Provincial authorities are in the early stages of an investigation into how the Vancouver Police Board and a third-party consultant handled a recent review of the VPD’s use of street checks.
B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety is in the process of selecting a consultant to examine the police board’s street checks review , which was released in February of this year. The review will examine, among other things, whether the Vancouver Police Board has sufficient independence from the department they are tasked with overseeing, both in this particular case and in general.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, which filed the 2018 complaint that prompted the review, expressed concern this summer upon learning allegations of police racism and misconduct were deleted from the final report; and this week, the groups said new details revealed by Postmedia raised even more serious questions about the process.
The police board hired Pyxis Consulting Group last year to analyze the department’s use of street checks, when police stop people on the street and collect their identifying information, after complaints the practice was racist. Pyxis researchers then witnessed troubling incidents during two of the 12 ride-alongs they completed — one officer using racist language and another with “anger issues” who was “extremely rude” to the public — which they detailed in a draft of the report.
The draft stated: “While these officers were clear exceptions, their behaviour and attitude were highly concerning and something that the VPD needs to address.”
But when the VPD attempted to address the situation, the Pyxis researchers refused to help.
After the police board provided the draft to the VPD late last year, the department launched an internal investigation into the conduct described. But that internal investigation ended without a result.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, the B.C.’s agency that oversaw the VPD internal investigation, reported that members of the department and board “co-operated fully,” but the primary reason the investigation failed to identify the two officers in question was the refusal of Pyxis personnel to be interviewed or to provide information.
The Pyxis researchers told the commissioner they had destroyed all of their field notes, reportedly in late November, before the street-checks review was presented to the police board, and months before it was made public.
Curt Griffiths, a researcher who contributed to the Pyxis report, defended destroying the notes and refusing to co-operate with investigators, citing “research ethical guidelines.”
“We have to guarantee our respondents’ confidentiality and anonymity. Otherwise, they’re not going to talk to you, and you couldn’t do field research,” said Griffiths, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University.
“If those officers were engaged in criminal behaviour, obviously, we would be under an obligation to report. But there is a threshold,” he said, and the alleged misconduct described in the draft did not rise to that threshold.
But deputy complaint commissioner Andrea Spindler said Pyxis’s destruction of notes and other aspects of the review were “certainly concerning enough for us to to make that recommendation” to the B.C. director of police services, former senior Mountie Brenda Butterworth-Carr, for her office to review the matter.
That recommendation, made in July, has been accepted, and the review is now moving ahead. The request for proposals closed in October and the ministry was evaluating applicants as of this week. The chosen consultant will investigate, among other things , the roles of the police board, VPD and Pyxis in the process of finalizing the report, “in particular the decision to remove information relevant to the scope of the complaint from the final report.”
The review will also look at the preservation of documentation to support the report’s findings.
“This was a publicly funded engagement on a very important issue, and it was disappointing that we weren’t able to really get at the truth here,” Spindler said. “That’s where, hopefully, police services will have to dive into these issues further.”
Pyxis president Ruth Montgomery, a former Edmonton police superintendent, refused to respond to Postmedia’s questions this week.
Montgomery has also previously refused to speak publicly about her company’s work for the Vancouver Police Board.
Emails obtained by Postmedia through a freedom-of-information request show that in February, as Pyxis prepared to present the street-checks review to the board and the public, Montgomery wrote to police board executive director Stephanie Johanssen saying: “I will not answer public or media questions as we have completed the review.”
Johanssen replied: “Oh absolutely — we wouldn’t do that to you! :),” using a keyboard shorthand for a smiley face. “Public/media can’t ask questions during the meeting and you can leave right after the street-checks complaint is over so that they can’t even snag you on the way out.”
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