Police Chiefs: Public or Private?

BC’s Information Commissioner launches an inquiry into police chief associations.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has launched an inquiry into British Columbia’s two police chief associations. Denham is considering recommending to government that the BC Association of Chiefs of Police (BCACP) and the BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police (BCAMCP) should be declared governmental “public bodies” and be made subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). According to her December 6 “letter to stakeholders,” the Commissioner is also inviting public input about this possible recommendation until February 14, 2014.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissoner (OIPC) evidently has some of the same concerns about the associations that Focus has been reporting on for two years, as it’s become clear that these secretive associations have been doing everything from crafting the government’s policing legislation to ordering police media spokespersons around the province to promote the virtues of mass surveillance. “In my reflections on this issue to date,” Denham’s two-page letter states, “it appears that the policy argument in favour of such a recommendation is based on two related considerations.” Denham describes “the important public role that the Chief Constables and the Associations play in our society,” while “government and others treat the Associations as the focal point for contact with the Chief Constables on matters of public policy.” However, she points out, “the appropriate level of transparency of Association records can be achieved for FIPPA purposes only if a member of the public can request current and historical records from the Association itself, rather than relying on what might be piecemeal and incomplete records held by individual Chief Constables at any given time.”

What prompted this action? “We had inquiries, we had letters, we had calls, and we examined the implications of [freedom of information] and its application to these associations in some mediation files,” said Denham in an interview with Focus. “So we’ve had interest in the question. We’ve had evidence presented to us in relation to this question.”

Read the rest at Focusonline.

An Overabundance of Caution

We’re worried about each other’s “mental health” a lot more than we used to be. But calling 911 for someone can be a disastrous approach, say victims of our good – or not so good – intentions.

The day before, John had interred his mother’s ashes. But then came what he describes as an “unbelievable, incomprehensible incident” that, in his sensitive state, was “otherworldly” and “traumatizing.”

John (who wishes to keep his name confidential) went to a Victoria recreation centre to try to clear his mind. He bumped into a friend and they talked into the wee hours. When John returned home, the lights in his condominium were on.

“I thought, I must have leaned up against the dimmer switch when I was putting my shoes on,” says John. Then he noticed an out-of-place binder, his laptop positioned differently, his email program opened. “Something was askew,” says John. “It was like I was in some sort of parallel universe.”

Had someone broken in? Visible money hadn’t been taken. “It was just a really creepy feeling,” he says. Having suffered a heart attack last year, and also taking medications for anxiety and help with sleep, the 50 year old felt a “physiological response” to the sense of “violation” and quickly took his medications. “I’m in no immediate danger,” he said to himself.

At 5 a.m., John was awoken by his phone ringing. A police constable introduced himself and said, “We’re just wondering how you’re doing.”

Read the rest at Focus online.

Coup de Police

Secret police chief association records provoke serious questions about lack of police oversight in this province.

As I read through hundreds of pages of records from two BC associations of chiefs of police, I discovered that a letter I had sent to the West Vancouver Police Department Chief Constable had been turned over to all of Canada’s major banks, Canada Border Services, CSIS, and the US Secret Service. This certainly made a mockery of my privacy rights. Yet I realized that much more than privacy was at stake. These previously secret records—a drop from a much vaster pool—painted a worrying picture of unchecked police powers.

A catch up: Last year, I set out to learn more about the BC Association of Chiefs of Police (BCACP) and BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police (BCAMCP), because these groups have had tremendous influence on public opinion and provincial justice policies for decades, and yet there’s virtually no publicly available information about them. My quest became a saga (see Focus October 2012, May 2013, July/August 2013).

The chiefs weren’t talkative, and claimed they weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) covering public bodies (including governing bodies of most professional associations), because their associations were actually “private” groups of “volunteer” participants. I knew that both associations did a lot of lobbying of government officials, so if they were private groups, then I reasoned that at least some of their activities should be tracked in the BC Lobbyist Registry. However, the chiefs also claimed that they weren’t subject to the BC Lobbyists Registration Act because their work in the associations was actually being done in their official capacities as public employees.

Pardon?

BC Civil Liberties Association policy director Micheal Vonn not-so-sardonically summarized the chiefs’ shifting, self-contradicting descriptions of their associations succinctly: “We’re going to use a characterization that may or may not match reality as a shield against, well, whatever we decide we need to be shielded against.”

Were they hiding something? Read the rest at Focus online.

Accountability Crisis

When our governments are going rogue, who or what is going to hold them to account?

 

Lately I’ve been running into so much lack of legal accountability at the most fundamental operating levels of our public agencies, I don’t know where to turn to demand accountability.

After investigating the BC Premier’s Office and its suspicious dearth of documents about major decisions, for example, the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner this year suggested that public employees should have a “duty to document.” But the Commissioner also mentioned that she did not have jurisdiction over the BC Document Disposal Act (DDA). That caught my attention even more. Who, I wondered, ensures that governments and public employees obey the law when they decide what records to permanently delete or shred?

I found out that some training of public employees in rules for document filing and deleting is done, but no one actively monitors compliance. “There are no provisions under the DDA for central monitoring of records disposal,” read a statement from the ministry in charge of information services. I also discovered I’m not the only watchdog worrying. Scanning BC’s Open Information website (where many results of freedom of information requests are posted), I saw that a media outlet recently seemed to be researching a controversial provincial government trade mission to Asia, and then requested copies of emails from people ordering other people to delete those very records. What’s then laid bare in the released documents is that the word “transitory” has become common parlance at government’s highest levels.

Read the rest at Focus online.

Money for Nothing (and the drugs for free)

Doctors’ relationships with drug company representatives have changed, say knowledgeable readers. But for better or worse?

A recently-unemployed friend of mine went into a Victoria walk-in clinic in June complaining about unease he couldn’t explain, and walked out with enough free packets of the antidepressant Cipralex and the stimulant Ritalin to last for weeks. If he liked these drugs, the doctor said, he should come back and get prescriptions for more. “It all happened so fast, in less than five minutes,” my friend said with both fascination and wariness.

I was working at the time on last issue’s article about the drug company sales representatives who fill our doctors’ shelves with free drug samples (“Meet Your Doctor’s Generous Friend,” Focus July/August 2013). My friend showed me his packets, each prominently stamped “Sample.” It seemed very coincidental. However, over the next several months coincidental encounters with Cipralex kept occurring, and I started to wonder how coincidental it really was.

Meanwhile, as damning as my article was of the relationships between drug companies, their sales representatives, and local medical doctors, Focus and I received only a few critical responses. That silence started making me feel like the reality was even worse than the article portrayed. Where were all the doctors declaring their independence from drug company money? Where were all the drug companies and reps declaring, “We’d never engage in those kinds of manipulative, corrupt activities”?

This month’s letter to the editor from a drug sales rep reflects one criticism we did hear: Bill’s and Sam’s stories of working as drug reps in Victoria and Vancouver from 1997-2009 were dated and things today are different. As some folks told it, today many local doctors know drug reps as responsible professionals who deliver samples and, if there’s any interaction, it’s a collaboration in patients’ best interests, period. However, my response was, even if practices in Victoria have changed, most doctors practising today will have been influenced by activities going on here as recently as four years ago, and going on elsewhere still today, and therefore Bill’s and Sam’s stories are still relevant.

This point would soon be even more robustly illustrated to me as I gradually learned about the corrupt international history of Cipralex and its enduring local legacy.

Read the rest at Focus online.