Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive July 26, 2010)

Not their finest hour

By Bob Cooper





The harassment and subsequent firing of Sergeant Al Dalstrom at the Organized Crime Agency of BC has finally come to light thanks to two former members of the agency, Peter Ditchfield and Andy Richards, who went public with the story last week.  All three are also highly respected former VPD members and Peter was the best partner I ever had.  The story also exposed the turf wars and petty jealousies that have long plagued the relationship between the RCMP and city police forces in BC.  For decades this was one of law enforcement’s dirty little secrets that we grumbled about over drinks but didn’t mention in polite company.  Police bosses and politicians touted ‘integration’ as a better alternative (meaning cheaper) to a regional or provincial police force and we all toed the line.

In my 32 years with the Vancouver Police I spent over 8 of them in integrated ‘joint-forces’ squads with the RCMP.  During that time I met some great individual Mounties that were excellent policemen, some of whom I remain friends with to this day.  The organization, however, has always viewed any other agency operating in the same sphere as a threat that must be controlled, absorbed, or eliminated.  A classic example was the fighting between the RCMP and the newly-formed CSIS (formerly the RCMP Security Service) which caused so many problems in the Air India case.  From their first day at Depot, RCMP recruits are taught that they have just joined the finest police force in the world and this is alright, to a point.  Pride and esprit de corps are extremely important in building morale and cohesiveness in any unit that operates in a paramilitary structure.  The RCMP have a rich history and a list of accomplishments nothing short of legendary and teaching this to recruits instills pride and a sense of purpose. 

 Unfortunately some really gulp the kool-aid and develop an attitude of superiority that leads them to regard all other cops as sub-standard and unworthy of their respect.  Rather like Toronto views the rest of Canada.

Sgt. Dalstrom was the lead investigator in Project Phoenix in which OCABC was making a major drug case on the Hells Angels by using one of their disgruntled underlings.  Things were going very well until members of the RCMP assigned to Phoenix began making allegations against Dalstrom.  These included mishandling of evidence, harassment, and embellishing wiretap applications.  The fact that Dalstrom was cleared of all charges didn’t matter because he was also suspected of committing the capital sin of badmouthing the RCMP to journalist Julian Sher who was writing a book on the Hells Angels (Sher later denied that the quote in question came from Dalstrom but by that time the die was cast).

As a recent summary of disciplinary cases (‘Management of the RCMP Disciplinary Process’) in the National Post demonstrates, you can get away with just about anything in the RCMP except criticizing it.   My favourite was the Mountie in Montreal who was masturbating in a police car in broad daylight.  His explanation must have been a beauty because he’s still on the job (I hope they at least make him wear boxing gloves) but they fired Cpl. Robert Read for exposing serious corruption at the Canadian Embassy in Hong Kong.    

Dalstrom’s boss at the time, Andy Richards, was asked by Dave Douglas, a retired Mountie who headed OCABC, to rewrite Dalstrom’s performance ratings and give him lower scores.  Richards properly refused and like any smart policeman, kept a good set of notes.

By that time the plug had been pulled on Project Phoenix and Dalstrom was told to go home as there was no work for him at OCABC.  After sitting at home for several months, Dalstrom was summarily dismissed without any sort of severance package.  Had they simply done that they might have succeeded in keeping this sorry mess secret but they think they can bully people and they just don’t get it.  Labor law aside, every clandestine agency in the world knows that taking someone who’s had access to the deepest secrets and tossing him out on the sidewalk with nothing is never a good idea no matter what you suspect him of.  As Lyndon Johnson once said of J. Edgar Hoover, “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in”.

Project Phoenix was never prosecuted despite the money and man-hours spent on it.  The Department of Justice apparently didn’t want the RCMP’s dirty laundry aired in a courtroom.  Frankly, I can’t imagine the DOJ being that concerned and suspect there may have been a little nudge from other quarters.

Meanwhile, Dalstrom hired a lawyer and sued OCABC for wrongful dismissal.  Douglas, full of bluster, wasn’t worried.  Noting that Dalstrom was without income and had a family to support, he said they would just “starve him out”.  In the same arrogant, clumsy fashion they handled Dalstrom’s dismissal those involved couldn’t get their stories straight.  Seeing disaster looming as soon as the subpoenas and bibles started being passed out, the case was settled on the courthouse steps for roughly 2 million dollars.

When the story was aired last week the best defenses that could be mustered were retired Commissioner Bev Busson characterizing the settlement as a ‘retirement package’ and Superintendent Pat Fogarty trying to deflect criticism of the RCMP by pointing out that 3 municipal chiefs on the Board of OCABC (chaired by Busson) went along with Dalstrom’s dismissal like that somehow makes the hands of Douglas & Busson any cleaner*.  They’d have been better off saying nothing.

One of the most troubling aspects of all of this is the imposition of a non-disclosure clause.  This involved public funds paid out at the eleventh hour, and the clause was added for no other purpose than to ensure that vindictive, dishonest, disgraceful behavior by senior police officers was hushed up.  The fact that it falls just short of the legal definition of bribery or extortion is nothing to be proud of.

*In an update, retired Chief Constable Paul Shrive of Port Moody, retired Chief Constable Ian McKenzie of Abbotsford, and Chief Constable Jamie Graham now of Victoria all of who sat on the Board of OCABC have all denied being party to those discussions or being in any way involved in Dalstrom’s dismissal.



Mounties get their man

Project Nova worked well

Fighting OC in BC is a disorganized disgrace

Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver police officer. He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.


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