Did the RCMP purposely aid the Liberals in the election?

On September 24 2019 Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives announced to the public that there would be an impeachment inquiry of the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump. It had all been initiated by a “whistleblower”, and for the last month there have been a half dozen witnesses paraded before the Justice Committee overseeing the “investigation”. Most of their evidence has already been corroborated by a team of investigators. Several persons including the U.S. Attorney General William Barr have been implicated.

Let’s compare the speed and efficacy of the U.S. with the Canadian ability to investigate political over-toned “investigations”.

Go back to February 2019, when former Attorneys General Peter McKay and Douglas Lewis (albeit Conservatives under Harper and Mulroney) in an open letter to the RCMP requested that the RCMP investigate “fully and fairly” allegations of obstruction on the part of Justin Trudeau and several of his inner circle. In total, five former attorneys-general also came forward, calling for this same investigation.

An official complaint which would under normal circumstances trigger a formal “investigation”. This is relevant because the RCMP from the beginning, in the odd public utterance or reference, has been glossing over the “investigation” terminology. This in itself should raise an eyebrow.

Is it that they don’t like to implicate themselves in anything for which they will be asked to be accountable? Are they reluctant to even go so far as to use the very phrase just to avoid any taint associated with the word “investigation”?

Even seven months after this initial complaint, in August, the RCMP stated in a press release that “The RCMP is examining this matter carefully with all available information and will take appropriate steps as required” according to spokesperson Chantal Payette. Examining? Carefully?

It is not often that one sees this obvious dancing on the head of a pin. An investigation being referred to as a “careful” examination. The evidence was continuing to mount that the RCMP was more than reluctant to call this an investigation. Any reason for this terminological dance could only come down to politics.

The “careful examination” wording came in spite of a separate report from the Ethics Commissioner which was issued this summer. In the report the Ethics Commissioner concluded rather emphatically that indeed the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had in fact violated the Conflict of Interest Act.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion stated in his findings that Trudeau had “improperly pressured former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to reach a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC Lavalin”.

The Ethics commissioner’s report did not stop there. It described:” flagrant attempts to influence Wilson-Raybould…directly and through the action of his agents to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

We also learned, maybe even more significantly, that even though the Ethics Commission produced their report, they also remarked that their investigation had in effect been hampered in gathering the testimony of nine (9) witnesses. It had effectively been blocked from gathering further evidence by the Prime Minister’s office.

Mr. Dion was damning in his criticism: “Decisions that affect my jurisdiction under the Act, by setting parameters on my ability to receive evidence should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament, not by the very same public office holders who are the subject to the regime I administer. ”

This of course created a bit of kerfuffle in those old limestone buildings and a tingling in the groin of the Conservatives. So the matter which had begun to fade from the public conscience came to life once again.

All the righteous Liberals who were implicated, pointed to the clerk of the Privy Counsel Office, Ian Shugart, as their scapegoat. They said it was out of their hands because Mr. Shugart was, conveniently, described as the ultimate guardian of “cabinet confidences”. To underline their lack of culpability, Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for Trudeau, said that the PMO had no role in the Clerk’s decision. However, he didn’t dawdle on the fact that Trudeau could have waived that privilege.

In other words the foxes were guarding the henhouse.

Now, in a freely functioning and unencumbered police agency, whose job is to ferret out crime, you would have thought this alone would have spurred the Mounties to at least think that they needed to get moving on their separate investigation.

There are a small group of people who would be central to this “investigation” or “examination”. That would be of course, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick. They testified in a very public forum, to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in late February and March of 2019.

In other words the version of three of the key players, all of which would have to be instrumental in any complaint of obstruction had now exposed the details, in their respective versions of course. Or as Wilson-Raybould likes to call it “her truth”. She also later revealed that in the spring of 2019 she had already been interviewed by the RCMP.

It is indeed rare for any investigator or investigative team, to have the bulk of the statement evidence handed to them on a platter and already on the public record, which would it make it difficult to refute at some later date. The speed of this investigation and the complexity of it was greatly aided by these details, making it even more difficult for someone to argue that this was a long drawn out investigative process.

There was a bit of a slip up in this iron curtain that had been put up by the Commissioner when on September 17, 2019 Lucki during a news conference which had been called to deal with the latest embarrassment for the the RCMP. Wannabe spy, Cameron Ortis (an apparently favoured child of ex-Commissioner Bob Paulson but that may be another blog) had been found out and charged with seven counts of having contravened the Security of Information Act.

It was during this rather painful press conference that Lucki was asked– off topic –about the SNC-Lavalin investigation. The ever smiling cherub faced Lucki grew a little ashen, stumbled a bit, but came back with:

“Today we are here for the Ortis investigation so I don’t want to comment very much…but we do take all investigations seriously and investigate to the fullest”. The counter narrative to this of course would be that the RCMP doesn’t investigate fully and some of those investigations are not to be taken seriously.

Lucki however with her repost did not get her out from under the press glare. After the press conference was over, no doubt once she was back in the safe hands of the media liasion group, she discovered that she had gone off her earlier practised talking points. She had committed the sin of referring to the matter an “investigation” and not an “examination”.

That political tiger, Andrew Scheer, hiding in the Conservative weeds leaped on this quickly; tweeting immediately that his nemesis Justin was in fact “under investigation.”

The Mounties had to act quickly.

An RCMP spokesperson Cpl Caroline Duval came to the rescue of Commissioner Lucki and provided a clarification. She re-framed the words of her boss saying that her leader’s statement was just “a general statement about investigations”. She was able to say this with a straight face. For good measure she underlined the fact that “The RCMP will not comment on the SNC-Lavalin issue”.

Phew, back to calling it an “issue”, not an “investigation”. Scheer had to take back his tweet as a result of the RCMP clarification.

Since September and up to the time of this blog, the RCMP are still saying nothing. The usual “no comment”— a stance which seems to be becoming commonplace under Ms. Lucki’s reign.

In October just before the election, the Globe and Mail further revealed that the RCMP will put the investigation on “hold” pending the “election”. In the Globe story they confirmed that there was indeed an “investigation” into the SNC-Lavalin affair, and that the Mounties had been stymied, like the Ethics Commission, by the lack of witnesses or documentation that would support the allegations due to cabinet privilege.

The decision to put any investigation on “hold” pending the election is alarming.

If true, the RCMP may have crossed the line. Were they now purposefully aiding the Liberals in the election?

At this time it might be beneficial to go back in history. One must also keep in mind that Commissioner Lucki at that time was reporting to Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety.

Back in 2006, we were also in the midst of an election campaign, one which eventually would bring Harper to power. The Liberals were suffering in that the “sponsorship scandal” was tainting them; although still leading in the polls.

