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Richard Rosenthal speaks at SFU on civilian oversight of policing

November 07, 2012

Richard Rosenthal, the head of the recently established Independent Investigations Office for the Province of BC, will be speaking at SFU's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts Tuesday evening, November 13th.

The talk will be moderated by CBC radio journalist Kathryn Gretsinger, and will also feature panelists David Ebyfrom the BC Civil Liberties Association (until December 2012) and Doug King from Pivot Legal Society.

Rosenthal was previously involved in running similar offices in the US in Denver, Colorado and Portland, Oregon, before taking up his new position in BC.

The newly established office has 36 investigators who oversee investigations involving any major incident involving police in BC.

There are currently about 16 police related deaths each year in BC
according to SFU criminology professor David MacAlister.  In an interview in 2010, MacAlister said that "the number of police-involved deaths in B.C. is alarmingly high and apparently out of proportion to the number of deaths arising in other Canadian jurisdictions. The most recent data reveals that in B.C., 267 individuals died through police involvement between 1992 and 2007. In Ontario, for the same time frame, 316 people died. On a per capita basis, that works out to one death per 16,970 B.C. residents and one death per 41,806 deaths in Ontario. In other words, you are about 2.5 times more likely to die through police involvement in this province than in Ontario."

The BC Independent Investigations Office is the fourth of its kind in Canada and has the largest civilian presence of any in the world. Ontario has had a special investigations unit for over 20 years and Alberta moved to a civilian led hybrid investigation office in 2007. Manitoba and Nova Scotia have moved in this direction as well. England has established an independent investigation office in 2004.

The move towards a civilian-led agency came after heavy criticism and recommendations from inquiries in to the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Djiekanski at YVR and the death of Frank Paul in the Downtown Eastside who was left in an alley by a police officer on a cold, rainy night.  Additionally, the 2005 death of Ian Bush in northern BC once again highlighted the issue of police investigating police and eroded public confidence in the system.

The Independent Investigations Office expects to deal with about 100 cases involving death or serious injury in an average year.

Since it opened in September 2012, it has already been busy at work on a number of cases.

What are the challenges that this new office will face?  How will it
maintain public confidence and increase transparency and accountability regarding police-related deaths?  How will its success be measured?  How can police related deaths and serious incidents involving the police be reduced? These will be some of the interesting points of discussion on Tuesday, November 13th.  Find out more information on the event here.

Am Johal, Community Engagement Coordinator, Vancity Office of Community Engagement

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