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Head of B.C. police oversight body vows timely results

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

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The head of B.C.'s new civilian agency for investigating police is hoping to set firm timelines for closing cases after he has a year's worth of probes to provide a sense of how his team handles them.

Richard Rosenthal, chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Unit, promised the "timeliness goals" on Tuesday while delivering his first report on a case handled by the IIO, which investigates police officer-related incidents of death and serious harm in B.C.

The IIO was launched on Sept. 10. By that evening, it had its first case – a shooting in Prince George that involved police.

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"Hopefully, at the one-year anniversary, I can announce our goals of how we expect to respond to these cases in as timely a fashion as possible. But the reality is the investigations have to be competent. They have to be fair," Mr. Rosenthal told reporters during a news conference at the IIO's head office in a Surrey highrise.

"It's really not possible, until you have a large number [of cases] to really come up with a patterns of how that might work."

Mr. Rosenthal released a statement on a previous case, but Tuesday was the first time he had met the media to report findings. He ruled out officer wrongdoing in the case of a man who died on Oct. 7 after Vancouver police took him home when he was found causing a disturbance in a park.

Two of 10 cases since the launch are now resolved. One was closed in 47 days. Tuesday's case was closed in 58 days. Three others are more than 60 days old. The rest are less than 30 days.

"I am looking forward to having other cases completed in under 60 days," he noted. "There will always be those that take longer and others that take up to six months or possibly even a year."

In the case central to Tuesday's briefing, the unnamed man was found unconscious after a seven-minute ride in a VPD van. He died in hospital. An autopsy attributed his death to what Mr. Rosenthal described in his report released as "acute alcohol toxicity."

"I conclude that there is no evidence that any police officer may have committed an offence in relation to this death," the six-page report said.

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The IIO director said a member of the office will follow up with the man's family.

Mr. Rosenthal promised more detailed reports in cases with "a definite connection" between a police action and a death.

The other cases the team of 26 investigators is handling include four officer-involved shootings, two motor-vehicle incidents, a death involving a taser, and an injury during arrest, Mr. Rosenthal said.

"I am really pushing my investigators. I have told them the words 'back burner' will not be placed together anywhere within this office. We are still looking at completing investigations within months, not years, and weeks, not months," he told reporters.

Lindsay Lyster, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said anything that leads to expedited investigations would be good for affected parties, but she was concerned that time limits will work only if the IIO has enough resources.

Asked about funding, Mr. Rosenthal said: "We are adequately resourced to do the job we need to do." He said the organization is ready for "whatever might come in the door."

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B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she welcomed the IIO's proposed focus on timeliness.

"The IIO has done an impressive job in its early months of operation, demonstrating itself to be organized and responsive concerning its mandate," Ms. Bond said in a statement. "We're happy to hear that Mr. Rosenthal is focused on timeliness, and that he has indicated he wants to improve on the timeliness of past investigations."

Ms. Lyster noted the BCCLA would like the IIO mandate expand "rapidly" to include such matters as allegations of sexual assaults and less serious physical injuries.

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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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