The RCMP Commissioner at the time was Giuliano Zaccardelli, who announced during this election period that there was a criminal investigation into an alleged leak from the Federal budget. The Liberals had decided not to tax income trusts and that information leaked out from somewhere in the Finance Department.

Commissioner Zaccardelli named Ralph Goodale in that investigation and there were calls for his resignation. Goodale was eventually cleared and an official in the Finance department was eventually charged. Many argued at the time that this allegation and investigation was a fatal blow to the Liberal campaign, who ended up losing to Harper.

The RCMP complaints commissioner of that time looked into the matter, but concluded that there was no evidence that Zaccardelli meddled in the election for political purposes. Interestingly, Zaccardelli refused to answer questions during the investigation by the complaints commission.

The parallel is obvious and a little disarming.

So what can we conclude from all this?

a) The Mounties would have had to enter into an investigation. Anytime a formal complaint is made, a file is started, a file number assigned. Whether the investigation is big or small. In this case, several individuals had made complaints, and formalized those complaints in writing. If the RCMP did not open a formal complaint, they were simply derelict in their duties. Call it an examination if you are so inclined, but there is no doubt a process was started.

b) What was being alleged is a serious offence.

The definition of Obstruction under Section 139(1) of the Criminal Code: “every one who wilfully attempts in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice in a judicial proceeding, a) by indemnifying or agreeing to indemnify a security, in any way and either in whole or in part …”

This is termed an indictable offence; with a maximum 10 year sentence.

c) The investigation may have been hampered by Cabinet confidences which blocked testimony and documentation. But, is there an obligation on the RCMP to report that fact; to report that indeed the investigation had been compromised by the Privy Counsel office and that the PM did not waive those privileges? Does the public have a right to know this fact? Justin Trudeau Prime Minister Mandate Letter to Ralph Goodale in Public Safety, emphasizes the need “to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government”. If only they chose to live by their words.

d) Has sufficient time passed to have conducted this investigation? The complaint was originally received in February 2019, so at the time of this writing nine months have gone by. This is more than sufficient time to have conducted this investigation. The case was not complicated, the numbers involved relatively small and the documentation for the most part would have been emails. The key witness Raybould-Wilson was interviewed in the “spring” and even some of the email documentation was willingly provided by some of the witnesses.

That being said HQ division operates at a pace of a snail on heroin, so it is still possible that they have not concluded their investigation, but investigations besides being competent should also be timely. The Supreme Court Jordan decision was based on this very principle. As was referred to at the beginning of this article, the U.S. may impeach the President before the Mounties can investigate a relatively simple obstruction charge.

For the investigation to still be ongoing is the equivalent of being put on hold in terms of its effect. There is only one political party that would benefit from this. The same party that appointed Lucki as the Commissioner.

It should be stated that this blogger is not convinced that Trudeau and his associate actions in this case were in fact an act of obstruction.

It’s not clear that Trudeau didn’t obstruct justice, but it’s also far from clear whether there is any reasonable expectation of conviction.

Maybe, there is no crime.

Even Wilson-Raybould testifying before the Senate committee said she did not believe that it amounted to a criminal action, but forgive this writer for not holding the legal opinion of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as the learned final authority on this matter, especially when she at the time was trying to remain a Liberal.

But we can reach one final conclusion. The RCMP, under Lucki, made a concentrated effort to both downplay the investigation, and then to withhold any results until after the election.

There is only one party that stood to benefit from nothing being said. The same Liberal party that appointed Lucki, and a Liberal party which has now been re-elected with a minority government.

Is it possible that a revelation, whether proven or not, of a criminal investigation of a Prime Minister would have dealt a fatal blow to the Liberals? Equally, is it possible that the RCMP purposefully aided the Liberals in their election?

If there is any element of this thesis which is indeed correct or is later proven to be correct, then it is a very dangerous political game the Mounties are playing, one that could and should result in the removal of the Commissioner if true.

It is a game that has no place in a democratic government.

Photo Courtesy of the RCMP Instagram Some Rights may be Reserved

Personal Story – “Heather” Part V

It was just two days since Heather had been found, and I was sitting, head down in a concentrated effort to get through the neatly arranged stack of reports, fighting the late afternoon doldrums, when I was approached by Gary Burke. Gary, was a former troop mate of mine who was currently working for the E Division Major Crime team, and their unit had been brought in to help.

Gary always had a smile on his face, whether delivering good news or bad news,  but as he plunked himself down in front of me, his grin was a little wider, he looked like he might burst. “I think we have something good for you” he said.

He began to tell me his story. Two investigators in his unit, Laura Livingstone, and Randy Hundt had just called from the road. They had some promising information on a lead they were following up on in the Maple Ridge area.

The day before, a Maple Ridge dispatcher had called our desk. She, like everyone else it seemed had been watching the tragic news and the recovery of Heather in the Park.  She had strong recollections of the day Heather had actually disappeared, and in fact had been working in Maple Ridge on that same date, when Surrey announced the search for Heather in Cloverdale on October 1st.

Hearing that Heather had now been found in Maple Ridge, more importantly in her detachment area was numbing.  She began to replay the time and events of those days in early October, the files she may have dispatched at that time. Disconcertingly I suspect,  she thought she remembered having had a call that day, one specifically concerning  Golden Ears park. It stood out in her memory as the Park was usually quiet at that time of year.

She was hazy on the details, remembering it being something about a vehicle. As she sat home that night reflecting on the news it continued to bother her. She needed to find out more and  try and fill in the blanks for her sake even if there was nothing to it. So she drove down to the Maple Ridge detachment to try and find the dispatch ticket.

She found the ticket by scrolling through the daily dispatch tickets, but it was actually on October 2nd, not the 1st, that she had the call that involved Golden Ears park. It quickly came back to her as she re-read the information.  It was in fact a call of a reported “suspicious vehicle” that  had been called in by park staff working there.  The dispatch information was brief, but indicated that an officer had in fact been dispatched, but there was no licence plate, and the eventual patrols closed the file saying that the vehicle was G.O.A. Gone on Arrival.

Nevertheless, even though she was let down somewhat, she called our office saying that we might want to look into it further, if possible.  So a new investigative tip was created, as were many that day, and Laura and Randy had been given the assignment to see if they could do any follow up on it.

Before I go any further I should point out that Laura is an extremely affable person which often belied an intelligent and investigative mind. Randy, a big guy with a flair for practical jokes, was smart, as stubborn as I, and a no holds barred approach to investigations. Paired up as they were on this date, it could be assumed that they would not miss anything, there would be no cutting of corners, or an un-checked investigative path.

