Linda Bush backs new police watchdog

Linda Bush says B.C.’s new police watchdog is the kind of independent oversight that was missing when her son was killed in police custody.

Linda Bush says B.C.’s new police watchdog is the kind of independent oversight that was missing when RCMP investigated the 2005 shooting death of her son Ian.

“When Ian died, we had RCMP come in and do all the forensics and everything,” she said. “That won’t happen any more with this new investigative body.”

Last week, the B.C. government hired Denver’s police oversight specialist to head the province’s new Independent Investigations Office.

Richard Rosenthal was deputy district attorney in Los Angeles before moving to Portland to establish their independent police office. He then moved to create his current job as independent police monitor for the city and county of Denver.

Bush said Rosenthal “seems to have lots of experience, and just hearing him talk it sounds like he’s ready for the job.”

Rosenthal will start setting up the new B.C. office in January, and wants to have it ready to investigate deaths and serious injuries involving police starting in mid-2012.

The B.C. government committed to a civilian-led agency after a string of incidents involving RCMP and city police forces.

The office was recommended by inquiries into the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport, and Frank Paul, who was removed from the Vancouver Police drunk tank in 1998 and left unconscious in an alley.

The 2005 gunshot death of Ian Bush at the Houston RCMP detachment was another case that raised the issue of whether police should investigate themselves.

Linda Bush has been pressing for change ever since.

“They heard from me,” she said, laughing. “They knew, basically, what I wanted. But I did keep reminding them of the important things, as far as I could tell.”

Bush dropped a civil suit against the B.C. RCMP in April 2010 after both sides agreed change was needed.

“I think the new office is going to be what we were looking for,” she said, adding that the RCMP have already started bringing in outside police forces to investigate incidents that result in a civilian death or injury.

The trouble, said Bush and other critics, was that even those external investigators did not have the power to compel RCMP officers to testify or to hand over documents.

When it is up and running, the new office will have those powers. It will also have the power to review RCMP policy and to recommend criminal charges.

“I’m hoping, I’m expecting that there will be severe consequences for someone who refuses to cooperate with this office,” said Bush.

But RCMP still have other reforms left to do, she added.

“I really think that their training process is still lacking, very badly,” she said.

“It’s short, and it’s very technical,” she said, speaking of the nine-month RCMP training  course in Regina. “The emphasis is very much on getting out there and taking charge. They don’t have any classroom training that I know of where they learn how to actually deal with people.”

Const. Paul Koester had only graduated from the RCMP five months before he shot Ian Bush during a scuffle in the Houston detachment.

But at least for B.C. investigations of serious police incidents, Linda Bush said government is making the right moves.

“I’m just really glad to see it’s happening,” she said. “I think we’ll all be safer for it, including the RCMP.”

With files from Tom Fletcher

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