FAQ Group: Q&A with the Chief Civilian Director

What are you working on for the 2019/2020 fiscal year?

In general, we want to keep on doing what we have been doing – but to do it even better. Our challenge is to always improve upon our Strategic Plan objectives: Investigative Excellence, Timeliness, Relationships and Organizational Health. In particular though, we will be focusing on working toward full certification for our training program, moving to a full complement of investigators, and building our internal resources to support the people who work at the IIO.

As we do this work, we will always be guided in all that we do by our organizational values: Professionalism, Excellence, Collaboration, Trust and Courage.

What was your biggest challenge in the 2018/2019 fiscal year?

The IIO is intended to have three investigative teams staffed with 10 investigators each. We have not been able to fill those positions as of yet. It has been challenging to deal with a large caseload with our current staffing level of investigators. However, everyone at the IIO has stepped up and done their best to ensure that the investigations are all done in a timely and thorough manner.

What do you wish more people knew or understood about the role and responsibilities of the IIO?

First of all, I wish that more people were simply aware of the IIO and what we do. We still have work to do to ensure that the public of B.C. knows about us. Secondly, I want everyone to understand that the IIO is independent and works to investigate all serious harm or death incidents involving police with one goal in mind: To find out the truth about what happened.

We start every file from zero – that is, without any preconceptions. Our purpose is to gather all of the relevant evidence and to use that, along with the law, to make a decision about whether a matter should be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.

The IIO has communicated a commitment of respect for and care of Affected Persons (individuals involved in an incident being investigated by the IIO). What does this mean to you? Why is this a priority for you and the organization?

The IIO works to treat all of the people we come into contact with in undertaking our work with respect and professionalism. Affected Persons are often dealing with a challenging situation in their lives. It is important to us, as professionals and as human beings, that we treat all Affected Persons and their families in a respectful, considerate and caring manner.

To assist us with this, we have two full-time Affected Persons Liaisons, who are specifically tasked with maintaining contact with Affected Persons, ensuring that they are kept up to date and that they are made aware of all relevant services that might be available.

The IIO reaches out and engages with the people of British Columbia on a regular basis. What are some of the highlights of your community engagement? Why do you undertake this?

The IIO exists to serve the people of British Columbia. Every file involves them and their communities. They deserve to know who we are and what we do – to help them understand that incidents of serious harm and death involving police will be independently and thoroughly investigated. We want to reach out to the public to facilitate the sharing of this information. We do this with social media and our website – and with our media presence.

We also endeavor to meet with communities throughout the province when we can. This not only allows us to share information about the IIO, but even more importantly, it allows us to learn about the communities that we work in. This helps us to do our jobs even better.

As the CCD, you are highly engaged and involved in ensuring that the organization delivers on its promise of practical transparency. What does this mean to you?

The whole point behind civilian oversight is to ensure the public that cases of serious harm and death are investigated by the independent oversight body. But it isn’t good enough to just have the IIO do the investigations. In order to maintain the public’s faith in what we do, we need to communicate with them about the steps taken and the outcome when we are involved in a case.

When we conclude our investigation, it is important that we share our decision publicly, including why we reached the conclusion and the relevant facts behind it. Oversight done in secret is no oversight at all.

I believe in what I call “practical transparency” – which is to provide as much information as is practicable, without compromising privacy interests or the integrity of an investigation. This transparency means that the people of this province can see the results and process for themselves. This helps to build confidence from all stakeholders in the work that we do.

The IIO Investigative Team is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That takes a great deal of dedication from the people who come to work at the organization. What is it that drives the team to give up evenings and weekends, taking time away from family to do their jobs (which can often be a thankless one)?

All of us who work at the IIO are strongly dedicated to the independent oversight of police. We recognize the important role we play in B.C.’s justice system and how our work supports the rule of law in our society.

We take great satisfaction in being able to do this work on behalf of all British Columbians. We also know that this will mean that there will be personal sacrifices at times, including long hours and nights and weekends away from home and family. Those sacrifices are worth it when we are able to answer the questions the public may have about serious incidents involving a police officer or officers. We come to work each day to serve the public, and we feel privileged to be able to do so.

Why is police oversight important to the people of B.C.?

Police serve a vital function in our society, helping to uphold the rule of law, to ensure a peaceful and successful community. Maintaining the public’s faith in the police is therefore very important.

When police interact with a member of the community and it leads to serious harm or death, the public’s confidence in the police can be negatively affected if they do not have confidence in the way such matters are investigated. The IIO offers the public of B.C. an independent, objective and expert investigation of all incidents of serious harm or death. If we do not refer the matter to the Crown for a consideration of charges, in all matters of significance, we tell the public about all of the relevant facts and conclusions in the investigation. That way, the people of British Columbia can see the results for themselves. This greatly assists in maintaining the public’s confidence in the police.

Since your appointment on October 24, 2017, what do you see as the biggest improvement or change in how the IIO provides police oversight in British Columbia?

There have been many! I think the most important ones are as follows:

  • Timeliness: In 2018/19, we have been able to cut our time to complete our investigative work on files in half, from 73 days in 2017/18 to 37 days in 2018/19. This is a marked improvement, benefiting Affected Persons (the civilian or civilians involved in the incident) and their families, as well as the police and the community in general.
  • Relationships: Since I came onboard in October 2017, we have worked to improve relationships with all of our stakeholders. We work hard to engage with the community, Affected Persons and their families, the police and police unions, the media and Government. This is a priority for each person at the IIO.We have held hundreds of meetings with stakeholders over that time period. The IIO must be objective and independent, but we must also be able to engage with everyone impacted by our work in a respectful and professional way. It is my understanding – from a range of feedback – that it is felt that relationships between the IIO and all stakeholders have improved greatly.
  • Transparency: A key to the success of an oversight body is how well it is able to explain to the community what it is doing and the rationale for its decisions. In the 18 months prior to my arrival, the IIO had published 18 public reports. Since that time, we have published over 60, and are working on being even more transparent. In this way, the public can see for themselves why we have not referred a matter to the Crown. This helps to minimize any misunderstandings or mistrust about what may have occurred within the process.
  • Referrals to the Crown: In the past, the IIO interpreted the standard for referral of a file to the Crown for the consideration of charges very broadly. This led to a high number of referrals where charges were not approved, additional delays and added stress for Affected Persons and involved police officers.The IIO now applies a standard for the referral of a file that is consistent with the standard used by police agencies. While this has greatly reduced the number of overall referrals, the number of charge approvals has not decreased.
  • Increase in Investigator Resources: The IIO has been able to obtain additional funding from Government to allow for increased investigator resources. We now have three teams, each designed to have 10 investigators. While, to date, we have not been able to fill the teams with qualified investigators, the expectation is that this will occur soon. This increased capacity not only allows for more timely completions of files, but also greatly improves work conditions for each of the investigators on a daily basis.
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