They pulled the old dispatch ticket and identified the complainants as the campground workers; Mike Zabaglia, Michelle Mackie, Kyle Johnson and Stuart Paul.

So Randy and Laura set about finding and speaking with the workers, and they learned that: on October 2nd at 0650 in the morning, the employees were driving into the park heading to their office to pick up their respective work vehicles.

As they drove in their car pool, a slow moving “big boat” of a car appeared in front of them, the driver wearing a hoodie.  It was difficult to pass, so they followed it for quite awhile, until about 1 km south of the boat launch. They thought the behaviour was rather strange, but on they went to the office, got their vehicles and headed out, some going south towards the entrance to the park; in other words back from where they had just come.

One employee, began his work assignment, and was driving back towards the entrance to the park, and is somewhat startled to see this same questionable vehicle, this time parked, also facing south. The hood was up but no driver could be seen in or around the vehicle.

So the park employee drives by but calls on his radio into the office, and reports this second sighting. It was agreed that it was too suspicious to ignore, and decided to call the local police to see if they could come and check on the vehicle.

Meanwhile a second employee around 1030 or 1100, also driving towards the entrance to the park, and after hearing the previous report of the vehicle being parked alongside the road, had driven by and noticed that the vehicle was no longer pulled over on the roadside. So he continues on, heading to do some work at the boat launch area.

As he drives into the normally deserted parking area, there is the vehicle again. This time parked on the boat ramp, again with no sign of the driver in the area. He too calls into the office via his radio, and gives them the updated information.

The Maple Ridge RCMP were now sending a police officer to check it out some the employee continues on his work schedule, and eventually leaves the boat ramp area. The vehicle was still parked and vacant on the ramp as he left.

More minutes go by and now this same employee circles back to the boat launch as much out of curiosity as anything else, but as he approaches the general vicinity of the boat launch, he meets the suspicious vehicle, now heading out of the park, this time driving at about 80 kms an hour. He later describes the vehicle as “large”, and “blue or grey” in colour.

Needless to say by the time the RCMP patrol they do not find the vehicle. Too much time had passed prior to their arrival. The officer concludes his file, typing GOA into the electronic dispatch system. A routine call had ended with little or no effort.

Laura and Randy press on with their inquiries, and they learn from one employee that he thought they had written down the plate number, possibly on one of the park log books, but he could not be certain. They decide to go back with the employee, now with their interest slightly peeked, to try and locate the logbook.  Sure enough they find the logbook. And there in a corner of the book, under the date of October 2nd, there is a hand written inscription, written at an angle along the edge of the page simply stating  “DRE -666”. Clearly a licence plate number.

Now hearing the numbers 666, if you don’t know, it is often referred to as the number of the “Beast” in the New Testament; a symbol of the devil, or used to invoke the devil, a symbol of the anti-christ.  So at this stage of the story it gives me a bit of a pause and I look at my story teller with a raised eyebrow.  To say that I was not in the mood for a black humoured prank would have been an understatement. “No, No” Gary says, picking up on my look. And then he goes on with the story.

The vehicle licence plate, now checked, comes back to a 1971 Chevrolet Impala ( a big boat of a car would be a fitting description), green, and the registered owner was one:

Shane Ertmoed, born December 22nd, 1977. making him 23 years old at this time.  The vehicle was associated through registration records to an address in Vernon.

But it got better, as Gary continued. They had learned on October 2nd, one day after the disappearance of Heather, and on the day that the vehicle was spotted in Golden Ears Park, Mr. Ertmoed had renewed his drivers licence, and dutifully provided his new address, which was now:

Unit #8 at 17700 60th Avenue, Cloverdale, British Columbia. The same address as Heather’s complex.

We both exhaled, and I sat back in the chair, Gary just looking at me. A few seconds went by in silence as if by talking we would have broken a magic spell, the news too good to be true. If I was tired before, that was now all gone. A nervous energy began to build in both Chris and I, as we began to realize the enormity of this information. We may have just caught the the break of our lives. Another mistake by the suspect may have just been uncovered, a big mistake.

Coincidence is defined as a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection. I don’t believe in coincidences, never have, and I did not believe for a moment that this was going to turn out to be a coincidence.

Was it possible that an individual named Shane Ertmoed, who lived in the same complex as Heather, just happened to go for a drive in a park some 40 kilometres away, one day after her disappearance, and it was the same remote park where Heather was found half-naked floating face down in the lake?

Although all the neurons were now firing, I still  needed to restrain initial impulses, needed to be alive to it actually being a coincidence and nothing more. I needed to be alive to the fear of all investigators, the dreaded “tunnel vision”.

After briefing the investigative team, we all headed home around ten that night, exhausted but needing a rest from the marathon, but a marathon that now had become a head long sprint.

There was also one thought that overrode the excitement of the day, one idea, one realization that seemed to be intent on beating the investigative break Gods into submission.

There was no evidence.

We had nothing.

We had a young male that we suspected was involved, but nothing tying him to Heather. No evidence to tie him to the killing in any way, other than proximity to two separate and diverse crime scenes. To know of him, to identify a possible child killer and to not be able to prove it may be a worse fate than not knowing at all.

Exhaustion provided a few hours of sleep, but a very early morning was met with the same mangled thoughts, the testing and re-testing of investigative options, most reviewed and discarded in a few seconds.

But from this filtering and deciphering, this constant give and take, clouded with fatigue,  resuscitated by coffee, something emerged.

I now had a plan.

It was a relatively simple plan, a plan reliant on a single elemental investigative tool, but a tool relished by investigators. We still had the element of surprise.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons via Flickr by John Lambert Pearson entitled “Clue” Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Personal Story – “Heather” – Part III

It was now 0500 in the morning of the next day. So with the third or fourth coffee in hand, and we were back in the Surrey detachment main office, anticipating what was to come, somehow knowing that this office, this desk, and these walls could be my home for the foreseeable future.

Although it was distant from Cloverdale and the search areas, I also knew that this place, once daybreak arrived would begin to take on an atmosphere of its own. There is an ill-defined energy which any homicide generates in a police office. People coming and going in various stages of fatigue, an air of practised urgency, and every once in awhile it would be interrupted with sporadic shots of adrenalin due to some unexpected turn in the evidence.

This early inherent urgency, or drive, can sometimes be short-lived.  There seems to be a direct correlation between victim type and the length as to how long an investigator can keep a file moving.  In this case, a small girl was a possible homicide victim, and she was still missing, in some senses an investigators nightmare.  Twenty hour days would be the norm. There would be less bitching, more cigarettes, less week-ends off, less time with one’s own family, and pizza would be the culinary favourite.  It is not like the television shows in that it is not as emotional as some would like to portray it; it is more of a machine kicking into a higher gear, but like a marathoner, where one had to control pace, and hold focus.

