The contrast between two police stories reported on Feb. 10 – the widely publicized Yao Wei Wu case and the little-known Sukhwinder “Vinnie” Dosanjh case – show how B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner really operates.
Unless a case gets advance publicity, support from an influential group or caught on video, the OPCC rationalizes, condones or even covers up misconduct and criminal actions by police.
The same principle applies to the way the OPCC handled Vancouver police constable Taylor Robinson’s assault on a handicapped woman.
Yet the B.C. Liberal government has granted the OPCC power to investigate the new Independent Investigations Office.
Police complaint commissioner Stan T. Lowe and his deputy, Rollie Woods, are now posing as crusaders for justice following the OPCC’s Feb. 10 decision to appeal a B.C Supreme Court order.
The order cancelled a public hearing into Yao Wei Wu’s beating by VPD constables Bryan London and Nicholas Florkow.
But did the OPCC’s appeal result from principle or publicity?
The Wu case received widespread media coverage ever since the Vancouver daily Ming Pao broke the story on Jan. 21, 2010.
The Sukhwinder “Vinnie” Dosanjh case, by contrast, was kept secret by New Westminster Police, Port Moody Police and the OPCC for more than three months following Dosanjh’s suspension from the New Westminster force.
He was suspended pending an investigation into an off-duty Port Moody incident in which he illegally entered a woman’s house and assaulted her. Dosanjh’s suspension took place July 28, 2008, but the media didn’t learn about it until Nov. 3, 2008.
Three days of news stories followed, then the media lost track of the case until last Feb. 10. On that day New Westminster’s Royal City Record reported that Dosanjh had returned to work following a three-year, sevenmonth paid suspension.
The Record apparently found that out despite the lack of any public announcement from New Westminster Police or the OPCC.
The Record stated that Crown attorneys had dropped all charges against Dosanjh, but a judge took the unusual step of imposing a peace bond ordering Dosanjh to report to a probation officer, have no contact with the woman he assaulted and possess no weapons outside his police work. The Record also revealed that Dosanjh faced additional allegations, including an off-duty firearms offence, which were investigated under the Police Act but not under the Criminal Code.
Despite admitting to very serious charges, Dosanjh was allowed to return to the force. His only penalty is a temporary (15month) reduction in rank to second-class constable.
He has also been ordered to undergo psychological treatment. In an exceptionally unusual case of B.C. media providing critical scrutiny of the OPCC, The Record’s Brent Richter pointed out this odd claim from the OPCC’s secondincommand: “Rollie Woods, deputy police complaint commissioner, recently told The Record, that he has seen New Westminster Police Service become one of the better forces in the province when it comes to transparency, discipline and accountability.”
There are several disturbing questions about the OPCC’s handling of the Dosanjh case. In July 2008, why didn’t the OPCC inform the public that Dosanjh was under investigation for serious offences?
Why didn’t the OPCC object to the extremely slow conduct of the Police Act investigation? Why didn’t the OPCC object to Dosanjh’s nearly four-year paid vacation? Why didn’t the OPCC inform the public of its decision regarding Dosanjh? New West police sergeant Diana McDaniel said the OPCC “signed off” on the cop-on-cop investigation. As of Feb. 10, more than one week after Dosanjh had returned to work, the OPCC had made no public statement on the subject. The OPCC did promptly issue a Feb. 10 media release about its Wu appeal. Exactly what did the OPCC “sign off” on and why? How does the OPCC justify Dosanjh’s return to the force when the charges he admits to reflect on his suitability for work involving weapons and use of force? Why did deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods praise the New West police at the same time that this secretive investigation was dragging on?
How does this file reflect on the OPCC’s handling of other cases that fail to get sufficient media coverage, support from an influential group or caught on video?
And a question for B.C.’s minister of justice and attorney general: Why was the OPCC granted investigative authority over the new Independent Investigations Office?
Additionally, the Wu/ Dosanjh contrast brings to mind the way the OPCC handled VPD constable Taylor Robinson’s assault on a handicapped woman.
The assault took place June 9, 2010. But it didn’t become public knowledge until July 22, 2010, when the B.C. Civil Liberties Association released surveillance video and the media picked up the story. Then, and only then, did the VPD and OPCC publicly acknowledge that they learned about the assault soon after it happened. A few days later, an investigation by an outside police force was ordered and Robinson was transferred to other duties. (He had still been walking a beat in the neighbourhood where the assault took place.) There’s no credible indication that any investigation took place before the week of July 22.
Citizens have no way of holding the OPCC accountable. The agency answers to no one – not the provincial ombudsperson or anyone else. An independent investigation by someone like Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin (who has twice investigated that province’s Special Investigations Unit) would cause a scandal.
Unlike Ontario media coverage of the SIU, B.C.’s media provide almost no scrutiny of the OPCC. Over just a few days following Richard Rosenthal’s Dec 7, 2011, appointment, B.C.’s media gave the Independent Investigations Office head much more scrutiny than they’ve ever given Stan Lowe or his predecessor, Dirk Ryneveld. The media had almost nothing to say about Lowe’s December 2008 OPCC appointment, just five days after he stated, in his capacity as a Crown attorney, that the five Taser shocks and other brutal treatment inflicted on Robert Dziekanski were “reasonable and necessary.”
Lowe heads a secretive agency whose senior positions are staffed exclusively by ex-cops and people very close to the cops. The OPCC’s staff, hiring policy and decisions get almost no scrutiny from any source – the provincial ombudsperson, the B.C. Liberal government, the NDP opposition, the BCCLA (who are the establishment-approved “official” activists) or the mainstream media.