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Agency tasked with probing police-related deaths gets first case

Richard Rosenthal, chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office, at his office in Surrey, B.C., on August 22, 2012.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Staff at British Columbia's new agency for investigating police-involved incidents of death and serious harm were at their phones Monday awaiting their first case.

With a morning news conference, the Independent Investigations Office was officially launched in Surrey and the names of 24 investigators disclosed for the first time.

A tweet from the IIO just after 8 p.m. PT Monday suggested the organization already had its first case – "a police-involved shooting in Prince George."  Local reports said the incident has left one person dead. The IIO said it would release additional details on Tuesday morning.

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Under an agreement with B.C. police services, including the RCMP, the IIO will be called when incidents occur and will dispatch investigators to scenes across the province to take on investigations that were previously handled by police.

Richard Rosenthal, the office's chief civilian director, said police departments were happy to cede control of such matters to the IIO in a handover confirmed with a memorandum of understanding earlier this month.

"I have heard from the police, over and over again, that they don't want to conduct these investigations themselves because of the problems that they are going to be criticized as biased," said Mr. Rosenthal, who comes to this new postings from police oversight positions in Portland and Denver.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said civilian investigation was necessary, in part, because B.C. has had "probably more than their share" of incidents involving police.

The investigators are a mix of former staff from police departments in Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton and London, England.,  among other locations. Only officers who have not policed in B.C. for at least five years were considered.

Four front-line investigators are formerly from the B.C. Coroner's Service.

Mr. Rosenthal also reached into the field of journalism, recruiting Priya Ramu, formerly with CBC Radio.

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Mr. Rosenthal said his team is about 50-50 split between former police officers and investigators with civilian experience.

"It's a fantastic balance," he said.

None of the investigators were available for interviews on Monday.

Mr. Rosenthal said there are still six positions to be filled in his office.

The launch of the IIO comes after a series of cases that raised questions about the ability of police to police themselves, including the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in 2007 following a confrontation with four Mounties.

Ms. Bond said she expected the investigations by the IIO will have an impact on public confidence in such oversight.

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"Richard has assured me that he will make tough decisions and he will be very public about those answers. If a police officer is exonerated, it will be because he believes that is the appropriate decision," she said.

Mr. Rosenthal will be in charge of reviewing case files assembled by his officers to recommend to crown whether officers should be charged.

However, the Crown will be able to reject his conclusions.

Mr. Rosenthal said he expects fewer than 100 cases per year. "Only time will tell. These things have a tendency to go up and down and it's really hard to predict."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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