Saturday, March 14, 2009

Alone and Cold: The Davies Commission Inquiry into the Death of Frank Paul

Ten years in the making, in a 445 page report, Commissioner William Davies, a retired judge, gave a scathing account of the circumstances that led to the death of Frank Paul. Frank Paul, a Mi’kmaq man, succumbed to hypothermia after being dumped into an alley. Earlier on that night, he had been placed in a holding cell by the Vancouver Police Department.

In his report, “Alone and Cold: The Davies Commission Inquiry into the Death of Frank Paul,” Commissioner Davies criticizes both police conduct on the night of December 5, 1998 and the VPD investigation that followed. Citing the inadequacies of the police investigation as being “methodically flawed,” he noted that the investigating officer did not contact several key witnesses. He further stated that the systemic flaws in the investigation procedures of the VPD are so severe that it is not feasible for even external police investigating the VPD. Finally, in a recommendation that has been gaining popularity in British Columbia, he stated that a civilian body should be established to investigate the custodial deaths of civilians. The recommendations relating to police investigations are directed towards the province’s 11 municipal police forces that police roughly 30% of the population, while the RCMP police 1/3 of the province.

What are significant are his findings on death in police custody, an issue that has garnered much attention in recent years. Commissioner Davies recommended a broader interpretation of what constitutes a death in police custody. Davies stated that “a death in a police department jail cell, a death resulting from an officer’s use of force or motor vehicle, or a death arising from some other form of police interaction with the deceased.” While circumstances of police custody deaths will not be limited to the foregoing, the Commissioner has recommended for an expansive framework to the circumstances, situations and police actions that result in the custodial deaths of civilians.

The Commissioner looked at the actions of other public bodies as well. During the inquiry, the Commissioner had argued that he had the jurisdiction to inquire into the reasons the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of Attorney General did not advance criminal charges against any of the involved police officers. The British Columbia Supreme Court held that the Commission could hear this evidence from the Crown. However, the Criminal Justice Branch appealed this decision and is currently on reserve with the BC Court of Appeal.

The BC Coroners Service was criticized for failing to inform the family of his death and for failing to keep an accurate and complete record of his death, citing it initially as a hit and run, rather than a death in police custody. Also, cognizant of Mr. Paul’s personal circumstances, Davies recommended the establishment of a civilian run alcoholic treatment program for chronic homeless alcoholics.

Posted by Mandy Cheema (Windsor Law III)

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