This first quiet moment between Chris and I was therefore likely to be the last for awhile, just a momentary pause.

This of course was the “old days”. So this investigation done on paper.  Hand written reports, forms and notes, would become the 8″ x 10″ medium through which the investigation would take shape. Paper would be filling cardboard boxes, and those boxes would eventually take up spaces around us, giving a bit of a warehouse feel. Often Librarian skills would be more advantageous than investigative skills.

Each piece of paper being assigned a number, each piece of paper being a separate piece of information. If an officer filled in a report, and it addressed or revealed four pieces of other information, then four separate reports would then be generated, then all wold be put in four different folders pertaining to each item. Laborious? You bet. Efficient? We thought so. But of course the coming digital electronic age would make this all seem comically archaic.

For instance, if we had to  search for a single item. Well we had to remember where we had seen it, and in what folder. So, as an example, if someone mentioned a white Ford pickup, we would have to remember where we read it, and in what folder. It worked well when the file may be only a couple of hundred folders and a couple of hundred pages. It relied on a good memory and a concentrated effort.

However, when the file reached thousands of pages, as this one would, it became an exercise in re-reading, duplicated efforts, and it was often frustrating. Overlaying it all,  like Poe’s Raven, was the inherent fear of missing something key to the investigation.

As the days came and went, in amoebic fashion the paper would grow, taking on a life of its own. Everything found, every person spoken to, every news item mentioned, every tip called in would need to be read, documented and filed. It was a mind numbing process and complacency was the enemy. Any follow up was hand-written and forwarded to the individual investigators. An increase in investigators naturally led to an increase in paper, the Catch-22 of police bureaucracy. In a few short days, the investigative team would grow from two of us to over forty or fifty individual investigators, borrowing from Robbery, Serious Crime, and other sections within the detachment.

Decisions big and small, would need to be made as fast as the questions could be uttered, answered more by instinct than a layered thought process. There would be no time for routine debate, or second-guessing, hoping beyond hope that somehow we had learned something over the years that would not let us down, or cause us to overlook something in our needed haste.

And of course there was numerous calls from the general public, which led to the establishment of a “Tip Line”. My immediate boss, Sgt. Mel Trekofski, wanted to pitch in, and offered to take up the monitoring of the tip line, a thankless task at the best of times. It required “carding” each individual, call-backs to verify the information, and therefore seemingly endless conversations with persons, some good, some ridiculous.

As the file went on, over five thousand tips would eventually be received, with over forty psychic callers alone. The self-described “professional” psychics would all offer up where the body of Heather could be found. So you heard the “Woods”, the “water”, and “buried in a shallow grave”. There were many calls where they went on to say who was responsible,  and in many instances it was “the father”.  But, if not then a “white individual” who “worked with his hands.”  Some even offered to take investigators to the body, something we couldn’t ignore, but of course these did not pan out, but did extend my belief that there were a lot of “crazies” in the world. I never had a paranormal observer, if Im being kind, solve a file for me, and this wasn’t going to be the first.

The logistical jigsaw puzzle continued as we needed to address staffing issues and all the usual secondary administrative issues, at times like a Rubik’s cube, multi-dimensional, spinning on the singular axis of trying to keep the investigation on track.

As the searches ended, the neighbourhood inquiries continued in earnest, as did the forensic examination of objects which had been found. Investigators were assigned to each parent, and other investigators began criminal record checks, as well as local police record checks, on all individuals spoken with or identified as part of the investigation.

Panties, jeans, shirts, jackets, socks, sandals, some of which were in dumpsters were shown to the parents in the event that they had belonged to Heather, and if not, catalogued and maintained in any event.

Neighbourhood personalities, like “Pedophile Darcy”, surfaced through the townhouse inquiries as we began to dredge through the individuals in the Cloverdale complex, and the other people in the neighbourhood. “Darcy”, was typical of the type who surfaced. Darcy, of course, drove a white van, and in his past had been caught masturbating on a child’s  bed, and had a record of sexual assault. So he became a subject of our surveillance team, and in the end we were able to eliminate him from any involvement. There were others similar to Darcy, and each took time, each tip had to be ground out, and it took several days to eliminate Darcy and the other archetypes as they surfaced.

Checks through our VICLAS (An RCMP victim Classification software) system for this area of Cloverdale surfaced a possible fifteen individuals of interest because of their sexual predations. Each of these individuals would be located, interviewed, and reported on. Each would need to provide an alibi.

Checks of all those with criminal records for sexual assault and now free in the broader City of Surrey of which Cloverdale was just a suburb, revealed another five hundred possible “individuals of interest”. It would take years to eliminate that many so we had to narrow the search, at least in the short term, to just those that had violently offended on pre-pubescent children living in the Cloverdale area. This still gave us twenty-seven names. Investigators were assigned to each.  It may surprise some to realize that in most cases these individuals co-operated, and were expecting us. When the investigators arrived some had even already prepared their statements and had their alibis in order.

Others, of course would try an investigators patience, testing their emotional mettle, and you could not help but be pulled you down into the dark reaches of sexual perversion.  In matter of fact voices, they would describe how it couldn’t be them involved, as their method was different in terms of the suffering they would inflict in their need for sexual satisfaction. Some described why she could be alive, to be kept as a sexual play toy.  Any killing of her would have be only to get rid of the evidence, and a “waste”,  and any killing of her would be a signal that things must have gone wrong. This insight would later prove to be accurate.

A crack dealer living in the complex, who had been described by persons in the complex as coming and going in another  “white van”  became an obvious possible suspect. Once identified, he admitted to dealing drugs, and offered up his sales notations, his “crib” sheets as evidence of where he was at the time of Heather’s disappearance. No “normal” criminal he explained likes sex offenders; whether in jail or on the street and the drug dealer wanted to help.

As the investigative team grew, briefings, and de-briefings were our life-blood. Every morning at about 0630 I would brief upper Surrey detachment management, and then at 0730 I would brief the investigative group as to any developments or any change in focus. At 4:30 in the afternoon a de-briefing would be held with these same officers to learn of any highlights. In between of course there was the media to deal with; calls dealing with expenses, computer check results, surveillance assignments, tip line results, and other more sundry items.

By 6:00 pm, as things slowed a little, I would sit in front of a stack of reports, about 2′ high, and begin reading. Chris would then read the same paper after me, just to insure there were a second set of eyes. We would check for any cross references, then the paper would be filed, new follow ups drafted and assigned. Coffee was my particular drug, and stretching for the long walk to the bathroom began to be a highlight which broke up the trance like nature of our task.

