Nfld. & Labrador

'It was pure torture': Family hopes for full answers from inquiry in Don Dunphy's killing

Details of the much awaited-inquiry were released on Friday, almost a year and a half after the Mitchell's Brook man was killed in his own home. Lawyer Erin Breen says the wait for a full answer has been unbearable.

Public inquiry to begin immediately, with report due by July 1, 2017

Lawyer Erin Breen says the wait for all the answers in the Don Dunphy killing has been like "torture" for her client. (CBC)

The public inquiry into the killing of Don Dunphy is coming at long last for the man's daughter, a lawyer representing the Dunphy family says.

Details of the much-awaited inquiry were released on Friday, almost a year and a half after the Mitchells Brook man was killed in his own home.

Lawyer Erin Breen said the wait for a full answer has been unbearable.

"For the general public it's obviously been very frustrating, but when this is your family member — and this is her dad — really the only term i can put on it was pure torture," Breen said Friday.

"To learn new things in the media every day, really, and not really know what's true, what's not true, it's been very difficult for her."

Joe Smyth shot and killed Don Dunphy, 59, at his home on Easter Sunday in 2015. Smyth was a constable at the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary who was assigned to then-premier Paul Davis's security detail.

The Liberals promised a public inquiry into the events as part of their election platform.

The terms of reference were released Friday, more than a week after the RCMP announced Smyth would not be charged in the incident.

Don Dunphy, 59, was fatally shot in the small community of Mitchells Brook on Easter Sunday of 2015. (CBC)

Terms released

According to the terms of reference released by Andrew Parsons, the province's minister of justice, the purpose of the inquiry is to find out, among other things:

  • The circumstances of Dunphy's death;
  • The reason RNC officer Joe Smyth visited Dunphy, whether he was directed to do so, and if so, by whom;
  • What information was provided as the reason for the RNC officer's visit, as well as its reliability;
  • The reason an RNC officer visited Dunphy in the RCMP's jurisdiction;
  • The facts surrounding police operations on the day of Dunphy's death;
  • Whether use-of-force protocols were properly followed;
  • Whether Dunphy's use of social media played any part in his death

Multiple police agencies have performed reviews or investigations into the incident — the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team found the RCMP's criminal investigation "thorough, complete and unbiased," while the Saskatoon Police Service found no wrongdoing on the part of Smyth, the RNC claims — but none of those reports have been released to the public.

Joe Smyth shot and killed Dunphy following a 15-minute encounter at his home in Mitchells Brook in 2015. (CBC)

In the absence of those reports, retired justice David Riche gave multiple interviews to CBC News about the incident. He was hired to oversee the RCMP's criminal investigation and said some aspects of the incident were quite troubling.

Parsons said the upcoming public inquiry should put all remaining questions to rest. 

"It is not lost on me that it has taken far too long to get to this day, and it is unfortunate that we need an inquiry in the first place," he said.

Watch the full news conference with Justice Barry and Minister Parsons below:

Leo Barry will chair inquiry

Justice Leo Barry, a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge since 1989, has been tasked by the provincial government with finding answers in the shooting death of Don Dunphy.

Parsons announced Barry's appointment as head of the provincial inquiry at a news conference Friday at Confederation Building.

"I am confident he will ensure a full and complete inquiry into the facts and circumstances of this tragic incident," said Parsons.

On Friday afternoon, PC leader Paul Davis called for the immediate release of the RCMP and ASIRT reports into Dunphy's killing.

Barry said that he expects all the reports will be released through the inquiry process, but qualified that valid privacy concerns must be respected.

Breen agreed that a release of all reports and reviews should be done.

"I can only imagine that the next step from here will be that all information will be going to Justice Barry, and it will be released for the parties to prepare for the commencement of the inquiry," she said.

"At least that will be done in an organized fashion, and we can ensure that we have everything at one time. Because the piecemeal, limited snippets that you get, over time, are really unsatisfactory."

No criminal recommendations

The RCMP already announced they do not intend to charge Smyth for Dunphy's killing.

The final report of the inquiry is scheduled to be completed by July 1, 2017, but it won't make any findings about criminal or civil liability.

"But if there are facts revealed in the course of an inquiry, then obviously these facts would be made known to government and to the powers that be in terms of making decisions," Barry said.  "And it would be up to them as to what the law says in terms of acting on any new information instead."

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says the Dunphy incident, and subsequent investigations, show the province needs its own Serious Incident Response Team. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Despite the pending inquiry, Minister Parsons has begun to draw some conclusions from Dunphy's killing: It is "abundantly clear" the province needs its own independent serious-incident response team — like Alberta's — he said.

Breen said the jumble of investigators and reviews shows there needs to be change.

"There has to be a new regime, because what happened here was just so confused," she said.

The office of the Citizens' Representative will examine the history and treatment of Dunphy's case with Workplace NL. 

The government has budgeted $1.5 million to $2 million for the inquiry. So far there have been two applications for coverage of legal counsel costs: One by Meghan Dunphy and one from former premier Paul Davis.

With files from Mark Quinn