It's 'very clear': Vancouver police must co-operate with watchdog, attorney general says

In response to a growing feud between Vancouver police and B.C.’s police watchdog, Attorney General David Eby says there’s no doubt officers who’ve witnessed an incident are obliged to co-operate with investigators.

Attorney general responds to IIO court petition in the 2015 death of Myles Gray

Myles Gray died in August 2015 after an altercation with Vancouver police. (Margie Gray)

In response to a growing feud between Vancouver police and B.C.'s police watchdog, Attorney General David Eby says there's no doubt officers who've witnessed an incident are obliged to co-operate with investigators.

On Wednesday, the province's Independent Investigations Office filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court, asking for an order compelling Const. Hardeep Sahota to sit for a second interview about the violent 2015 death of Myles Gray.

According to the court filing, Sahota has resisted numerous requests to speak with investigators about what she witnessed.

Eby told CBC News on Thursday that he couldn't address specific allegations in the petition, but the law is explicit on the responsibilities of police to co-operate.

"It seems very clear that witness officers have the obligation to appear for interviews," Eby said. "We don't believe there's any ambiguity about that obligation."

Officers suspected of causing death or injury, on the other hand, are not obliged to give statements because of the Charter right to avoid self-incrimination.

Myles Gray is shown shortly before his August 2015 death. (Margie Gray)

Gray, a 33-year-old Sechelt man, died in August 2015 after a confrontation with as many as eight Vancouver police officers. He was unarmed and the officers were the only witnesses.

The IIO's petition in that investigation contained the results of Gray's autopsy, which showed multiple broken bones, a dislocated jaw, a fractured larynx and a hemorrhaged testicle.

The Gray family's MLA, Nicholas Simons, said he was troubled to see the extent of Gray's injuries.

"I think about his family and .... I can't even imagine how hard this is for them," he said.

"This has just gone on so long, and it's just devastating for the family, and, of course, the community is still waiting for answers."

2 court actions involving VPD

The petition in Gray's case is the second the watchdog has filed this year, asking for court intervention in its dispute with Vancouver police over co-operation. The first petition was filed in March and relates to seven officers who witnessed last year's fatal shooting of a man outside a Canadian Tire store.

It's unacceptable for Simons that the IIO has had to resort to court intervention in both cases.

"I actually think it's quite shocking that it's resorted to this," he said.

"This is an office that is designed to ensure that there's transparency in police agencies that we have to have trust in. When those efforts are thwarted, the public has few options but to lose confidence in the police force, and that's not a good thing."

He added that it may be necessary to revise existing legislation to ensure police co-operate with investigators.

"If, in fact, the IIO doesn't have the necessary tools in their tool belt, then we need to provide those tools to them," Simons said.

'Growing pains'

For his part, Eby said he hopes clear decisions from the court in both petitions will wipe out any doubts about the rights and responsibilities of police officers in IIO investigations.

The attorney general also acknowledged the IIO has experienced "growing pains" in its first five years of existence. That includes the early departure of its first civilian head and a 2015 investigation into allegations of bullying and harassment.

On Oct. 24, a new NDP-appointed director will take the reins at the IIO. Ron MacDonald will be joining the office after holding a similar position in Nova Scotia, and Eby said he has full confidence in the new civilian chief.

"He understands the public interest, which is not just that justice should be done, but also that justice should be seen to be done," Eby said.