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B.C. government launches investigation into civilian police watchdog

The B.C. government is launching a formal investigation into the province’s civilian police watchdog after receiving several complaints about senior management, low morale, inconsistent policies and other problems in the office.
Richard Rosenthal was appointed chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office in 2011. Before he came to B.C., Rosenthal set up police oversight units in Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado.

The B.C. government is launching a formal investigation into the province’s civilian police watchdog after receiving several complaints about senior management, low morale, inconsistent policies and other problems in the office.

In the 2 1/2 years since the Independent Investigations Office was formed to investigate police-involved deaths or serious injuries, the government has spent tens of thousands of dollars on three employee surveys, two external reviews and now, the Times Colonist has learned, a formal investigation.

Since the office was established, 22 employees have left.

The deputy attorney general’s office and the Public Service Agency, the human resources arm of the B.C. government, have received several employee complaints about bullying and harassment, prompting the agency to initiate a formal investigation.

“After careful consideration of the concerns raised related to workplace issues at the Independent Investigations Office, [deputy attorney general Richard] Fyfe has asked the Public Service Agency to investigate and provide him with their advice on what steps, if any, may be necessary to ensure that personnel practices in the IIO meet the standards required by law,” a Justice Ministry spokesperson said in a statement to the Times Colonist on Jan. 29.

Despite the concerns, the statements says, “The ministry has full confidence that the mandate of the IIO continues to be met.”

The Independent Investigation Office was formed after the Braidwood Inquiry — which probed the RCMP investigation into the fatal Tasering of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski — recommended a civilian police-oversight body staffed by civilian investigators and former police officers who had not worked with police departments in B.C. in the last five years.

The office has a staff of 32 investigators — though seven of those positions are currently vacant — and 18 administrative staff.

Seventeen investigators and five non-investigative staff have left since it was established.

One former police officer was fired in 2012. In 2013, three civilians resigned. In 2014, 11 employees left — four former police officers were fired, while five former officers and two civilians resigned. Already in 2015, one investigator has resigned.

The police oversight body has paid $172,198.66 in severance to five people, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

At least three investigators who were fired sued for wrongful dismissal and two have since settled.

The Justice Ministry did not give details on how many employees or former employees would be interviewed as part of the investigation, or provide a timeline for when it would be complete.

Fyfe did not agree to an interview, and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton would not comment because an investigation is underway.

This is not the first time the workings of the Independent Investigations Office have been examined.

Last year, the province hired labour-relations consultant Tony Belcher to conduct a human-resources review, sparked by complaints from Fred Leibel and Robin Stutt, two former investigators who were fired by Richard Rosenthal, the office’s chief civilian director.

The review, completed in October at a cost of $12,475, has not been made public.

Leibel and Stutt would not comment because of the ongoing investigation.

The office’s investigation into the fatal shooting of military veteran Greg Matters in Prince George has also come under scrutiny.

In May 2013, Rosenthal concluded that the RCMP officers involved in the incident should not face criminal charges, saying Matters was shot twice, with two bullets to the chest.

But that October, a coroner’s inquest heard from a pathologist who testified that the bullets struck Matters in the back.

Vancouver lawyer Mark Jette conducted an external review into the matter last year, at a cost of $20,345.

In a report released in November, Jette concluded that the integrity of the investigation was affected by Rosenthal’s decision to use two investigators who had served as members of a police force in B.C. within the last five years — making them ineligible for the position under the Police Act.

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