Gary Mason (Globe and Mail, Opinion) – About this time every year, Linda Bush isn’t the same.
She finds she has less patience with her grandchildren. She isn’t as focused on the job. The most arbitrary comments can reduce her to tears.
Like the other day when she walked into the A&W in Houston, B.C., and overheard a conversation between two women. “Oh,” one said. “I hear your son is coming home.”
That was all it took. Linda Bush fled the restaurant in tears.
Her son is never coming home. Ian Bush was shot by an RCMP officer in the Houston detachment on Oct. 29, 2005, after being arrested for holding an open bottle of beer outside a hockey arena. His death provoked a nationwide fury. An inquest revealed serious problems with the way the RCMP conducted their investigation into the matter. The officer who shot Mr. Bush was never charged even though there were serious questions about the credibility of his story.
Since then, there have been other in-custody deaths involving the RCMP that have raised doubts about the Mounties’ ability to conduct unbiased investigations into the conduct of their own.
Early next month, Ms. Bush will travel to Ottawa to be on hand when NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley) introduces a bill that would create a national civilian oversight force that would take over all investigations of in-custody deaths or serious incidents involving the RCMP.
Mr. Cullen attended the coroner’s inquest into Mr. Bush’s death three years ago. That is when the idea for this bill first took seed.
“The name we have come up with for this unit is the Civilian Investigative Service,” he said in an interview. “It is modelled on similar civilian units in Ontario, but also in Europe and other jurisdictions.
“The time has come for this. The public is demanding it. Even the country’s RCMP Complaints Commissioner recognizes it. We need an arm’s-length unit so public trust can be restored in our national police force.”
The bill contains little information about such things as how many officers would be needed for the new unit or what it would cost the government. Those details, Mr. Cullen said, can be worked out later. The important thing is getting the government to commit to the principle of true civilian oversight, he said. Even though it seems unlikely that the Conservatives will embrace the bill, it shouldn’t preclude a national discussion around the idea.
Mr. Cullen is right. The public’s estimation of the RCMP has plummeted in recent years, and it’s mostly due to high-profile cases in which the force has demonstrated a questionable ability to conduct neutral investigations into the conduct of Mounties.
The Braidwood inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski has raised several questions about the way the RCMP handled that investigation.
The four officers who were present when Mr. Dziekanski was tasered five times gave stories to RCMP investigators immediately afterward that were dramatically at odds with video evidence that would surface later. The officers were never asked to explain the discrepancies.
And that is just one of many problems with that investigation that have come up at the inquiry.
The time for a true civilian oversight unit is long overdue. Mr. Cullen said he has been contacted by several Mounties who have told him that they would welcome such a move. I don’t doubt it. Even the RCMP superintendent who led the investigation into Mr. Dziekanski’s death has said a civilian oversight body is probably the only way public trust in the force is going to be restored.
Linda Bush believes so too. That is the message she will be taking with her when she sits down with politicians in Ottawa next month to lobby for Mr. Cullen’s bill on behalf of parents like herself.
Mr. Cullen said his proposed legislation will be called Ian’s Law. Ms. Bush said that while it is an honour, she isn’t ready to accept that the passing of such legislation would mean that at least something good came of her son’s death.
“I’m not at the point where I’m prepared to accept that it’s a good trade,” she said.