‘Why didn’t they disclose this a year ago?’ former solicitor general asks
BY RATTAN MALL
KASH Heed, former B.C. solicitor general who was a police chief, is baffled at Wednesday’s announcement by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) that it is in the public interest to disclose an ongoing investigation involving “serious allegations” against members of the Abbotsford Police Department (APD).
The OPCC said that the Police Complaint Commissioner “had withheld notice until now to protect the integrity of the investigation.”
The press statement said that to date, the investigation involves 17 members of the APD and includes 148 allegations of misconduct under the Police Act. The allegations of misconduct include allegations of corrupt practice, deceit and neglect of duty pursuant to the Police Act. The allegations are serious in nature and primarily relate to issues with the integrity of statements that were provided by police officers to judicial officers pursuant to the authorization process for search warrants.
Heed told The VOICE: “I am just wondering if there is some political movement by their office because if it was in the public interest to bring this forward like they are saying now, why didn’t they bring it out a year ago? Why were they waiting till now?”
MEANWHILE, Abbotsford Police Chief Constable Bob Rich at a press conference said that the sudden announcement came as a surprise to him. He said: “In the fall of 2012, two of our members came forward and said we thought we had a problem with one of our members and their integrity showed that day, and we immediately took their concerns seriously and ended up in asking Vancouver [Police Department] (VPD) to take on an investigation into the conduct of Constable [Christopher] Nicholson that eight months later, after an undercover operation, resulted in his arrest.”
He added: “We have a large number of members who under investigation right now under the Police Act. I need you to understand that if I did not have confidence in the integrity of these members, I would have suspended them. I have not done that.”
Rich pointed out: “The Vancouver investigation looked at the conduct of a number of members and only Nicholson was charged criminally. The other 16, in my view, are great cops.”
He added: “I will say that I have ensured that the members who are involved in these allegations are not continuing to do the same kind of work – so this is drug investigation work – and we have moved them to other places so that while they are under scrutiny they are not continuing on in this kind of work. This organization and each of those members has cooperated fully with the Police Complaint Commissioner.”
THE OPCC in its press release said that on May 6, 2013, Nicholson was arrested and charged with several criminal offences which included breach of trust, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to traffic a controlled substance.
On May 8, 2013, Rich properly requested an Order for External Investigation and the appointment of an external discipline authority for allegations arising out of the VPD investigation.
On August 15, 2013, the Police Complaint Commissioner ordered an investigation into Nicholson’s alleged misconduct and directed that the New Westminster Police Department (NWPD) conduct an external Police Act investigation into the matter. In addition, the PCC appointed NWPD Chief Constable David Jones to exercise the powers and perform the duties of a discipline authority in relation to this matter. The investigation team is an integrated unit, comprised of members from the NWPD, RCMP, and other external municipal agencies.
During the review of the VPD investigation, investigators discovered further allegations of misconduct against Nicholson as well as 16 other members of the APD. The investigation has been broadened to include these additional allegations.
A large number of these allegations relate to concerns with the integrity of statements sworn or affirmed before judicial officers in which authorizations for search warrants were obtained. The concerns raised have an impact on the interplay between key institutional stakeholders within the criminal justice system which include the federal prosecution service, judicial officers and the police. Furthermore, what remains an active concern to the OPCC is the extent to which the search warrants in issue may have contributed to potentially unsafe prosecutions.
HEED pointed out to The VOICE: “We have to remember these are just allegations. They are not even proven at this particular time.”
Heed explained that when you embark on an internal investigation under the Police Act and you have the disciplinary authority – which is NWPD Police Chief Jones – ask for an order to investigate, you put a blanket approach to it. In other words, you go after “every possible officer that may have been involved in it and every possible disciplinary default you could imagine.”
So that’s why you have the high number of 148 allegations of misconduct under the Police Act involving 17 officers.
Heed added: “But at the end of the day what you will find is that most of this is due to training and administrative practices within the Abbotsford Police Department.”
He said that you have to remember that 58 of those allegations are against just one officer – Nicholson – and 90 of them are spread out over the 16 other officers.
Heed added: “At the end of the day what you will see is that the majority of them are related to policy and procedures, administrative practices, a lack of training for the members and what I understand is that the majority of those issues have already been rectified within the Abbotsford Police Department by Chief Rich.
“So there seems to be some political intentions by the OPCC to release this information at this particular time.”
Heed said that what he found so troubling was the OPCC’s reasons for releasing this in the public interest. He pointed out that if it was in the public interest now, it should have been in the public interest back in May of 2013.
The VOICE asked Heed if this public disclosure might be connected to any possible resistance from Abbotsford Police to cooperate.
Heed replied: “When you look at what is going on here, first of all, disclosure under the criminal proceedings is up to Crown counsel and the Vancouver Police Department because they conducted the criminal investigation. All the disclosure relates back to that. When you are talking about the internal process under the OPCC, the disclosure comes from the New Westminster Police Department from Chief Jones. So I am not sure as to why they are criticizing Abbotsford [Police Department] because it makes no sense at all.
“And under the Police Act, the way it is now, there is contemporaneous oversight by the OPCC. So if they have an issue with not being able to act … to have that oversight in place, they should have brought it forward to Chief Jones in New Westminster a long time ago, not a year and a half later!”
ACCORDING to the OPCC press statement, to date, the OPCC has not been able to properly perform its oversight role in relation to the ongoing Police Act investigations due to the lack of adequate disclosure from police. The delay in disclosure is due to administrative issues associated with the sheer magnitude of the investigative materials, as well as legal impediments arising from the complexity of the issues at play. At this juncture, the OPCC has only received a fraction of the very large number of documents that it requires to review in order to provide meaningful oversight of this investigation.
As a precautionary measure, several investigations have been suspended pending the disclosure of the investigative materials in order to ensure that the related criminal proceedings are not prejudiced. This is in keeping with the general practice of the OPCC.
The OPCC says it is optimistic that these issues, which are related to the disclosure of the police investigation, will be resolved. In matters where the police investigate themselves, meaningful oversight is necessary to maintain public confidence in the investigation of police misconduct.
Given the seriousness of the allegations, the Police Complaint Commissioner has determined that it is in the public interest to disclose the existence of the investigations. This disclosure was delayed until now, as the OPCC awaited the completion of some sensitive investigative steps, in order to preserve the integrity of the Police Act investigations. From the outset, the OPCC has been in communication with the Director of Police Services, Clayton Pecknold, who has provided valuable support and assistance.
At this early stage of the process, in light of the number of officers under investigation and the seriousness of the allegations, the Police Complaint Commissioner requests that the public not rush to judgment or engage in speculation, and await the completion of the Police Act process.
In order to preserve public confidence in the investigation of police misconduct and administration of police discipline, the Police Complaint Commissioner intends to release a summary report to the public at the conclusion of the process.