Three or four hours fitful sleep a night would be our routine.  Upon returning to work, the process started again. Days drifted into nights. Nights became sunrises.

Suspects surfaced and then drifted away after examination; mounds of dirt reported as shallow graves were examined and dug out; clothes continued to be turned in; suspect vehicles were identified from having been seen in the area; and the psychics from around the world persisted on being heard, each with their own, but similar investigative theories.

Americas Most Wanted called wanting to profile the case. That in turn generated two tips that proved of no value. Europe, and parts of North America were all now paying attention.

We read, often re-read, re-shuffled, and then sometimes re-assigned.

And of course, there was the ever present media, their trucks stationed inside the complex itself,  giving nightly broadcasts and voicing the concerns of the general public. With Halloween getting near, they often regurgitated the growing parents concerns with a killer “on the loose” and asking whether they would let their children go out trick or treating.

As the investigation wore on I kept remembering how I was once told (by who I can not remember) that in every murder there are five mistakes made, its just a matter of finding out those mistakes. Simple really.

Of course every murder is different, every set of circumstances different. In this case we believed that this had been an “opportunity killing” by a stranger, and likely sexually motivated. Statistically, at least, the most difficult of all types of murders as these things go. Many remain unsolved. For instance, in 1996 only 14% of homicides were committed by a stranger. In 1976 it was only 18.4%, and in 1985 17.3%. Consistently low numbers.

If you looked further, and included the age of the victim, in a U.S. study only 3% of homicides were committed by strangers of victims under the age of 12. When a sexual related offence was the motivation, it drops even further down to 1% of the cases.

In checking with the FBI on this case, we learned that there had been only 4 or 5 of these cases in Western North America at the time of Heather’s disappearance in the year 2000.  So although abduction of a child is a parents greatest fear, it is actually an extremely unlikely event. Patterns are harder to detect, as there is insufficient historical data. A serial offence on children was almost unheard of, but of course none of the statistical data, or lack of data was of much consolation for the mother and father of Heather.

Investigative pressure does grow, from the public and from within. Maybe not at the levels of the tv drama series, but it is there. The greatest pressure is put on by the investigators themselves. At some point you begin to realize, rightly or wrongly, whether solved or unsolved, that this investigation will be attached to your name, especially in police circles. You will be perceived in a different light in the future.

A sense of pride takes over, the not wanting to be beaten. The emotions shut down, as the  constant images of the victim is too disarming, too distracting. One could not function coherently if you allowed yourself to become fixated on the depravity of it all, the senselessness of it all, the speculation as to whether Heather was alive or dead. To contemplate her alive and being held was in some ways an outcome that could be worse than death.

As a bit of an escape, a need at the very least to breathe fresh air, both Chris and I took a few hours on a Sunday to step away from the office. It was day twenty-two, and I decided to drive up the Coquihalla highway, a lonely stretch of highway in the middle of British Columbia, surrounded only by trees and rivers, just in an effort to clear the fog which had permeated my nerve endings. I stopped at the only rest stop, perched at a 3000′ elevation, three hours from Surrey. It was cold and gloomy, but I went into the darkened men’s washroom in this remote part of British Columbia. There at the urinal, staring at me was the Missing poster of Heather, eye level. I had always taken pride in my ability to disassociate from files when away from work. But clearly, this file was not going to let me do that. There could be no escape, not now anyways, so I decided to head back.

As I drove down the steep decline through the highway snow-sheds, once again I began to fruitlessly re-trace all that had been done, despite my blaring radio trying to change my obsessed thought process. I kept coming back to the fact that we needed to find one of those proverbial “mistakes”. I was not greedy, not all five, just give me one.

As I approached the Detachment in the darkening hours of the afternoon, just to check in, that I got a phone call. I needed to get back a little faster, because they think they had “found” Heather.

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons by TrixSigio Some Rights Reserved

Personal Story – “Heather” – Part I

I received a “page”, seventeen years ago, that irritating incessant beep which kept repeating every few seconds. The message was always a phone number to call and receiving it implied by its very nature a sense of urgency. In some messages the phone number would be followed by a -911, to further underline the urgent request, which was the case in this instance.

As a member of the Serious Crime Section of Surrey RCMP Detachment, it usually meant that there had been a death, or somebody was barely hanging on, closer to death than life; and that it was likely violent, but above all else, that it was somehow “suspicious”.

It was 10:15 pm, on October 1st, 2000 when I got the page from my Sargent in charge of Serious Crime, Mel Trekofski and he in turn asked that I call to “partner” with me that night, Constable Chris Drotar, also a member of our Serious Crime Section.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, this particular page would change our lives, it would alter our perceptions of man’s inhumanity to man, and it would test our physical and mental abilities to a limit that we likely didn’t feel possible at that time. And thankfully, it would not be often repeated through the course of our careers.

We knew from the initial information that a girl had gone missing, a 10 year old girl, in fact.  Her name was Heather, and she was the daughter of Patrick Thomas who lived at the address. It was a little discomfiting to learn that she had in fact gone missing around 5:30 that afternoon. Already we would be starting with a time disadvantage, which in our world can sometimes mean the difference to success or failure.

The mother, Jodie Thomas was estranged from Patrick and lived in a different part of Surrey and would not be at the house.

Heather and her brother were at their fathers in Cloverdale,  as part of that common suburban divorce dance of shared custody. It was his week-end, but this was Sunday, and the kids were due back at Mom’s. But then things changed.

Search and Rescue had been and were still involved, along with all the neighbours who lived in the complex. Nothing of significance had been found as of yet, but the officers who were in attendance felt that “Dad” was acting strangely, and it was for that reason that we were being called; to interview Dad. The implications were obvious and unstated.

It was a typical October night, wind slighting blowing, leaves beginning to fall but not yet in full decomposition, coloured, but still clinging to the trees. We were asked to attend to Unit 26 at 17722 60th Avenue, in the usually quiet suburban area of Cloverdale, part of the not so quiet City of Surrey, B.C.

As we arrived in the dimly lit complex it was quickly noted that directly across the street was the Cloverdale Fairgrounds and the Racetrack. This was a Sunday, and on this particular day the expansive parking lot during the afternoon became a massive flea market involving hundreds of people. At the time of Heather’s disappearance there could have been thousands within a few hundred yards of the housing complex.

