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IIO BC announces plan to release concluded IIO files back to the police departments they are tasked with investigating

Imagine you are falsely suspected of having committed a criminal offence at your workplace. A law enforcement agency diligently looks into the matter for six months (or longer).  During this time a shadow hangs over your professional reputation. At the conclusion of the investigation, you are cleared of any wrongdoing. But then, for “training purposes” and “self-improvement,” the constable decides to give your employer a copy of the police investigation.

It sounds like a lawsuit in the making, doesn’t it? Yet this is what the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia is now promising to do:

Surrey – The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO) today announces that it accepts the jury’s recommendations in the B.C. Coroner Service’s inquest into the officer-involved shooting death of Phuong Na (Tony) Du in Vancouver, on November 22, 2014.

The first recommendation is that the IIO should automatically release its files to the involved police service agency at the conclusion of the IIO investigation. This will help the police agency determine whether any of its existing practices, procedures, or policies should be changed or improved.

The IIO’s Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald is committed to releasing IIO investigative files to the appropriate agency at the conclusion of each matter, subject to potential privacy and other related issues.

The word trust gets thrown around a lot these days. But I do wonder if this new approach has the potential to undermine public trust in the IIO BC:

  1. What is the likelihood that some witnesses will refuse to talk to the IIO, knowing that the IIO investigation is going to be handed over to the police?
  2. Will a police officer still be candid and honest in an interview with the IIO, knowing that his boss is going to get a copy of the IIO’s investigation?
  3. How does the IIO ever hope to pursue criminal charges in old cases that develop fresh evidence, when they have already handed their investigative materials over to the police agency they were investigating?
  4. Who actually gets a copy of the IIO BC investigation? The police board? The police chief?  Professional standards?  The subject officer’s direct supervisor?  The subject officer? The witness officers?
  5. What kind of obligations does this place on the receiving police agency? Once the IIO investigation is handed over to the police agency, will they be subject to FIPPA requests? What about the discovery of documents in civil lawsuits? What about McNeil disclosure?
  6. Why is the IIO planning to reveal its investigative techniques to the police agencies that it investigates?
  7. Why does the IIO believe it is ok to criminally investigate someone for their actions and then hand a copy of the investigation to their employer?
  8. Given the above, will police agencies have the option of refusing to accept delivery of investigative files from the IIO?

This is new territory. Perhaps there is a way to make it work. Stay tuned for further developments.

An open letter to Marci Ien about racial profiling

This is an open letter to CTV’s award-winning broadcaster and talkshow host Marci Ien. It was written in response to her misleading claim that she was racially profiled by police. I’m not the author. It was posted to Craigslist Toronto yesterday and signed by Richard Huggins. This document is the first I’ve seen that truly conveys how much hurt and damage has been caused by Ms. Ien’s allegations.  Here is an excerpt:

Dear Marci Ien,

As a police officer who is mixed with Caribbean and European ancestry I’m curious to know what your opinion is on a “person of colour” (as you put it), who is also a police officer. Reading your account of what I considered to be a routine and frankly quite boring traffic stop (though having a door open on a car I was approaching may cause my heart to skip a beat); I was baffled as to how you were able to build this up into an issue of racism.

I was born in Toronto, and though life has pulled me away, my family still lives in Toronto and it will always be home. You’ve mentioned the “Black Community”, and I’m curious to know who exactly that community consists of. Does it include people with mixed ancestries? Blacks who are police officers? Is your Black community restricted to the confines of the Greater Toronto Area, or does it stretch coast to coast? If it includes all of these, I would like to know what your thoughts are on the many police officers “of colour” working in our diverse police agencies across the country. I can assure you, you do not speak for us, nor do you have the right to imply that you represent us. Police officers aside, I have spoken with many other people of colour who share the belief that you do not speak for them. So please stop. openmind_heather_mallick

I’m concerned about the possible damage your story has had on the youth and new immigrants to our country (who may be fleeing violence from police in their own countries), if your opinionated story is read as fact. Your position as a well-known journalist seems to have allowed your opinion to be taken as fact by many people. Your recent article presents a story through only one lens, and that is one of racism. As you are a journalist in this country I would argue you have a greater responsibility to present facts from multiple lenses. But perhaps journalism has changed in this country and it’s no longer required to thoroughly investigate a situation. Don’t get me wrong you are able to express your opinion, but as a journalist your delivery can play a crucial role on how it is received (as fact or opinion).

Some people think that because someone is the loudest, they must be correct. This is simply not true and can also lead to social injustices when people are judged too early without facts being uncovered. There are several “loud” people who are simply uneducated. Yet people seem to hear them more often because of how loud they shout their opinion. If you hear an uncontested opinion long enough it begins to sound like fact.

