The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) was created to provide independent civilian oversight over municipal police forces in British Columbia.
But a string of recent cases shows the OPCC is more about overreach than oversight.
I know. I was one of the cases.
This summer, after 40 years of unblemished service with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), my policing career ended after an adjudicator whom I don’t know and who doesn’t know me said I was untruthful.
Devastated, I resigned, because I was always taught that in policing, only the truth should be spoken – you can always lose a case but never lose your credibility.
My resignation stems from an incident last year when I was the inspector in charge of the VPD jail.
At a public ceremony, I observed one of my guards looking very unprofessional with her hands in her pockets. I came up behind her, gently guided her hands out of her pockets to her sides and then calmly said that we do not put our hands in our pockets in public – while inadvertently tapping her once on the hip.
Weeks later, I was summoned to a superior’s office and given a copy of an OPCC Order to Investigate containing a “specific” allegation that I had “slapped [the guard’s] right buttock with an open palm” – an indication of clear sexual misconduct.
The complainant, with a support person, during the investigation admitted that the contact was a tap – and then on her own volition added that there was nothing sexual in nature about it.
Any rational mind will agree that this voluntary evidence by the complainant should dissolve the allegation and insinuation of sexual assault.
But the discipline authority was having none of that and wanted to pursue the matter further. And so I requested a review of the evidence by a competent authority.
I, like many of my colleagues, sensed the politics immediately – a senior male police officer in a #MeToo controversy.
Instead of a review, which is limited to looking only at the allegations that have been investigated, the OPCC ordered a public hearing to garner headlines in pursuit of its agenda.
The OPCC-assigned public hearing adjudicator ultimately decided that I had struck the guard in a disciplinary manner and condemned my procedural sending of the original Order to Investigate to my union.
The adjudicator claimed that my behaviour and responses were out of date with today’s realities.
The reality, Madam Adjudicator, is that the OPCC wants to rule the roost when it comes to police labour-relations.
It weaponizes public hearings to showcase its office and hurt people like me whose trivial indiscretions, should they be deemed that, can easily be handled by existing employer-employee processes.
Add to that the inherent conflict of interest that OPCC adjudicators are appointed and have to answer to the complaint commissioner.
A key objective of the current OPCC is to change the Police Act so that only retired judges, and not the employer, decide on police executives when they have workplace allegations against them.
The recommendations by the Oppal Commission of Inquiry into Policing, which shaped the Police Act, were based on extensive and diverse stakeholder input and discussion. They resulted in a model where police department employer-employee matters were on an equal footing with any other employment situation.
Instead of using this fundamental to conduct its business, the OPCC now arrogantly insists that only it has the “comprehensive understanding of policing, police culture and the administration of police discipline.”
The symbolic sanctions, handed down by OPCC’s hand-picked adjudicators, cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, lack credibility, hurt people and undermine public confidence in the police.
If integrity, independence and excellence are to be the pillars of a policing watchdog, the government should look beyond the OPCC-triggered rulings to see how it manipulates the trajectory of disciplinary issues through to full-blown public hearings or court interventions.
I’m but one example that shows that this police watchdog may bark public interest but its bite is all about self-interest.
John de Haas, who rose to the rank of inspector with the Vancouver Police Department over the course of his 40-year career, resigned last month before receiving two concurrent, 30-day suspensions revolving around an incident with a subordinate officer in 2017.