The wood construction of the worn town homes showed the usual green tinge along the edge and rooftops, mold that comes with incessant rains. It was an older complex, u-shaped so you could drive in a semi-circle and go out the other side.  It showed no signs of recent care, just the wear of years of  many children, a complex of about 50 units, who through its life was mostly populated with single parents and young couples starting families. Blue collar, trying to make ends meet, with a tinge of a criminal underbelly always found skirting the edges of poverty flecked neighbourhoods.

As we arrived,  it was quiet, as the people of the complex had by now retreated into their individual homes, no doubt staring out from behind partially closed kitchen venetian blinds.  Almost all had been searching for Heather around dinner time, all likely knew that she had not been located, so one can imagine the variety of explanations given to curious children as they got ready for bed that night.

As we drove up to the residence, with that usual mixture of adrenalin and apprehension, we were fearing the worst, but not quite prepared for that being the case.

The greeting uniform officers, who were unusually quiet, told us that they had searched the residence thoroughly, which is the first place to look for a child. Dad’s vehicle was parked out front, and it too had been searched with nothing found.

Inside the town home, it was like hundreds of others I had been in; some worn furniture, some new, usually a prominent t.v. and the usual evidence of active children. Right at the door, in clear view, was a knapsack, clearly a girls adorned with the usual hanging customized knick knacks which signalled that a girl owned and cherished it. It was in a position clearly in anticipation of heading out of the residence. It was clearly Heather’s and clearly untouched from hours before.

Chris and I introduced ourselves to the father, who sat in the living room, emotionless, wearing jeans and a collared shirt. Blonde, and blue eyed, of average height and build, a good looking man, he was staring straight ahead, saying little, no tears, no anger. There was little in his eyes, which is almost always the giveaway.  Nothing in his composure which indicated a reaction to  the most hellish of torments for a father. So, it was quickly apparent what the original attending officers thought was “unusual”.

I asked Dad if it was o.k. if we conducted another search of the residence, and his vehicle and he quickly and quietly agreed. He did not question why we were being this thorough. I also asked Dad if he would come to the police office, where we could take a statement, which he also readily agreed to, with no questions.

So at quarter to one in the morning, we sat in the interview room with Pat, whose demeanour remain unchanged.

Pat’s story was this.

Pat had been working on some carpentry in his residence. The two kids, Heather and her 8 year old brother Chris had asked around 4:30 to go out and play around the complex while they waited to go to their Mom’s. He said yes, but told them that they had to be back by 5:30 so that he could keep to the proscribed schedule.

Around 5 Chris came into the house, but without Heather, and Pat told him to go get his sister so that they could get ready to leave. Chris went out, could not find Heather, and came back a few minutes later saying exactly that.

Showing the usual parent frustration, Pat packed up and went out into the complex.  He began looking, talking to the various kids and parents as to whether they had seen Heather. It was learned after a short time from some of those parents, that she was last seen riding a 2- wheeled bike that she had borrowed from one of the other children.

A few minutes later, the borrowed bike was found, but no sign of Heather.  According to one witness, the bike tire was still spinning when they found it, near the front of the complex, in a parking stall on its side.

After we finished the interview around 2 in the morning, we were still just as confused as to Dad’s reaction, or more accurately, his non-reaction. Throughout he was totally co-operative, but he never mentioned the proverbial elephant in the room, which was whether we suspected him as doing something to his daughter. He just answered our questions, calmly and without hesitation.

We left the room, and dropped Pat back at the now growing Search and Rescue group on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.  Still somewhat unsatisfied about Pat, however, we had come to one conclusion. The time-line, both drawn by the original officers, the neighbours, and our interview we felt excluded Pat from being involved. The circumstantial evidence did not leave any room or time for him to commit what would be an unthinkable act. Granted we were leaning on some years of experience and training, and trusting our judgement. Not always a comfortable feeling. And we were about to alter the scope or focus of an investigation as a result. If we were wrong, with the stakes this high, with the focus both within the police and the public that only a 10 year old girl victim can generate, it would be a decision that could haunt or taunt us for the rest of our lives.

In our opinion, we believed that Heather had disappeared, silently, although surrounded by thousands of possible witnesses.

Statistically, if this was a “stranger” abduction as we feared, the chance of Heather being alive was minimal, as too much time had passed since her disappearance. We also knew that there were only a couple of probabilities in terms of motive as to why a young girl is abducted.

If the suspect was not a family member, which was now our investigational theory, then we were now in our own personal criminal investigational nightmare. We were now looking for the needle in the haystack.

To be continued…….

Photo Courtesy of the Surrey Leader newspaper, a picture released to the public during the Search for Heather.

 

 

 

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.

The Integrated Homicide Team- cash grabs and declining solve rates

 

By its own admission, the Integrated Homicide Investigative Team (IHIT), the RCMP/Joint force group now is the largest homicide investigative group in Canada.

They claim coverage of “28 communities and 4 municipal agencies and have conducted over 800 homicides since their inception in 2003.” So on first blush the size of this group may seem to be what one would expect.  Are there “highly skilled analytical unit..and six investigative units” performing to police standards and meeting the expectations of the general public?

First, in terms of the size of the unit and the number of officers assigned, the size of this unit seems on further inspection to be somewhat out of sync with other agencies in Canada and in North America.

For instance, this unit is therefore bigger than Toronto with about 6 times the population, bigger than Montreal, and as big as some of the larger municipalities in the U.S. Although the 28 jurisdictions it covers seems large, one must keep in mind that IHIT is counting a lot of other smaller locations where homicide is rare and not the norm. And of course it does not respond to homicides in Vancouver the largest municipality in their area, nor do they cover Victoria or places outside the LMD like Kelowna or Kamloops.

Their claim of 800 murders during this time, means that they would have had to average 61 murders per year, when their actual average is around 40 murders per year by their own statistics.

However, it became evident that clarity in the numbers is not always possible, and the police often use broad measurement tools.

IHIT is funded by the municipal  agencies and RCMP detachments that have decided to join it, and the respective jurisdictions  pay for their contribution by  either providing manpower or monies, or a combination of both, and the amounts are determined by the homicide rates for that particular region. For instance Squamish averages 1 homicide every 10 years, so therefore pays a minimal fee.  Whereas Surrey on the other hand could have on average 20 homicides a year therefore is required to pay a much larger amount.

One of the continuous lines being delivered by the media group inside IHIT is how overwhelmed they are, too many files, not enough bodies etc. It is then echoed by the local newspapers and television, with little question or examination. So how busy are they?

Since 2003 they have been involved in 509 homicides (by the numbers provided to this writer through a Freedom of Information request – far lower than the 800 they claim in their website) This  averages out to 36 files per year. IHIT states that they have 110 personnel, of which there are 80 sworn police officers. In what seems like the constant government bureaucratic creep over their 13 year history, they have also expanded their unit to include a cold case team, investigational support unit, family/victim support unit, major case management, legal support application team, special projects, and public/media relations. They state that they have six investigative teams and the rest are part of these specialized units. Each team consists of eight officers.

