This too was likely a costly operation but you will never know by how much, and of course it was two years ago.

Also interesting recently in court, one of the parties charged in this Projected Tainted was a Walter James McCormick (age 51) who once out on bail got caught again in June 2016. The Crown was asking for an 18-year sentence on McCormick as the Crown argued that because Fentanyl was involved a much harsher sentence was called for. In the McCormick case from 2015  Crown is now arguing 18 years would be a suitable punishment  for trafficking in fentanyl, and of course defence is arguing that they recent media frenzy is being foisted on his client so that the Crown can be seen as taking this seriously. As much as it is a defence argument, it seems obvious that the Crown is pushing this for a political reason.

C/Supt Brian Cantera the current LMD Operations Officer and Assistant District Commander is a former “drug” cop, and an ardent supporter of “integration”.

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun Cantera stated that policing has “to shift to deal with the fentanyl crisis” but then says, “we’re simply not going to arrest ourselves out of this problem.” He says “It comes back to a multi-pronged approach, a multi-pillar approach, where you talk about prevention, education, harm reduction and enforcement”. [6] Have you heard that before?

So where is the Vancouver Police Department in all this, after all this is their physical jurisdiction and they also enforce the Federal CDSA. (Controlled Drug and Substances Act). Vancouver City police have a Drug Section, but like other police agencies do not speak of the number of people in this section. It should be noted that they now too fall under the “Organized Crime Section” of the VPD under Deputy Chief Laurence Rankin. The Organized Crime Section has an Investigations Section and this is where you find the Drug Section. Interestingly enough they do not fall under the “Operations” side of the house of VPD. So it would appear that they too have fallen under the spell of large-scale investigations and organized crime. My guess is that there is no street enforcement coming from Drugs. Any arrests in the area would probably fall to the uniform officers through the course of their other duties.

These long-term multi-agency investigative teams (if in fact there is one dealing with the fentanyl issue in downtown Vancouver) will continue to be the flavour of the day, but don’t be expecting any immediate impact. It may be years before there is another Trump like press conference. So the drugs will continue to flow into the downtown core, often watched by officers sitting in surveillance cars  part of some bigger operation.

On welfare day, the drug dealers will continue to amass outside the money dispensaries and begin to sell out for couple of days in what they must see as an unbelievably lucrative and easy market. And then the overdoses spike and calls for service go through the roof.

However, despite going after McCormick,  the police right now see no advantage in trying to pick off the dealers as they deal on the street in front of everyone. However, it would be more cost effective and maybe we won’t have to wait for 2-3 years for the next press conference claiming success.

Many think that the police have forfeited basic policing for the showy and expensive large operations and that maybe they should re-build at least one pillar of the four. The other three pillars are shaking to the point of collapse.

** By way of an update: Today, January 30th, 2017 the CBC does a report on how to stem the flow of fentanyl which it is agreed is for the most part coming from numerous pharmaceutical companies in China. They quote a 2013 UBC study which stated that the focus should be on harm reduction and not enforcement. That the “war on drugs” had failed. Of course we are now in 2017 and we are now in the middle of a “crisis” . Still Mr Pecknold the director of BC Police Services holds to the line “we are not going to solve this crisis by arresting our way out of it or seizing it at the border…Pecknold said”. Apparently Mr Pecknold doesn’t feel we should be worried about drugs crossing the border either.

Amazing take from the director of Police Services for the Province. He goes on to say the government line that what is needed is “….a co-ordinated response at all levels of government”.  Thanks for the insight.

[1] https://www.hri.global/what-is-harm-reduction

[2] http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/mb/yir-bilan-13-14/message-federal-federale-eng.htm

[3] https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016PREM0082-001361

[4] https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016PREM0082-001361

[5] http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/gazette/tackling-transnational-organized-crime

[6] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-police-say-fentanyl-a-game-changer-struggle-to-stop-ovderdoses-on-the-street-1.3762446

Image Courtesy of Kenny Louie via Creative Commons licence some rights reserved

About

The author is a retired member of the RCMP of some 34 years spread out over three provinces in a variety of postings. Having worked in a variety of sections, but for the most part in uniform, Counter-espionage, Robbery, Sex Crimes, Serious Crime and Homicide.  As a former homicide investigator, Team leader and Commander he was directly involved in  over 200 murder cases, and three of those cases have been profiled in documentaries for television.  He has received numerous awards and commendations, including the Queen’s Silver and Jubilee Awards, and was nominated for two years running as the Police Officer of the Year while in Surrey Detachment for his investigation of the disappearance and murder of 10 year old Heather Thomas.
Image Courtesy of Vince Alongi via Creative Commons with Some Rights Reserved