Despite charges stayed, more questions remain in Starlight Casino case


The announcement yesterday by the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) in BC outlining that second degree murder charges against Delta Police Constable Jordan MacWilliams were stayed and the accompanying explanation did little to clarify why charges were laid in the first instance. In fact, it speaks more to the incompetent investigation done by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO). Or perhaps something more nefarious.

In the media release the CJB attached an 8 page document they called “Clear Statement.” Well, it was anything but.

In it, CJB says as a result of the charge being laid, Crown prosecutors conducted “exhaustive” interviews with police officers at the scene at the Starlight Casino on November 8, 2012 and this led them to the conclusion that this case did not meet the charge approval standard in the province.

Well, in the first instance, doesn’t this really say that the investigation conducted by the IIO was sub-standard? Why wouldn’t they have surfaced this information during their interviews? Information such as the suspect’s finger was on the trigger when the gun in his hand moved to horizontal? Information such as there were other officers who had moved their fingers from the finger guard to their own triggers and would have also shot had MacWilliams not shot first?

These are no small matters. The information from the witnesses didn’t change. It’s more likely IIO investigators never asked the right questions. Why then, becomes the next question. Was it the incompetence of the investigators or perhaps, they were trying to come to the conclusion they wanted no matter the truth? Either is a possibility knowing what I know about the IIO.

Whatever the answer to these questions it is very clear that the CJB should not have approved the charge in the first place. None of the circumstances changed, nor has the standard to be met for the charge approval system. It seems to me that for all the reasons outlined by the CJB in their “Clear Statement,” that is exactly why the charge never should have been laid.

The matter of what the officer perceived the threat to be when he made the decision to use lethal force is paramount to the charge. If other officers had the same perception of the threat as did MacWilliams, then clearly no charge should have been laid.

Another aspect in this that is badly explained by the CJB is the reaction time from threat perceived to shots fired. This is known as “perception, processing and action.” Police are trained to minimize the time between perception and action, but it still exists. In this case the time delay was .49 of a second. A blink of an eye. Yet somehow, this became a salient issue in the decision to charge MacWilliams.

Retired Vancouver Police homicide investigator Bob Cooper was incredulous as he read the document especially as it glossed over this aspect. He said via email yesterday, “Any Use of Force expert worth his salt knows this and would have pointed it out in his report because it explains the differences in the perceptions of not just PC Mac Williams but a number of his colleagues as well as opposed to what is seen in the video.”

There are many more questions than answers in this and one hopes the CJB would answer them. But they won’t. They cannot be held accountable for anything they do except by the minister responsible and I have never seen any minister tread that path. The IIO report to the Deputy Minister responsible for the CJB, so again, while there are many questions to be answered in this by the IIO, but that too, seems unlikely.

Charging this officer with murder in these circumstances was an incredible over reach by the IIO and the CJB. Yesterday they stepped back from that over reach and did the right thing. But, they never should have been in this position in the first place.

Jordan MacWilliams was elated yesterday when he got the news from his lawyer David Butcher. This nightmare is finally over for him and he can go back to the job he loves, protecting and serving the citizens. I hope though, for his sake, that his emotional self can recover from the stress and damage done to his psyche by being put through this gut-wrenching experience. Not the shooting. He has said that were he to do it all over, he would do the same thing. For him, the critical thing was that he and his colleagues were able to go home to their families that night.

I mean, of course, going through the experience of being charged for murder when all he did was his job in trying and exigent circumstances. I truly wish him well. And I also truly hope that the CJB, the government, the IIO and the public of British Columbia has learned much from this sordid chapter in our province’s history.


Leo Knight

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  1. My primary concern is the decision by a Crown Counsel who advocated to his higher ups that a charge of second degree murder was warranted given the information received from the IIO in their initial disclosure package. Everyone knows, and that should include Crown, that the so called IIO investigative standards and their ‘crackerjack’ civilian based investigators should’ve been under heavy and judicious scrutiny. Given the recent recantation by Crown makes that even more evident and obvious. So why the rush to charge? Spillover from Driekanski? Let’s send the police a message? What discussions took place between senior management of IIO and the assigned Crown? If the evidence was so compelling to go by way of ‘Direct Indictment’ in the first place what new evidence or ‘review’ of the evidence was so dramatic to stay the charge? Was there an objective, unbiased, and tested senior Crown assigned? I recommend a serious consideration by Constable MacWilliams to pursue both the Crown and the IIO for malicious prosecution and I suspect any civil court based examination of the IIO’s so called investigation and the primary decision making by Crown would result in a settlement as opposed to either one of them agreeing to ‘open the books’ in a public forum.

  2. In no way am I defending the crown with this but, what I am curious about is this line ”In preparing the file for trial, Crown Counsel have also received further relevant disclosure from the IIO.”
    What was the the further relevant disclosure and when did the IIO have that material? Could it be possible that a civilian police oversight organization was railroading a police officer to placate the anti police crowd and justify their existence. Something like that would never happen.

  3. It is my understanding that the IIO does not lay charges, that responsibility is solely up to Crown. The IIO forwards cases in which an officer MAY have committed an offense. In this case one person shot and killed another person which MAY be considered homicide, but then it is up to Crown to look at it to see if it was justified or not and whether or not to lay charges.

    • While that may be partially true, it is up to the IIO to investigate thoroughly. And in this, they did not. They did investigate in a manner to try and prove something was done wrong as opposed to finding out the truth about what actually happened.

      I do not absolve the Crown of blame in this. The file review should have turned up the shortcomings of the investigation. The other possibility of course is something much more nefarious.

      The other aspect you miss is while an OIS shooting is classified a ‘homicide’ it does not necessairily mean the police officer ‘may’ have committed a crime as you state. A police officer is authorized to use force in the execution of his duties and is criominally responsible for any excess thereof.

      So no, the IIO was not duty bound to forward an RTCC. Nor any other communication with Crown that resulted.

      • I do not absolve the Crown of blame in this. The file review should have turned up the shortcomings of the investigation. The other possibility of course is something much more nefarious.
        Leo, could you please explain your last line. Is there a specific nefarious scenario or reason you were thinking of. Curious, as I have been reading through your site, and am learning more about the IIO.

  4. This fiasco cost us (the Taxpayer in BC) how much to have the IIO investigate and over the protracted period of time it took them to finally get a product (Report to Crown Counsel) in to the CJB to accept a charge… Then, what did it cost us (the BC Taxpayer) in misused Crown Counsel approval / investigation time to get this before the Courts in the first place, let alone the wasted Courts time that could have been used for ‘fully investigated’ real criminal matters.

    Amazing when its the supposed ‘Civilian Oversight’ of the Police that screws up – that’s OK, but had this have been a sworn Officer. in this Province…well, that would be totally unacceptable in itself. Interesting though, the IIO is granted authority investigative under the Police Act – will there be any OPCC (Office of the Police Complaint Commission) investigation into their [IIO] negligent investigation? I think not!

    Double standards one might say…


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