As criminal lawyers we have seen many cases where people have been treated terribly by the police. We’ve come to see this as standard police procedure, although any police force would understandable deny this.
However, from time to time it gets on the news, usually when there’s someone who manages to catch the police in the act with a video camera. Such was the case late last week when a member of Vancouver’s finest, i.e. the Vancouver Police Department, gratuitously kicked a suspect in the chest.
You can watch the video on CBC’s website. You should watch the video.
The suspect is handcuffed, on the ground and shirtless when the officer steps forward and boots the suspect square on in the chest. The suspect’s neck snaps back as he recoils from the hit. There was no reason. It was an assault of a defenseless man by someone whom we are paying to uphold the law.
We hear of stories like this from clients from time to time and we know that brutality is standard police procedure in British Columbia, but unless it’s on video there’s no point in bringing it up. There is no point in arguing it at an Immediate Roadside Prohibition review hearing, for example, because you can expect to be disbelieved and in any event they won’t give you a remedy for a Charter violation. If you make a complaint, the police will spend thousands of your tax dollars defending it. If you’re in Court you hope you and your lawyer can get out the evidence to support the allegation. But you’re up against the state, and they have the deepest pockets (your tax dollars) and more resources than any person ever has. Also, it may not be the argument most likely to succeed at trial, so it may be best to not bring it up.
The point is that the police can get away with this sort of behaviour 99% of the time. As far as IRPs are concerned, it’s virtually state sanctioned.
The appearance of propriety
The Vancouver Police are quick to recognize an embarrassing situation, so to demonstrate that they are acting on this matter they have called in the Abbotsford Police to conduct the investigation.
Why the Abbotsford Police? If you do a quick search you will find on the CBC site that in October 2009 Abbotsford Police officers were videoed kicking suspects who were lying on the ground and then walking over them – actually stepping on them for no purpose. You can find the video on Youtube here. It was an assault. And those officers came through relatively unscathed. So the Vancouver Police know that the Abbotsford Police are playing by the same book of standard police procedure.