So 36 files per year amongst 48 “investigative” officers works out to 0.75 files per investigative officer. Less than one file per member per year, and if you include all 80 sworn officers in the average it goes down to 0.45 files per member.

[1]Toronto Metro Police in 2016 had 69 homicides which was a big year as their normal average is somewhere between 24 and 40 but in 2008 they had 70 homicides. Almost double the caseload of IHIT, with fewer officers.

IHIT has had 44 homicides in 2016, and claim to have “cleared” 43% of them. Toronto Metro claims to have “cleared” 52%, which Toronto is not bragging about, but still almost 10% greater than IHIT.

Montreal has had a declining homicide rate for several years and had 24 homicides in 2016. The previous decade had seen an average of 34, close to the IHIT average. The Montreal police claim a solvency rate of 65% in 2016. Montreal has about 32 officers, or half the size of IHIT.

It gets even more interesting when one looks to the South where  the IHIT group is still larger than most  U.S. police departments.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.40.01 PM.png

 

The above chart is in 2004 so is somewhat dated, so a comparison of the solvency rates would not be fair. What is interesting though is the number of officers per file, and the totals of files in general, in comparison with IHIT.

In Houston 62 officers for 272 murders or 4.38 per officer.

In Detroit, the most beleaguered at the time of these figures, 39 officers for 383 murders and an average of 9.82 per officer.

So if you think IHIT is busy try putting yourselves in these cities. [2]

In 2013, the National Clearance rate in the U.S. ,where they seem to be under manned by any measure,  was 64%.

IHIT’s solvency rate in 2013 was 55%. So despite having astronomical numbers compared to IHIT, it would seem that IHIT is always underperforming other agencies, all this despite having the largest group of investigators conducting homicides in Canada.

One must also examine the term “cleared” in the language of the police. For instance, if four people were involved in a murder, and one person is charged, it is considered “cleared” even though three parties may have walked away from it. If a suspect on a file is killed or commits suicide than the matter is also considered “cleared” even though you can not eliminate the possibility that they may have had the wrong “suspect”. Also, one must remember that there are a lot of homicides, where the suspect is obvious such as domestic homicides. They are far easier to get “cleared” than the gang related style murders. If you just measured the gang related files the clearance rate many sources say IHIT would have a solvency rate that would be in the teens.

To be fair, there is a general pattern throughout North America of declining solvency or clearance rates attributed to a number of factors. So all are under performing when judged by the past, and IHIT is no different, but it is just falling a little bit faster than everyone else.

Some explanation for their under performance may be the rules of evidence, the relationships with Crown counsel, Crown Counsel itself, and policies within the RCMP itself. Disclosure, Crown insistence on “substantial likelihood of conviction”,  the complexities of warrant applications, and the lack of informants are just a few things that are often pointed to in the problems facing IHIT. All are legitimate issues.

So there are two problems now facing IHIT; declining clearance rates for the last several decades throughout all police agencies, and an IHIT group which is underperforming almost every other agency.

See the below-noted chart received from IHIT under a Freedom of Information request.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.23.40 PM.png

When it was initially formed from its inception in 2003 and then up  to 2008 was above 64% solvency except for one year; with a high of 78% in 2003 its first year and again in 2007.

Since that time it has been in the 50% range with 2016 being the lowest ever at 43%. (*In terms of full disclosure, I was a member of IHIT for the 1st five years of its existence). It should also be pointed out that IHIT during that first five years consisted of only 4 teams of investigators; did not have a cold case team, did not have an affiant team, nor a family liaison unit. Shortly after those first five years as the solvency rate began to decline, and somewhat incongruously as this was happening, more officers were being added to the unit.

After the first five years IHIT went from 32 officers to 80 officers. Over a 100% increase in manpower and a decline of 20% in solvency in those ensuing years. During this time, the IHIT group has added a staggering 203 “unsolved homicides” to an already large pile.

A third problem plaguing IHIT is that despite falling solvency, and fewer murders than other locations throughout the country, IHIT officers are working a staggering amount of overtime and making a staggering amount of money.

As per the above chart received once again, through Freedom of Information request, you will see that the overtime numbers are divided between the RCMP officers and the City departments who work in combination with the RCMP. So you need to add the numbers together to get the complete picture.

When you examine a few of the years in 2007/2008 the average overtime per member works out to $52,257.56. In 2011/2012 it was $54,731.00 and in the largest year 2013/2014 it was $76,063.97 per officer.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.33.55 PM.png

The IHIT teams are made up of Constables, Corporals and 1 Sargent per team. The lowest salary of this group would be a Constable of three years who makes $82,108.00 per year. So if he is working at IHIT in 2014 his or her salary with overtime would be $158,171.00. Corporals who earn $89,910 would minimally make $165,973.00 and Sargeants with a base salary of $97,999 would be around $174,000. To give this some terms of reference the average “family” income in 2016 was $67,090, so a Constable with three years service, no specific academic degrees or technical certificates was making  247% more than the average Vancouver household.

If this were occurring in normal business practices and  managers saw this level of overtime, it would make financial sense to hire more personnel and look at shifting as a starter to stem such large expenditures. However at IHIT there is no weekend shifting. As one source told me, no one would work at IHIT if the overtime was reduced. Weekends is where the majority of the overtime is made, so in having a shift on the weekend they would be cutting off the flow of overtime monies.

Many reasonably argue that overtime seems to have now become the driving motivational force at IHIT.

IHIT, according to many sources, has become a place you go for two to three years to make a lot of money, and add an impressive title to your resume. Continuity and expertise is no longer treated as a valuable commodity. I’m told that there is often no need for this level of overtime, but it is driven by the unaccountable monies available which are made available and not the necessary investigative requirement. I observed that on many occasions while with IHIT personally, with certain officers enamoured with the financial gains that could be made. It has now become the norm.

Even so, a lot of officers don’t want this, as they are not interested in a lot of overtime and having to be away from family for long periods of time. So there is an additional problem growing  in IHIT with attracting people to the unit, even for promotion. I am told that some teams are down 40% of their manpower and many are abandoning the unit for greener pastures which usually means other Federal sections where overtime is also plentiful without the demands of being on-call and overnight shifting.

Of course, none of these issues are being talked about and why would they. They are not going to speak about the fact that  if someone is murdered there is a less than 50% chance it will be solved. If it is a gang or drug-related murder the chance is probably less than 20%.

