Vancouver police cannot refuse to be questioned by IIO investigators, judge rules

After a standoff that’s lasted for nearly two years, a judge has ordered seven Vancouver officers to co-operate with investigators probing a fatal police shooting.

B.C. justice orders 7 officers to sit for interviews, says they failed in their statutory duties

The IIO has said that seven officers refused to co-operate with the investigation into a fatal police shooting in November 2016. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

After a standoff that's lasted for nearly two years, a judge has ordered seven Vancouver officers to cooperate with investigators probing a fatal police shooting.

In a decision issued Thursday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Gropper said it was clear Vancouver police have been operating under a "misapprehension" of their legal duties by refusing to sit for interviews with the Independent Investigations Office.

"An obligation to co-operate fully with the IIO must be an essential element of the functioning of a police oversight agency," Gropper wrote.

"If co-operation by the witness officers is discretionary, the goal of the IIO is diminished or extinguished. There will be no arm's-length investigation of an incident if it is at the discretion of the witness officers."

The dispute dates back to the Nov. 10, 2016 death of Daniel Peter Rintoul, who was fatally shot outside a Canadian Tire after he attempted to rob the store and held an elderly customer hostage at knifepoint. Police say Rintoul also stabbed an officer and a store employee.

In accordance with its mandate to investigate police-related deaths and incidents involving serious harm, the IIO was called in to probe what happened.

But since that day, seven officers have refused to sit for interviews with investigators, according to the court decision. In March of last year, the IIO filed a petition to the court that asked a judge to step in, naming Chief Adam Palmer and seven officers as respondents.

Officers demanded to see video of incident

On Thursday, the watchdog's chief civilian director, Ron MacDonald, said the Gropper's decision brings "clarity to certain legislative provisions" regarding the responsibilities of police officers.

"This decision has strongly reaffirmed the importance of civilian oversight of policing," MacDonald said in a press release.

He added that police departments in B.C. have consistently shown that they support civilian oversight.

"We have daily examples of excellent cooperation between police and the IIO in this province. This decision will only help to foster that ongoing cooperation," he said.

The IIO's chief civilian director, Ron MacDonald, said the judge's decision offers clarity on the law. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

The seven officers named in the petition were all witnesses to Rintoul's death — police who are suspects in an IIO investigation cannot be forced to give statements because of their guaranteed right to avoid self-incrimination.

The dispute began just days after the shooting, when the Vancouver Police Union's lawyer, Kevin Woodall, told investigators that officers were entitled to view all video of the incident before sitting for interviews, according to the decision.

Over the many months that have passed since then, the IIO has refused that request, saying that investigators would not disclose any evidence that might "augment or influence the officer's recollections."

Gropper's decision affirms the IIO's approach.

"The IIO has the obligation to investigate the Canadian Tire incident and the witness officers have an obligation to cooperate fully with that investigation. The witness officers do not have the discretion to determine the bounds of the interview process," she wrote.

She said all seven officers had failed in their statutory duties under the Police Act, and said they must attend for interviews on the terms of the IIO.

Police union reacts

In a statement, Vancouver Police Union (VPU) president Tom Stamatakis said members "had no intention of avoiding their responsibilities when it comes to the vital function of police oversight.

"These officers had simply been following past practice and jurisprudence, and today's decision seems to change the interpretation of the law," he said.

Stamatakis said the union would be reviewing the decision, and decide whether there are grounds for an appeal.

"The VPU strongly believes in the importance of independent oversight for police officers, but we also believe those investigations would be more effective if officers are allowed to give the best information possible."

Stalemate between police and investigators

The IIO's petition in that case was just one sign of a simmering dispute between the IIO and Vancouver police.

Last year, Stamatakis told CBC that members of the force had "lost confidence 100 per cent" in the watchdog.

The stalemate has also complicated the investigation into the 2015 death of Sechelt businessman Myles Gray — a probe that has yet to be completed. Gray, 33, was unarmed at the time, and there were no civilian witnesses to the violent struggle that ended his life.

Last fall, the IIO filed a second petition targeting the VPD, alleging an officer who witnessed the incident was refusing to sit for a second interview.

That officer, Const. Hardeep Sahota, eventually agreed to be interviewed, and the petition was withdrawn.

The watchdog filed the petition last year, naming Chief Adam Palmer and seven police officers who allegedly weren't cooperating with investigators.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.