If your only tool is a hammer, it’s likely that you will view all your problems as nails. This is similar to looking at a situation through a “racism lens”. If you’re looking at a situation from the belief that it is stemmed by racism, then the result will be that you connect all your experiences in that situation to racism.

If you choose to educate yourself on policing in this country you’d find that the racism problem, which is so loudly spoken of, is not what you think. I’m hoping that this letter gives you, or anyone else who feels like reading it, a better understanding of your interaction.

Based on your article, it is clear to me that you are not educated on the roles and actions of police officers. This does not mean you yourself are not educated, but that your experience in situations like these is minimal or has been misunderstood because of the lens you are viewing it through. I don’t blame you for your lack of education in situations like these. I think many people have similar fears and misunderstandings around police operations. I know I did before I was a police officer. It came from a lack of education. Perhaps nobody is to blame for this or perhaps everyone is to blame. One could argue that our society takes minimal efforts to educate people on interacting with police. Others could argue that there is nothing stopping individuals from educating themselves on specific topics. I think it’s a mixture of both.

When I was briefly a School Liaison Officer, I developed a short program to deliver to high school students. I explained the various roles police had in a Canadian society and ways to interact with police so that the interaction was smooth for both parties. It was no surprise to me that a lot of the misconceptions students had around police came from movies, television shows and American news agencies. I can not stress enough that most movies and television shows depict an inaccurate account of policing.

We also do not have the same culture as the United States, but students would often quote American terminology or American stories for recent examples of police conflict. Again, it’s hard to fault the students for these beliefs. When lacking experience, many people seem to resort to what they’ve seen on television, when forming their beliefs. If we’re flooding our brains with Hollywood movies or the problems of another culture, it’s easy to get confused.

I would like to give some insight as to what may be going through a police officer’s head. Remember I cannot speak for all police officers. Each police officer is different with their own experiences, styles, strengths and weaknesses, but this may help with a broader view.

The most dangerous situation for a police officer to be in is while conducting a traffic stop. Most police calls involve someone giving the officers information on what they’re being called to, and who’s involved. This is often not the case for a traffic stop. Most of the time the license plates will match the vehicle and the driver will have a valid driver’s license and are able to provide their correct information (Routine Stop). However there are times when none of these add up and the officer is in danger. The officer does not know the stop is routine for certain until the interaction is finished.

Let’s look at your interaction…

Please follow this link to view the remainder of Richard Huggins’ letter. It is worth reading every word. One can only hope that Shree Paradkar, Heather Mallick, Scott Laurie and others who have condoned Ms. Ien’s attention-seeking behaviour will take the time to do so.

Was Marci Ien wearing her seatbelt when she ran a flashing red light?

Discussion continues about CTV journalist Marci Ien. She got pulled over for running a flashing red light near a school. She responded with an opinion piece in the Globe & Mail that accused the Toronto Police Service of racial profiling. Her essay painted police across Canada as racist, although she has since admitted that she’s a lousy driver:

“So I’m a bad driver, does that mean I should be profiled?” she said. “I was scared in my driveway … and that’s okay because I’m a bad driver?”

One point she made in her original essay was, “That I have lived in the neighbourhood for 13 years didn’t matter.”  Marci seemed to be suggesting less traffic enforcement for neighbourhood residents, especially if they have lived there a long time. And yet this contradicts the interview she did for Canada AM on August 7, 2008:

IEN: You travelled the world, talking to driving experts, traffic engineers. What surprised you most?

VANDERBILT: Oh jeez, everything. But the one thing that sticks with me is that most of us think we’re better than average drivers. If you do surveys, 90 percent of people will say “I’m a better than average driver”, which is mathematically impossible. And there’s just so much we don’t know about driving. We take it for granted that it’s very easy, but it’s just one of the most complex things we do.

IEN: You know, here are some of the things I found interesting. Most car accidents happen close to home. Usually the day is sunny, bright, one of those days that you wouldn’t think that an accident would happen.

VANDERBILT: Exactly. And some of that is because that’s just the most driving we do. We do most of our driving close to home. Most days are actually clear, and we drive more during the day.

But there’s another thing going on there that I think has been called “risk compensation”: we think it’s safe so we kind of let our guard down a little bit.

IEN: That’s right.

VANDERBILT: And studies have even shown that we pay less attention to traffic signs in our own neighbourhood then when we’re in a new place. So, we become a little bit too familiar, I think.

