VPD Chief fires broadside at the IIO


Vancouver Police Chief Constable Adam Palmer fired a broadside at the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) in an 8 page letter in which he questioned their competence and motivations in the way they conduct their investigations.

Palmer addressed the investigation into the officer-involved shooting at the Canadian Tire store on Grandview Highway that occurred just before Christmas. I have previously discussed that incident in this article: IIO missing the obvious, again

There’s more on it here: Competence at heart of VPD / IIO court petition

In the letter Palmer outlines 36 separate concerns the VPD has with the IIO resulting from that incident. Many of which question their competence. And rightly so.

The chief concludes this explosive missive with these words: “Changes need to be made to the IIO’s current practices to improve the relationship between the IIO and the police. The VPD has two principal concerns. The first concern is what appears to be the IIO’s lack of investigative competence. The second concern is the rigid position the IIO has adopted regarding pre-interview disclosure which has led to unnecessary friction and distrust between the police and the IIO. These concerns need to be addressed given the importance of independent police oversight to maintain public trust and accountability.”

What is not said in this is the or else. What might the chief do if the IIO does not react appropriately? The obvious answer is to exercise the 30 day ‘shotgun’ clause afforded to all the chiefs in the original Memorandum of Understanding with the IIO. Doing so will have the natural effect of causing other chiefs throughout the province and the RCMP Deputy Commissioner to reconsider whether they will do the same. In my opinion, the first domino to fall will topple the rest.

What then, will the government do? If some or all of the police agencies opt out the IIO ceases to exist. It will have no mandate. With no mandate and no one to oversee what else would result?

The government will be left with a lot of egg on their face and scrambling to try to figure out where to go from there.

I have been saying for much of the past four years since its inception, that the IIO needs to be blown up, metaphorically, and fundamentally re-thought.  Thus far, the government, despite all the adverse publicity, the internal complaints, a legislative committee, separate internal and external investigations and direct pleas from former employees, have been kicking the can down the road, saying everything is fine. Well, no, it’s not fine.

The public need to trust their police services. In cases where the police, in providing that service, have to use force in the execution of their duty and serious injury or death results, the police need to have confidence that their actions will be competently and thoroughly investigated. At this point in time, as evidenced by Palmer’s letter, the police have no such confidence in the creation of the government, the IIO. Make no mistake, they own this. They created this monstrosity, only they can fix it. But they need to be seized with the importance of that. I suspect this letter from Palmer may stimulate that. If it does not, then the government deserves its fate.

Albeit, one week out from election day I rather suspect the Premier will push it aside and claim it’s a serious issue that needs to be looked at thoroughly and a week out is not the time. Perhaps so. But she has been ignoring it for four years as have successive Solicitors General, Shirley Bond who oversaw its creation and Suzanne Anton who keeps her head firmly planted in the sand.

For the record, the incompetence at the IIO is not going to be fixed anytime soon. Chief Palmer in his letter acknowledges that “many of your investigators have less than two years experience.”  The IIO has had incredible difficulties retaining good folks. In the past four weeks four more experienced investigators have resigned. They are leaving because it is a toxic workplace. And that is on the leadership of the organization, or more accurately, the lack thereof.

Since the departure of the original Chief Civilian Director Richard Rosenthal in September, the government has replaced him with a career bureaucrat who I am sure is good at pushing papers around and ordering staples but he knows the square root of bugger all about the matters his agency is responsible for investigating.

The man overseeing investigations is John Larkin. He is referred to in Palmer’s letter as “adversarial.” And that is at the heart of the problem. The IIO, as it is constituted should not be adversarial. Their role should be to seek the truth. If that truth leads to criminal charges against a police officer then so be it. That’s the system. But Larkin believes their role is to start off believing the police involved committed a crime.

That attitude is evidenced in Palmer’s letter in paragraph 13 where he states, “The IIO Chief of Investigations specifically characterized this matter as a “murder investigation” during a conversation with the VPD Major Crime Section (MCS) Inspector. This use of such a biased and inflammatory term infers that VPD officer(s) committed a serious criminal offence. The term “murder” used in this context is presumptive and inappropriate. The VPD Inspector felt it necessary to remind the IIO Chief of Investigations that it was an “officer-involved shooting.”

I applaud the actions of the Chief Constable.  What he is demonstrating in this is support for the people at the sharp end of things. But equally, he clearly states he supports the need for civilian oversight. What he complains about is incompetence of the IIO investigations. And that needs to get the attention of the government.

It’s their mess and the public needs to have confidence in their police service and the police need to have confidence in those providing oversight. That is what needs to be fixed.


