Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Aug.  4, 2013)

Not always as they seem

By Bob Cooper


One day back in the mid-70s I saw a man stab a police dog with a large pair of pinking shears.  We were in the hallway of a dingy skid road rooming house and he had tried to stab me with the same shears minutes before.  As we closed in on him with the dog in the lead I watched him raise the shears over his head and stab the dog with a downward motion at least 3 times.  Even now I remember it like it was yesterday and I was so certain of what I’d seen that I would have passed the polygraph.

The only problem was, I was wrong.  When we overpowered the guy and got him on the ground and cuffed I discovered that fortunately, while he’d stabbed at the dog he never connected and the dog never suffered a scratch.  In dramatic situations the mind plays tricks and I point this out in the context of recent events such as the acquittal of RCMP Constable Bill Bentley in the Dziekanski case and the Officer-Involved shooting aboard the streetcar in Toronto.  Both cases have the usual special interest groups, ginned up by the hysterical ravings of certain media outlets where truth and fairness take a back seat to ratings and market-share, calling for scalps.  To these people and those that believe everything they read, both cases turn on a few seconds of low-quality video taken from a distance and if the accounts of the cops don’t match the video frame by frame there’s some sort of sinister cover-up.

The circumstances of the death of Robert Dziekanski and the subsequent Braidwood Inquiry are well-known and I wrote this piece at the time

I would just update it by saying that the flaws in the Crown’s case against Const. Bentley were obvious to most of us and certainly to the trial judge, Mr. Justice Mark McEwan, who took the unusual step of interrupting the Crown in their closing arguments to point out those flaws including the fact that the statements of the civilian witnesses contained the same sort of inconsistencies as those of the members.  When it comes to the laying of criminal charges the Crown in BC sets a high bar.  In the case of charges such as Perjury or Public Mischief (misleading the police) the bar is set extremely high.  Like if you’re successful you should go out & buy a lottery ticket because the odds are about the same.

The Special Prosecutor in this case was Richard Peck who is one of Vancouver’s pre-eminent criminal lawyers.  Mr. Peck is held in high regard in the law enforcement community not just for his skills but for his integrity.  He’s always been a straight shooter whose name has never been associated with the sort of sleazy stunts sometimes resorted to by his lesser associates.  Nonetheless, my experience has been that if it’s a high profile ‘hot potato’ there is often a tendency to just send it over to court and let a judge or jury decide.  What I’m saying here is, if the usual charge approval standard was applied, that is if Constable Bill Bentley was just plain old Bill Bentley this charge would likely never have been laid.  I would hope the Crown would take another look and realize that the evidence against Const. Bentley is pretty much the same as the evidence against the other 3 members.  In the trial of Const. Bentley it not only fell short but it fell miles short.

In the Toronto streetcar shooting the press had the cop convicted before the last shell casing hit the ground.  One Vancouver radio type opined that, given what the video shows, there’s no need for an expensive investigation since the shooting couldn’t possibly be justified.  These are the same people who clamored for years for an independent agency to investigate these things so now they’ve got one and they’re still not happy.  I watched this video a number of times and the quality was so bad that I couldn’t make head nor tail of it but perhaps he was wearing those ‘special’ glasses they used to advertise on the back of comic books.

One thing I learned early on was that if you weren’t there when it happened keep your opinions to yourself and don’t second-guess the guys that were.  A few seconds of grainy cell-phone video just doesn’t take you there and it most certainly doesn’t put you on that streetcar.  The press would do well to remember that the most evil criminal in the country is guaranteed a full and unbiased investigation along with the presumption of innocence and this policeman deserves no less.



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



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