Ian Mulgrew: It’s time to rein in the VPD

Opinion: The exorbitant costs, the ridiculous competition between municipalities for officers that drives up wages, the duplication, the lack of accountability … there are a host of reasons that change is long overdue.

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Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer is obviously a shining example to his officers given how they emulate him — unfortunately, it’s his brazen disdain for public oversight that they mostly follow.

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Recent events have brought to the fore the insolent attitude toward civilian accountability displayed from the top down by the force that costs taxpayers more than $1 million a day.

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On Monday, an inquest began into the death of Nicole Chan, a 30-year-old constable who died by suicide in 2019 after intimate relations with senior officers.

Her family claims they sexually harassed and sexually assaulted Chan, who was reputedly “in a vulnerable state, mentally and emotionally.”

Another inquest has been scheduled because seven of the nine officers at the scene of the August 2015 death of Myles Gray initially refused to cooperate with the Independent Investigations Office.

Four of them were already under investigation for another assault six weeks earlier.

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Gray, 33, died in a Burnaby backyard making a delivery for his florist business after police were called because he had confronted a homeowner watering her lawn during that summer’s drought.

His injuries, including a fractured voice box, several broken bones, and a ruptured testicle, were so extensive that forensic experts were unable to determine the cause of death.

The civilian oversight agency concluded a crime may have been committed and sent a report to Crown prosecutors.

Palmer, appointed in May 2015, said the IIO was incompetent.

In October 2018, nevertheless, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Gropper said the mute cops were out of line.

“An obligation to cooperate fully with the IIO must be an essential element of the functioning of a police oversight agency that exists to investigate police-related fatalities and incidents involving serious harm. … There will be no arm’s-length investigation of an incident if it is at the discretion of the witness officers.”

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The officers restrained Gray’s arms and legs, punched, kicked, pepper-sprayed and struck him with a baton, the B.C. Prosecution Service acknowledged in a report.

In December 2020, the Crown decided none would be charged in part because of the lack of witnesses and uncertainty surrounding the cause of death.

In the intervening time, three had received commendations for their response to a November 2016 robbery at a Canadian Tire store on Bentall Street that ended in the fatal shooting of Daniel Peter Rintoul, a six-foot-one, 380-pound, 38-year-old who resisted arrest.

The IIO cleared police of wrongdoing as Rintoul “posed a threat of deadly force to members of the public.”

Last week, the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner was informed an off-duty VPD officer was injured in a traffic accident and perhaps as many as a dozen police colleagues responded, allegedly hampering a Burnaby Mountie’s investigation.

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“My understanding is they were all off duty and we’re doing a review of the situation,” Palmer shrugged, adding he was “not that concerned. … It’s a very emotional situation anytime somebody’s been injured in a car accident and emotions run high.”

You or I likely would have been charged with obstruction of justice.

Of course, there is also the treatment of a First Nations grandfather and his 12-year-old granddaughter because of confusion over her status card in December 2019.

Constables Canon Wong and Mitchel Tong marched them out of the bank and placed them under arrest in handcuffs.

The officers were later found guilty of discrimination, but they did not, as expected, attend a reconciliation event with the First Nation to apologize in person.

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Other officers searching for a suspect similarly treated a well-known retired black Supreme Court justice.

Still, Palmer maintained officers didn’t wear the thin-blue-line patch with racist intent.

“The thin blue line means service, sacrifice, esprit de corps. It’s recognizing fallen officers and officers injured in the line of duty, so it has deep meaning for police officers.”

In 2020, the RCMP banned the divisive symbol, while the city police board only recently emphasized wearing the patch on the uniform was not allowed.

The VPD also thumbed its nose at COVID health orders and mandates.

The federal government made all its employees get vaccinated, including the RCMP. The province issued a similar mandate that included health-care workers, and the city, too, required staff, including firefighters, to be fully vaccinated.

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Yet unlike most Canadian police departments, the VPD only “encouraged” vaccination — officers who didn’t were “fit for duty” if they had a negative rapid test.

So who can blame the force for feeling special — especially given the pay?

The Vancouver Sun’s updated B.C. public-sector salaries database revealed nearly 200 constables made more than $150,000 in the 2020-21 fiscal year. Another dozen made more than $200,000.

A recruit earns roughly $80,000 and a first-class constable, a status reached after four years, makes more than $110,000, not counting overtime.

The police budget has increased from $317 million in 2019 to $367 million in 2022 — that’s 21 per cent of the city’s overall budget.

Palmer, who just had his contract extended until 2025, clearly feels he can do no wrong.

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In November, after releasing a flawed report by Alberta consultants on the city’s worsening poverty and social decay that slammed responses by government as well as independent organizations and health agencies, the chief boasted: “I don’t report to any politician. I don’t report to the City of Vancouver, I don’t report to the province of B.C., or the federal government. To me, the government of the day doesn’t matter. I’ll just call it how it is and be quite frank about it.”

Enough already.

Every inquiry and study of the patchwork quilt of policing in the Metro area for half a century has concluded a regional force is needed.

The exorbitant costs, the ridiculous competition between municipalities for officers that drives up wages, the duplication, the lack of accountability … there are a host of reasons that change is long overdue.

Add the VPD’s performance and attitude to the list.



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