Leo Knight


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  1. Great write up Leo, and good on Chief Palmer for stepping up and calling the IIO out. The investigations need to be about finding out the truth, not finding fault where it does not exist. Rosenthal created a culture of oppression and it appears to be continuing under Larkin. No one there wants to speak up against the obvious bias that exists out of fear for their jobs, that is why so many have left.

  2. Thanks Rob and you’re entirely correct. It cannot be fixed from within IMO. It needs a fresh look and a strong, competent leader. And that is on the government.

  3. An organization like this could be a very rewarding place to work and a valuable asset to the Province. The adversarial attitude in the IIO is shameful and it has gone on far to long to be fixed. It’s shameful that this unit can’t function as others do in other areas and it only speaks to the incompetence of the entire unit from the top down. Good article Leo.

  4. Leo:

    We must say that we disagree with the VPD Chief when he says that he welcomes “civilian oversight”. From what we have seen it simply doesn’t work when the civilians are the people tasked to do the investigation and they don’t have the requisite experience. Alberta and the OPP have a much better system where trained officers conduct the investigations and then the investigation may be forwarded to an outside agency such as the IIO but the IIO have continuously shown that they are incapable of carrying out major investigations in a timely manner.

    The system worked much better when outside policing agencies were retained to conduct investigations i.e. as an example, Victoria Police or any other policing agency could investigate the Canadian Tire shooting and then turn the results of their investigation over to the Crown for consideration.


    • Things are not good in Ontario either. It is also an adversial system. The ASIRT model in Alberta is a much more effective model and one the police trust.

      • Hi Leo,

        It is a good thing that you are following these incompetent investigations y the IIO! I am also pleased that Chief Constable Palmer has submitted a letter in which he complains the actions of the IIO and the time it takes them to investigate even minor cases! It seems the IIO start their cases assuming that the police actions were all wrong and the officers must be guilty of something.

        Hopefully, the provincial government will come to their senses and create an investigative group who are qualified as investigators and start all their investigations with an open mind that doesn’t always think the police must be in the wrong.

        Thanks Leo and do keep the pot rolling so the police can get an even shake in these investigations.
        Dan K.

  5. Hey Leo, as always a very good article. What I would like to know and I am sure the media, public etc is the actual cost of having the IIO, ie how much they spend every year investigation by investigation. I am sure it would open a few eyes


    • The budget is north of $10 million a year and thus far there is little to show for it. I don’t know the per investigation breakdown and I doubt anyone does,

  6. Leo, if the provincial government is looking for suggestions in how to create a new IIO system, I suggest what we have here in San Diego County. Have the Crown Prosecutor’s office hire a group of senior homicide or major crime veteran investigators. |They would no longer be part of a police dept., but instead be sworn members who work directly for the prosecutor’s office. They could be retired cops or even mid-career cops. Their new employer would be the provincial government. It would ensure 1. they have the necessary experience and 2. be independent of police department’s so they would not have to fear career damage. Their immediate supervisors would be selected from the same group hired. The Crown’s head of public prosecutions would be their supreme boss. Then the public could have confidence that they are independent investigators, who have peace officer powers. The Crown would also be able to support them in the obtaining of search warrants, if need be.

    • Rob, that would make too much sense for BC. The IIO was created with the idea that it would eventually be staffed by people whom have never been police officers or have worked in law enforcement. The objective is to become totally civilian and apparently this is the only way to satisfy the citizens of this fine province. I wonder how that is going, are they getting near that that lofty goal, it’s hard to tell as they never seem to provide any reports on anything anymore.

      But you are right, the Provincial government can fix this and take steps to get it back on track. Find a senior crown counsel and put him or her in charge. Provide clear expectations to the organization that the goal it to discover the truth and if that truth implicates officers in wrongdoing the prosecute them. But enough of this “witch hunt” started by Rosenthal, attempting to find the most minor infraction (if one even exists) in order to hand it over to Crown and wash their hands of it. In fact if they assigned a senior, knowledgeable, crown to run the organization they could remove a couple of steps that currently exist. Hire the best investigators that you can find and allow them to do the job properly.

      This is really not rocket science.

      • Ironic really since that a demand for it to be civilian suggests government thinks all police officers are biased and unable to act independently, which is garbage.
        That means that it is government with a predestined bias and perhaps that is why Larkin is so desperate to get a real conviction. How long has he been in his position and how many cases has he brought of real quality? What government doesn’t understand is that to investigate cop you have to have been a cop and preferably a cop in this country.


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