I have been told by one source that the head of IHIT currently, Supt. Donna Richardson has even expressed growing concerns about being sued by family members of victims due to the growing inability to solve crimes.

In terms of correcting or trying to address the solvency issues the issues are more complex. There are the general broad based factors which have been occurring for the last few decades amongst the limited academic research in the field.

Often cited:

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.21.40 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.37.17 PM.png

 

a) The integrated vs de-centralized unit, where the integrated teams have lost touch with the localized problems, are unable to develop witnesses and informants. It is believed that this is a fundamental problem with IHIT who have been recruiting younger and younger officers from other areas, with no local knowledge to this central unit.

b) In the 1990’s the flavour of the day in policing became Crime Prevention vs. Crime Solving. Monies poured into community policing stations etc. to the detriment of developing and solving criminal investigations.

c) The 1980’s and 1990’s saw a generational development of nobody wanting to “rat” on anybody in the criminal world. It not only became the edict of the criminal gangs, but the general public became less inclined to get involved.

d) Greater difficulty in prosecuting these cases. The most pronounced of that in this Province is the rules surrounding “disclosure” and the Crown and court guidelines of this issue. (I will talk about disclosure in a later blog, as it has become an albatross that is hindering every investigation)

All of these issues are pertinent to IHIT, but there is growing evidence of the lack of experience, due to younger and younger persons going to the unit, ill-equipped supervisors, and the lack of local knowledge is the biggest factor that needs immediate addressing. It is known that officers with only  three years service, or a 5 year drug officer with no homicide experience all have been accepted into this unit.

To compensate for this inexperience they often have to engage in a type of check list investigation. Someone lists out all the items that could be done, and they go through the motions trying to check it off the list for each and every homicide. It is very time consuming and often fruitless without some experienced oversight to direct what is important and whats not, where the emphasis should be placed based on the circumstances. It is also more expensive.

Experience was so valued  in the Vancouver City Police it used to be that you needed 15 years experience before you would ever be able to apply to the homicide section. (that too has changed because of demographics and loss of experience). In those days I should add, there were two person units, not eight, and there solvency rates were always in the 70% range.The officers were not better then, but they had more experience in a job which demanded experience, and often maintained informants and other sources in the local criminal element, something which is an absolute necessity when dealing with gang-related homicides.

So how is government to deal with this growing problem,  a problem they are either unaware of, or not wanting to talk about it. The current management of the RCMP are fully aware of the situation, as this has not developed overnight. This has been growing for the last several years, and there does not seem to be any internal desire to address these issues in the sensitive world of homicide investigation. Some of the upper managers came up through the IHIT system and were full participants in the overtime gains.  So instead of talking about what is developing as an embarrassment, they seem to be content with only assuaging the public as to their ongoing attentiveness to these investigations.

So as the gang shootings continue they seem satisfied to tell us that it was a “targeted hit” and we have nothing to worry about. The public does need to be concerned and the taxpayer needs to begin demanding some explanations. A full managerial and financial audit is needed as a starter. Time to pull back the covers.

( Recent article in the NY Times talks about the ongoing homicide solvency problem in the Bronx. They have just added 75 “White Shield” Detectives to supplement the three detectives that were handling over 400 cases last year. White Shield Detectives have to go through an 18 month training period working with senior detectives before earning their detective badges

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/08/nyregion/new-york-police-bronx.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad  )

( *By way of further update, in a Justice Institute of BC In Service Newsletter state that in 2015 police solved in Canada 451 out of 604 homicides, for a solvency rate of 75%. In 2015 IHIT’s solvency rate was 59%)

 

[1] http://www.torontosun.com/2016/12/27/sharp-rise-in-murders-in-toronto-in-2016

[2] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/chicago-762-homicides-2016-nyc-la-article-1.2931020

[3] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11647-eng.htm#a1

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

By way of Introduction

As you will see from my biography, my education fermented an interest in politics and the economy but my work history and the basis for what I now am writing about comes from the world of criminal investigations. I am proud to have spent in excess of 35 years conducting a variety of investigations from the small to the large, from the simple to the complicated. Thirty-four of those years was with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and then another three in the Corporate world. The investigative world was my world for a long time, too long some may say to have had no effect on shaping my thought processes. I hope that that is not totally true. I think it has honed my ability to tell right from wrong.

So why write a blog?

I like many have become shocked at the steadily declining emergency services world, in particular the world of policing and its unaccountability to the general public. Mismanagement has become common with morale at an all time low, costs at an all time high, and grossly inflated organizational units. While at the same time the public good is being battered  while management currency of the day is often knee-jerk with pandering reactions to the political forces that buffet them.

There is a growing legalized corruption of these services, where self-promotion and personal advancement seem to have become the leading driver of change.  Equally shocking is that there is growing obfuscation of the details, a lack of accountability and often times an obvious attempt to misdirect the information.

I don’t think the need for me to blog would be quite as strong if the Fifth Estate, which over the years I relied upon to shed a light on public matters is failing.  Reliable reporting and investigative journalism is on a troubling decline. Thorough reporting is being replaced by YouTube and Twitter feeds have become the determinants of what is newsworthy and in the public interest.  Questions are not being asked and the depth of a story is often a 30 second news bite or in 140 characters.

Therefore I hope to bring an investigational focus on some of the issues of the day.  It will be interspersed with clearly identified opinion, but hopefully most with be credible research on broad topics which are afflicting both the good of the public and the good of those involved in the services.

This will not be a “cop blog”, nor with deference will it be a stringing together of police information or a running account of the latest in the gang wars and affiliations. There are others who already do this. These sites are often based on rumour and innuendo, and they are ever changing, often confusing, and for the most part just symptoms and not the causes. My goal is to ask the relevant questions, find the broader issues which underly these problems and to venture down the rabbit hole. There is little doubt that it will offend some.

As I age and time no longer seems infinite, this blog will be both my therapy and sometimes a lectern, but mostly an attempt to provide a fair debate and a closer examination of these issues.

I claim to be neither conservative nor liberal, often living in the world of the grey, not the black and white. I may not have answers to a lot of questions.

I  also hold out the possibility that I will write about something that interests me outside of the policing world. I find that too much of a single focus of attention can be tiresome.

Hopefully there is room for an often cranky old goat amongst the overwhelming and bewildering jetsam of the net, an “older” person who is not going to write writing about retirement locations, the latest budget changes affecting pensions, or about my dog.

My heroes over time have included Woodward and Bernstein, Christie Blatchford, David Carr, and Michael Lewis, and I am a huge fan of the New York Times and ProPublica. I could never claim to write as well but they inspire me to try.

Welcome to my blog.