Reading into the new Independent Investigations Office (IIO)
Yesterday was a day for quiet celebration and sober reflection as the B.C. Legislature introduced amendments to the Police Act which would finally create an “Independent Investigation Office” to investigate incidents where police cause death or serious harm. Many individuals, including organizations such as Pivot, and most importantly the family members of those who have suffered the worst fate, have fought tirelessly for the creation of this body. It is definitely a long time coming.
There is a lot to be happy about, especially the fact that the proposed amendments bring to life the most powerful recommendation from the Braidwood report into the death of Robert Dziekanski that the office should be staffed entirely with civilians who have never served on a police force by 2015. And while the legislation for the most part is welcomed with open arms, there is still a lot of work to be done.
What worries me the most about the legislation is that the language does very little to try and create the much needed distinction in identity between police officers and independent investigators. In fact the legislation actually says:
(1) In this section, "police officer" means either of the following:
(a) a person holding an appointment as a constable under this Act;
(b) an IIO investigator.
That may seem like a little thing at first, but we should never underestimate the power of the words ‘police officer’. If you tell most people on the streets of the DTES that you are an ‘independent investigation police officer’, I can guarantee you which two words are going to stand out in that person’s mind. There is a certain irony to it all, fighting for years to create an independent body to investigate police complaints, now getting a promise from the legislation that this body will be created, only to find that the independent officers who can never have worked for a police force will be duly appointed the title of ‘police officer’.
Throughout this whole ordeal we have said it over and over again. Cops protect Cops. It is a problem of human nature, identity, and social conditioning. The key to the success of this legislation is not creating an independent body, but in creating an agency fully composed of independent minds. This new agency will have to work hard to make sure that ordinary police culture and the blue line mentality do not infiltrate this force in the way many feel has happened with Toronto’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU).
And of course we must continue to push for the ultimate dream of having every complaint against the police independently adjudicated, not just those involving death or serious harm. While we are hopeful this new group of investigators will provide a sense of justice that has been so clearly missing from major police incidents in British Columbia, we must not forget that police accountability should be accessible for every person who is wrongfully accused, treated with disrespect, or discriminated against by those in power, no matter how big or small the bruises.
As with most things the devil is in the details, and the type of person this new agency hires to take on the role of an independent investigator and how those individuals are trained will go a long way in determining whether or not it is a success. As the mother of Robert Dziekanski told the CBC upon learning the news: “I think it will be very important to establish at the beginning that they are a fair agency and the people involved are not just witch hunters."
It will continue to be the job of Pivot and others who strive for effective and accountable policing to make sure this agency lives up to its potential.
You can read all the proposed amendments to the Police Act here: