Thursday, April 01, 2010

Do as Rick and Alison Say...Not as They Do...

I wonder if any provincially operating pollster will come to my aid on this one. I need to get a sense of how many people in our City can tell me about the firing of Calgary Police Constable O. Valmestad in 1993 or Constable R. Stewart in 1994. I suspect very few.

Which is odd, because of the certainty with which Justice Minister Alison Redford (in a joint press effort with Chief Rick Hanson) asserts that if someone in the justice system ever "goes over to the wrong side of the road" and there is evidence found of "some sort of breach" that it will be "completely disclosed to the will be front page, everything will be open and we will be honest about it."

Now, in fairness, the dismissals of Cst. Valmestad and Cst. Stewart happened before either Ms. Redford or Mr. Hanson took their respective I have to be clear that there is no suggestion whatsoever that either of them has been involved in any kind of cover-up of those cases. Further, I don't think that one can expect these public officials to search through history and continually bring up examples of bad conduct and re-publish them to be sure everyone knows about them.

It should also be acknowledged that each of these cases was the subject of a Law Enforcement Review Board hearing that was not subject to any exclusion of the public. In theory, therefore, the details of these cases are available to an industrious member of the public who decides to go searching.

But, based on the statements of the Justice Minister, uncovered misconduct will be shouted from the mountain-tops and presented for all to see...on the "front page" as it no searching should be required. And, unfortunately, both Minister Redford and Chief Hanson will be judged on the past performance of their offices unless and until we see them demonstrate a different approach by actions, not spoon-fed press releases to the oh so critically demanding Rick Bell.

Funny...I just finished writing a piece about the secrecy that Calgary Police officers benefit from when they get charged with criminal offences as compared to the complete denuding of the average joe in like circumstances.

Also funny...since I wrote that article at the end of January, at least one more CPS officer has been charged with a criminal offence...and has still been given anonymity.

More funny...the police service is citing a recently introduced policy to not name officers charged in on-duty incidents in order to prevent harassment of members and their families over incidents where the officer may have been just doing his or her job.

Well, okay, but how is that any different than the presumption of innocence that all citizens are entitled to? I mean, the police already get the special benefit of a Crown prosecutor screening the case before charges are approved. So, when Minister Redford and Chief Hanson claim that police and justice officials get treated the same as everyone can they act like they mean that? They know that it is completely untrue.

So the police officer alleged to have committed a crime (on at least as good of evidence...and I would say better evidence than what it takes to proceed against a civilian) gets an official protection of their identity and suggestion that they may have "just been doing their job."

The citizen alleged to have become involved in crime at the behest of a criminal organization...of course getting the same treatment as the police officer...gets the following official statement from the Minister of JUSTICE (read fairness, impartiality, committed to the presumption of innocence and the need for proof beyond a reasonable doubt):

"I don't have any illusions about what these people do - dealing in drugs, intimidating people, trafficking in people, involved in all kinds of heinous activities...I wouldn't ever expect any sort of decent behaviour. It's about time we understand in Alberta how awful these people are and make this part of a conversation we have. They'll try every trick in the book because they're bad people."

Honestly...what is happening in this province? How are the Crown Prosecutors in Ms. Redford's charge supposed to be seen to be administering justice with an even hand, dispassionately seeking truth with fair treatment for all when their boss is so fervently conjuring public contempt for people whose identities will not be shielded by any policy and may find themselves accused of having committed a crime.

I am at a complete loss.

So, maybe I should revert back to those dismissals of those CPS officers...Valmestad and Stewart (whose first names do not appear anywhere in the LERB decisions...and which decisions do not appear on the LERB decision website - being pre-2002). Probably not the kind of behaviour that would warrant being described as "all kinds of heinous activities" or maybe...

Here's a summary of the Valmestad incident taken from the decision of the presiding officer at the Police Act disciplinary hearing:

The [high speed] pursuit initially begins with a traffic infraction...this in itself is a contravention of the pursuit policy, which Valmestad said he was familiar with.

The pursuit is called off by a supervisor. He acknowledges this instruction, turns off his siren, but continues to pursue. He disregards the instructions of his supervisor. He runs into the stopped Blazer twice, but he lies over the police radio to his sergeant. Traffic accident reconstructionists had to be called in, and they proved this to be a lie. He claims [R.D.] drove straight at him, tried to run him down...this false
information is shared with all responding police units when Valmestad uses the police radio. He has elevated [R.D.] to a position of being a dangerous and desperate man. While [R.D.] may have refused to stop, entered into a pursuit, and drove away from an armed police officer, he was not responsible for any deliberate attempt to run down or injure a police officer. [Valmestad] fires six shots, emptying his service revolver at the Blazer as it drives away. There is no evidence of his life or anyone else's life being threatened or endangered.

...It was important enough to use deadly force to try and stop the vehicle, yet immediately after discharging his firearm, he uses the police radio and says: "It's [R.D.] driving. Don't sweat it, I'll go and put warrants out for this guy." Obviously it's not so important now.

[Valmestad] doesn't immediately bother to tell anyone that he's fired his handgun at the Blazer. Four bullets, or portions thereof, hit the Blazer and plateglass window of a store [Creative Kits for Kids Shop] in the shopping centre. Two bullets were unaccounted for.

He leaves the scene of the accident and shooting, it is not protected. He returns after he realizes traffic on the roadway is driving through the scene.

...[Valmestad] used deadly force in an attempt to stop a vehicle. If his intent was to disable the vehicle, not only did he not succeed, but he fired at the tailgate and rear window. I fail to see how shooting at those two locations would disable a vehicle. Constable Valmestad didn't discharge one or two bullets, he fired six. His life was not in jeopardy, nor was anyone else's. In fact, the only lives in jeopardy were the three people in the Blazer who fled from Valmestad in a hail of bullets.

A similar summary of the Stewart incident follows. The gist of the story is that a woman had lived with Cst. Stewart prior to dating Stewart's Sergeant. Wanting to confront the woman and the superior officer for having an affair behind his back, Cst. Stewart entered a room at a police station where the woman and sergeant were having a discussion. From the sergeant's evidence [with my paraphrasing in brackets]:

"He closed the door and he braced his left foot against the bottom of the door. As he was doing this he drew his service revolver and pointed it at my face..." [Cst. Stewart began to demand answers about the affair. After discussions of who loved who] "Stewart then wheeled in a police crouch, both hands on the revolver, and pointed it at D.B.'s head. The revolver was an inch or two from her forehead...[he] said, "...give me a reason..." and he took a step forward and banged the gun into Ms. B's forehead...and he said, "Give me a reason why I shouldn't blow you away right

[The sergeant was then ultimately able to diffuse the situation and remove the bullets from Stewart's gun and the incident ended].

So the poll question I started out with...if justice officials are so adept at putting their misdeeds on the front page, how many people in the general public have any awareness of this behaviour by Cst. Valmestad and Cst. Stewart? And when police officers conduct themselves in this type of manner and find themselves charged with criminal offences, are we really serious that they get to be anonymous because they might be just doing their jobs?

Can anyone dispute that the facts of these cases demonstrate something other than the high standard of what is expected of police officers? No. Does that mean it would be right for me to go to a newspaper and based on these heinous acts make a statement like this about all members of the CPS:

"I wouldn't ever expect any sort of decent behaviour. It's about time we understand in Alberta how awful these people are and make this part of a conversation we have. They'll try every trick in the book because they're bad people."

I would be WAY OFFSIDE to make that statement...and yet the Minister of Justice spews such verbal diarrhea with impunity. After all, she's only speaking of useless criminals as opposed to respectful police officers like Cst. Valmestad and Cst. Stewart.

And now, since I grow weary of trying to get someone, anyone, in Alberta to care about such issues, I bring this rant to a close with the following juxtaposition. In the very article that they peddle a little more fear to the masses and assure us any organized crime corruption of the justice system will be openly exposed, Minister Redford and Chief Hanson move on to their next apparent axe to grind as the author says they both agree that:

"the federal open-book rules on what an accused should know have gone way over the line..."

Wow. That's talent. Merely a handful of words earlier an unwavering commitment to open disclosure...turned into a lead in on why criminal cases should involve less disclosure to the citizen.

And the masses eat their wings, drink their beer, watch the Flames and let it all drift by...

Michael Bates
Calgary Criminal Defence Lawyer