Probe clears senior RNC officers of obstruction of justice

An independent investigation into the actions of Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers has found no grounds for criminal charges.

Independent civilian-led agency from Nova Scotia called in to investigate 18 months ago

Ronald MacDonald, director of the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team, and Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speak with reporters at Confederation Building in St. John's on June 1, 2017. (CBC)

An independent investigation into the actions of senior Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers has found no grounds for criminal charges.

After an 18-month investigation, Ronald MacDonald, director of the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team, cleared the officers of obstruction of justice.

The evidence does not support a conclusion these senior officers committed any criminal offence, and as a result I am not recommending any charges in this matter.- SIRT director Ronald MacDonald

"The evidence does not support a conclusion these senior officers committed any criminal offence, and as a result I am not recommending any charges in this matter," MacDonald told reporters at Confederation Building Thursday afternoon.

Last year, CBC Investigates reported that the senior officers were under the microscope over their use of a criminal as an informant during a high-level investigation.

MacDonald's report did not use the word informant, but described that person as "an individual who might be able to assist" with an investigation involving "serious organized criminal activity."

Concerns from front-line officers

His report described concerns raised by frontline officers over being directed by senior cops not to arrest, investigate or charge that person.

"They determined non-violent offences would be tolerated, but if the subject were to do anything violent that officers should intervene," MacDonald's report noted.

The investigation into senior officers with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary took 18 months. (CBC)

According to the report, frontline RNC officers observed a number of "minor theft" and other "low end" offences, but did not intervene.

The person was then identified as a suspect in three "serious property offences," but was not charged.

"These offences were not personal injury offences," the report said.

"However, they could turn into personal injury offences should there be an encounter with an owner or other person associated with the property."

Last year, CBC Investigates reported that the informant at the centre of the probe was finally arrested after assaulting and injuring two people.

MacDonald's report made no reference to any arrest involving the subject.

The SIRT report described a "top down" management style from two of the senior officers in question, and issues with communicating effectively with their investigative teams.

A third senior officer was a subject of the probe, but played a smaller role.

"In these circumstances those decisions were made in an effort to solve much more serious organized crime activity," MacDonald's report noted.

"Their decisions fell within the appropriate range of reasonableness, and in any event, were made in good faith for the purpose of solving serious crimes. Overall they were in the public interest."

And were those serious crimes ever solved? 

"I'm not able to tell you answers such as that, one way or the other, for fear of identifying certain individuals," MacDonald told reporters.

'It is time to change course'

In responding to the report, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons pointed towards the need for action to shore up confidence in the force.

"I believe civilian oversight is needed here now more than ever," Parsons told reporters.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says action is necessary to shore up public confidence in the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. (CBC)

"As minister, while I am confident in our police agencies, it has become obvious there are issues. Police have extraordinary powers. But to exercise those powers effectively and efficiently, there must be checks and balances, and public confidence is vital."

He said leadership and communication inside the RNC are concerns.

"It is time to change course, and to rebuild trust," Parsons said.

"The RNC has to show leadership here."

'Complex and challenging investigations'

RNC Chief Bill Janes stressed that the force co-operated with the SIRT team out of Nova Scotia.

"At times our officers are faced with complex and challenging investigations," Janes said in a statement.

Bill Janes, RNC chief since 2014, is retiring at the end of June. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"In this case Nova Scotia SIRT team has come to the conclusion that the officers' decisions were reasonable, made in good faith and in the public interest. I continue to have the utmost confidence in the skills and abilities of the RNC officers who were the subject of the investigation and all members of our supervisory and management team."

Two months ago, Janes announced his retirement from the RNC, effective at the end of June.