Photo: rootsandwings / flickr

On June 27th 2012, I attended a Casserole demonstration in solidarity with Quebec students at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG). So did the Vancouver Police Department’s ‘Public Safety Unit.’  

As the rally began, there was a 1 to 1 ratio of police to demonstrators. After being approached and informed that if we marched and blocked intersections or oncoming lanes of traffic, we would be arrested, we decided to stay at the VAG and that we would ‘casserole’ and approach officers present and ask for their names and badge numbers, which they are legally obligated to provide.

The demonstrators in attendance decided as a group to take this action as a way to enhance our collective security, given the number of officers in attendance. Things went downhill from there. As a result of the events of that evening, there are still pending criminal charges, a lawsuit, and, until recently, a complaint to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC). It was my complaint.

Their website describes the OPCC as follows: “Fair, Independent, Principled. The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner provides impartial civilian oversight of complaints involving municipal police in British Columbia, Canada. We ensure thorough and competent investigations of police complaints and fair adjudication with respect to all parties.”

After what I’d witnessed and experienced that night, my faith in a ‘civilian’ oversight board was weak. But, I thought I would give it a try, grind through the process, and see what came out of it.

I filed my complaint on July 26, 2012. The process was simple. I had a badge number for the officer about whom I intended to complain, and video footage of what I felt was unlawful, aggressive behavior towards me. While I had concerns about police conduct throughout the evening toward many individuals, I limited my complaint to my individual situation. I heard back from the OPCC promptly:

Dear Mr. Kagis:

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner has determined your complaint to be admissible under the Police Act and has forwarded it to the Professional Standards Section of the Vancouver Police Department for investigation.  One of their investigators will be assigned the investigation with an analyst with our office overseeing the investigation in a contemporaneous manner.  Should you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact our office.

I was immediately taken aback. Wait, the civilian complaints commission was going to refer my complaint against the VPD to the VPD? Is that what’s going on here? I had understood that the purpose of the civilian oversight body was to provide a complaint mechanism that was independent from the police, but their letter to me seemed to indicate the opposite.

Still, I proceeded with my complaint. I had a couple of short telephone conversations with a representative from the OPCC, and sometime in late August, I received a letter. It was from the VPD’s Professional Standards Section. I was informed that a sergeant from that unit would be investigating my case.

In early September, I was contacted by the sergeant to schedule an interview. That interview was scheduled for September 25. We spoke on the record and on camera, and went over the video footage extensively together. After the meeting, outside the office door, with no one around, the Sgt. proposed to me an ‘informal’ solution to the whole complaint. I was a bit taken aback and told him that I was not interested in the process being ‘informal,’ hence having filled an official complain in the first place!

 After that, time ticked away. I received the occasional update via snail and e-mail to inform me that they were “interviewing officer x,” “compiling video evidence” and so forth.

Then, in early January of this year, the investigating sergeant again contacted me and suggested that I try the ‘informal’ resolution process. After a little back and forth and a consultation with a lawyer, I agreed to attempt the informal resolution process provided that, to quote my response letter, “it is entirely without prejudice to any formal proceedings on this matter, and that, should we not come to agreement through the informal process, the formal process will promptly resume.”

Then began our attempt to informally resolve the issue. This involved writing a statement to the officer I had filed against regarding my ‘concerns’ and informing him of issues that I would like him to be aware of; he would do the same for me and both statements would go through our ‘mediator’ the investigating sgt.

You can read my statement, the officer’s statement and my response. (These links will take you to the full text — edited only to remove names — of the correspondence from our attempt at an informal process.)

Suffice it to say, we did not come to agreement, never more evident than when the officer tried to assert that he felt I had violated his Charter Rights (rights that protect you from infringement by the state or its agents). As a police officer the constable in question qualified as an agent of the state during our interaction.

There were a flurry of e-mails and phone calls, ending in this exchange with the Sgt.:

Me: Here’s the bottom line. The people gathered that night had a plan. It was our intent to stay on the grounds of the VAG, approach every officer present get their name & badge #, then bang on our pots for a little while and go home. That’s it, that’s all. Everything else that happened that evening was a result of police instigated violence. If Constable XXXX is willing to acknowledge that, we may be able to find common ground. If not, I doubt we have much to discuss.

Sgt.: Thank you for your email response. I believe that Cst. XXXX will not be willing to acknowledge that police instigated the violence. Therefore again thank you for your participation in regards to this investigation. I will be completing my Final Investigation Report along with my recommendations to the Discipline Authority for his/her decision. Once that is completed they will forward their decision to the OPCC who will then review the file and send you the final outcome. 

Again, time ticked away. Then, on March 21, I received a three-page letter from the OPCC. It informed me that the officer had not violated his professional standards or my rights, and as I had not disputed this decision (of which I had apparently already been informed), there would be no further review of this case and the matter was now closed.

Oddly I had not, previous to this letter, been informed of the decision or my right to seek further ‘independent’ review. Now it was too late. While initially upset by this ‘glitch,’ I realized that it didn’t matter. I realized that despite the new public face of the ‘Civilian Authority,’ that it was still police investigating police. In the end, the police exonerated the police, then everyone patted themselves on the back for a job well done and another file closed.

After an eight month process that was at times nonexistent and at other times exhausting, traumatic and triggering, I am left with two distinct impressions.

The police still hold the thin blue line and will bend over backwards to protect their own.

The criminalization of dissent continues unabated and remains the order of the day.