IEN: It makes sense, we’re cautious as we drive through new places. And how many of us really start to take off our seatbelts before we even drive into our driveway?

VANDERBILT: Exactly.

IEN: That kind of thing. Most people are killed legally crossing at crosswalks. More so than jaywalking. I was surprised by that.

Racial profiling: Does Marci Ien at CTV News have any credibility?

Marci Ien recently wrote an essay in the Globe & Mail, claiming she had been racially profiled during a traffic stop by the Toronto Police. Her key allegations are:

  • It was Sunday evening and she was driving home
  • A police officer pulled her over just as she arrived at her house
  • She got out of her car to approach the officer and ask what he was doing
  • He told her to get back in her car (twice)
  • The officer approached her vehicle and she opened her door
  • He told her to close the door and roll down the window
  • The police officer told her she was being recorded
  • The police officer told her she had rolled through a flashing red light
  • The officer went back to his cruiser with her driver’s license & registration
  • She felt powerless and frustrated
  • When the officer returned he gave her a warning
  • She demanded he take specific enforcement action: “If I’ve done something wrong give me the ticket. I’m prepared to pay it.”
  • She told him this was the third time she had been pulled over in eight months
  • She attempted to engage him in conversation about racial profiling
  • The police officer politely bid her goodnight and left.

What Marci fails to disclose is that she has a history of manipulative behaviour, road rage, poor driving, speeding and getting pulled over. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Marci Ien. It was published by the Globe & Mail on December 29, 2005:

Ien confesses she likes speed sometimes. She has been stopped by police a few times, but nailed only once. Her secret: “I flash them a smile. I don’t know if it’s the Marci Ien thing, but it’s like, ‘Did you know you were going . . .?’ Yes, I did. I won’t do it again. ‘Okay, that’s fine.’

“My husband always makes fun of me because he goes, ‘I can’t get away with that. Guys don’t get away with that!’ But women, you know, sometimes you have to do what you have to do,” she says, flashing her trademark pearly whites.

After Blaize was born, Ien temporarily adopted a new driving style.

“I was travelling with my little girl and she was in her car seat and I was coming out of a strip mall and waiting to make a left turn. There was a car behind me and I was being extra cautious. I had a newborn in the car. Traffic was heavy and I was probably waiting a good two minutes.

“The person behind me started to get upset, thinking I should have gone a long time ago so they started to honk. I was so upset. I literally turned off the ignition, holding the keys in a rage, I went up to her and then told her off. ” ‘I have a newborn in the car so I’m being a little extra cautious, if you don’t mind!’ ” she says, the tone of her voice escalating. “The poor woman looked so scared. And then she said to me, ‘I’m so sorry, of course you should.’ And then said, ‘Aren’t you Marci Ien? I watch you every morning.’

“It was awful. I was so upset. It was really embarrassing,”

Marci was 36 years old when this interview was published. Old enough to know better. She is now 48 years old. As an award-winning journalist with CTV News, Marci Ien wields a national megaphone. This week she used that megaphone to make serious accusations of racial profiling against the Toronto Police Service.

There is a credibility gap between her claims in the Globe & Mail this week, and the insights she provided into her temperament and behaviour in the same newspaper twelve years ago. The woman who accosted another driver in a rage is now surprised that a police officer, witnessing similar behaviour, would direct her back into her vehicle. The woman who boasted about speeding now claims she doesn’t understand why she keeps getting pulled over.  The journalist who bragged about using her looks to get out of traffic tickets now claims that not getting a ticket is a sign of racism.

I feel awful for the Toronto police officer who has been victimized by her attention-seeking behaviour.

UPDATE – Toronto Police Staff Superintendent Mario Di Tommaso has now publicly contradicted Marci Ien’s misleading claims:

Note: The opinions expressed on this blog are my own, and do not represent the views of my employer or any other organization.

Testing street drugs for fentanyl: Does it reduce overdoses?

A pilot project by Insite that allows drug users to check their drugs for the presence of fentanyl has received a lot of publicity. Now, according to this article in the Globe & Mail, the BC government is going to increase the availability of these tests:

British Columbia is set to expand a program to allow people to check their street drugs for fentanyl, the latest harm-reduction initiative to roll out amid skyrocketing overdose deaths.

The most recent figures from the provincial government show 1,103 confirmed deaths from overdoses of illicit drugs in the first nine months of this year. The year-end total is on pace to be around seven times the annual average in the 2000s.

I’m going to take a few moments to explain why this harm-reduction strategy, in its current form, is a bad idea.

