Report on civilian police watchdog won’t be made public

Despite employee complaints of bullying, mismanagement, low morale and high turnover in the province’s civilian police watchdog, the B.C. government’s human resources branch will not release results of its investigation into the Independent Investigations Office.

And now a second investigation has been ordered after complaints about another IIO director, the Times Colonist has learned.

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The first formal investigation was ordered by the Public Service Agency, the human resources arm of the B.C. government, after several employee complaints about bullying and harassment by chief civilian director Richard Rosenthal.

Labour lawyer Chris Sullivan has been hired to conduct the investigation, which includes interviews with current and former IIO employees and senior management.

But that report will be kept secret.

“This is a personnel issue, and we are limited in what we can say due to privacy considerations,” said a spokesman in the Ministry of Finance. “As such, any investigation report would be considered confidential and would not be publicly released.”

There is no deadline for the report to be completed.

The Ministry of Finance refused to confirm the existence of the second Public Service Agency investigation, but IIO staff have been told about it.

In the 21Ú2 years since the Independent Investigations Office was formed to investigate police-involved deaths or serious injuries, it has been the subject of three employee surveys, two external reviews and two formal investigations by the Public Service Agency. A human resources review was conducted last year by labour-relations consultant Tony Belcher, in response to complaints from Fred Leibel and Robin Stutt, two former investigators who were fired by Rosenthal in 2014. Belcher’s report was given to deputy attorney general Richard Fyfe.

The government is refusing to release the Belcher report following a Freedom of Information request by the Times Colonist. The response cited privacy concerns and provisions that protect policy advice to a public body or minister.

Even the senior information and privacy analyst handling the request was unable to obtain a copy of the report to consider redactions.

Leibel, a former investigator, has also been denied access to the Belcher report. He said he has never been advised of the results of his complaint.

“The obvious question is what happened to the Belcher report? Did Belcher substantiate our complaints, unsubstantiate our complaints?” Leibel said. “That’s the part that confounds me. It seems to me they’re stalling at every turn, putting whatever obstacles they can throw up to not deal with the issue. As a complainant, I have the right to know.”

Leibel is asking the information and privacy commissioner to review the decision.

The IIO was created as a mechanism for transparency in police-involved deaths after the Braidwood inquiry, which probed the flawed RCMP investigation into the fatal Tasering of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

One of the IIO’s values is transparency through public reporting. But the office has been plagued by internal problems, resulting in 22 of its 50 employees quitting or being fired in the last two years.

Rosenthal has said every new organization experiences high employee turnover and growing pains.

NDP justice critic Mike Farnworth said the Public Service Agency’s investigation into Rosenthal should be released to increase public confidence.

“I think they need to be more open in terms of what their findings were … so that people have confidence,” Farnworth said.

He cited the secrecy around the report into the Ministry of Health firings of seven researchers, documents the government was eventually ordered to release by the privacy commissioner after appeals from the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

“Given what we’ve seen in the past with this government — what we saw around the health firings issue, for example — I think it’s important that people have confidence that any investigation done by the [Public Services Agency] is thorough,” Farnworth said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— With files from Lindsay Kines

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