British Columbia

Unresolved investigation into Myles Gray's death shows lack of police accountability: civil liberties advocate

A B.C. civil liberties advocate says the investigation into the death of Myles Gray is a "travesty" and that police need to be held more accountable for the deaths of civilians.

Case brings to light 'culture of police protecting themselves,' BCCLA executive director says

A white man with ruddy skin, wearing a black ballcap and a grey tank top, holds a large fish in both hands.
Myles Gray was killed after a confrontation with several police officers in a Burnaby, B.C., backyard in August 2015. (Submitted by Margie Gray)

A B.C. civil liberties advocate says the investigation into the death of Myles Gray is a "travesty" and police need to be held more accountable for the deaths of civilians.

Gray, 33, died during a confrontation with seven Vancouver police officers in August 2015. This week, Crown prosecutors said none of the officers involved will face charges in his death, but the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner is reopening a suspended investigation into the actions of those officers.

Harsha Walia, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), says the case illustrates the need to hold police to a higher standard because of the power they have in society. 

"This case really brings to light the culture of policing and the culture of policing impunity and the culture of police protecting themselves," Walia told CBC's The Early Edition. 

"That power has to be held to a much higher standard so we don't continue to have police killings, especially of Black and Indigenous people in this country and people in mental health distress."

Gray, the owner of a wholesale florist business in Sechelt, B.C., who was unarmed at the time of his encounter with police, suffered a long list of injuries, including broken bones and brain bleeding.

In an explanation of why it decided not to charge anyone over Gray's death, the B.C. Prosecution Service said it was not able to establish a clear picture of what happened during the confrontation because of contradictions between the statements of the officers involved and an inability to pinpoint the exact cause of death. Therefore, it didn't believe it could prove any of the officers committed manslaughter or assault.

IIO not 'fully robust,' Walia says

A probe into what happened during the confrontation dragged on for more than two years, due in part to a standoff between Vancouver police officers and the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) over co-operation with investigators.

The fact that a police officer agreed to co-operate with the IIO only after a petition was filed in B.C. Supreme Court signals a culture of policing that can hinder justice, Walia said. 

"As much as the VPD will often point to the fact that there are oversight mechanisms and that there's robust oversight, they don't always co-operate with these oversight mechanisms," she said.

Walia says even the IIO should be held to a higher standard in its investigations.

Its mandate as a civilian oversight agency is to independently investigate incidents like these, but she argues it is not a "fully robust" civilian body because many of its investigators are former police officers.

Investigating crimes like sexual violence and assault are also not included in their mandate, she said — "an important concern" missing in the scope of what defines violence and serious harm.

Neither the Vancouver Police Union, B.C. Prosecution Service nor the attorney general were available for comment on Friday morning. 

Gray's case is not a rarity, Walia said, and begs the question of what it means to achieve justice in cases of police-involved harm or deaths.

"Is it simply about more mental health training or de-escalation training, or is it actually removing police from things like wellness checks, having more robust oversight, having real accountability and meaningful consequences and really questioning the scale of police power?" Walia said.

"Because what happened to Myles Gray can happen to so many other people. It is happening to so many other people."