First, it is likely that cross-contamination is causing false positives. Insite is not a sterile lab environment, and nor are the drug users who are conducting these tests. Trace amounts of fentanyl and other opiates are likely present on their hands, clothes, etc. Only a very small amount of fentanyl is required to generate a positive test result.

Street drugs are often cut with a buffer, and the result is not a uniform mixture. For example, low-grade heroin cut with fentanyl has not been mixed to pharmaceutical standards. A tiny sample tested at Insite might have no fentanyl, but there could still be enough fentanyl in the remaining dose to kill the user. Also, the tests used by Insite result in false negatives. It’s also worth noting the tests can detect fentanyl, but may not be able to accurately or reliably detect other synthetic drugs such as W-18. The latter is known to be present in British Columbia. W-18 is orders of magnitude more toxic than fentanyl.

As mentioned the test itself, even if used correctly, inherently has a false negative rate. This means the test will sometimes come back negative even through fentanyl is present. Furthermore, the drug test strips were only designed to be used for human urine samples as a preliminary test. I obtained a copy of the BTNX Single Drug Test Strip from Kwan Tse, manager of QA / RA at BTNX Inc.  Excerpts from this product insert include numerous warnings (emphasis added by me).

In the section labeled INTENDED USE:

The Rapid Response Single Drug Test Strip is rapid chromatographic immunoassays for the qualitative and simultaneous detection of one of the following drugs in a variety of combinations in human urine.

This assay provides only a preliminary analytical test result. A more specific alternative chemical method must be used in order to obtain a confirmed analytical result.

In the section labeled QUALITY CONTROL:

Good laboratory practice recommends the use of control materials to ensure proper kit performance. Quality control specimens are available from commercial sources and are recommended to be used daily. Use the same assay procedure as with a urine specimen. Controls should be challenging to the assay cutoff concentration. If control values do not fall within established limits, assay results are invalid. Users should follow the appropriate federal, state, and local guidelines concerning the running of external quality controls.

There is no indication from Insite that control materials were used on a daily basis to ensure the validity of their off-label fentanyl screening tests. As such their test results are unreliable.

In the section labeled LIMITATIONS OF THE TEST:

The assay is designed for use with human urine only.

There is a possibility that technical or procedural error as well other substances as factors not listed may interfere with the test and cause false results. See SPECIFICITY for lists of substances that will produce either positive results, or that do not interfere with test performance.

In the section labeled Specificity:

The Specificity for the Rapid Response Single Drug Test Strip has been tested by adding various drugs, drug metabolites, and other compounds that are likely to be present in drug-free normal human urine. The Rapid Response Single Drug Test Strip performance at cutoff point are not affected when pH range of urine specimens is at 3.0 to 8.5 and specific gravity range of urine specimens is at near 1.005 to 1.03.

The specificity testing for this product was limited as the company was only considering what was likely to be found in drug-free human urine. It should be obvious by now that this product was never designed to be used for the testing of unknown street drugs prior to their consumption by humans.

The pilot project results obtained by Insite are compromised by these limitations. It is likely that various adulterants in street drugs as well as the drugs themselves are causing either false positives or false negatives.

There is also a risk that Insite is simply confirming the presence of fentanyl for drug traffickers whose true intention is to sell fentanyl on the streets. The data from the pilot project hints at this. Here is an excerpt from the abstract presented at the 2017 Harm Reduction International conference:

Of substances checked pre-consumption, compared to receiving a negative result, receiving a positive result did result in more dose reductions (37% vs. 8%) but not in more disposals (9% vs. 8%).

And so even when street drugs tested positive for fentanyl, the users did not get rid of their drugs.  The users said (to Insite staff) that they were reducing their planned dose, but there was no way to verify the truth of those statements. What the data shows is that clients walked out of Insite with their fentanyl-laced dope. Their likely plan was to sell their fentanyl to unsuspecting users, or to keep it for themselves and use it on their own.  Both choices have almost certainly resulted in fatal consequences for people who use drugs in British Columbia.

I have been a public advocate of harm reduction for almost a decade. But harm reduction supporters should not blindly accept every strategy and method put forward as harm reduction. Because the Insite pilot project did not result in users getting rid of their fentanyl, it cannot be said that testing street drugs for fentanyl actually reduces overdoses.

One last point: The data showing that users did not dispose of their fentanyl-laced drugs (once they become aware of the contamination) was never included in the original media release by Vancouver Coastal Health. I think it was an important point for journalists to know. Particularly as that media release generated worldwide coverage. Users and user-dealers were walking out the doors of Insite into the broader community, believing that the dope in their possession was fentanyl. It should have been in the original media release.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog post represent my own personal views, and not those of my employer (or any other organization).