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BC Prosecutors: Pliers in waistband excuse police from lethal force charge

Pliers in a man’s waistband have now joined Robert Dziekanski’s infamous stapler as “weapons” that B.C. prosecutors may rely upon to excuse police officers from being charged and tried for using lethal force. The startling assertion is contained in a letter sent to the BCCLA by the head of the criminal justice branch in BC.

Robert Gillen, Q.C., Assistant Deputy Attorney General, acknowledges that Mr. Boyd had been disarmed of a chain he held, but says that pliers later found in Boyd‟s waistband means he was still “armed” at the time he was fatally shot:

Your letter next states “Boyd was not armed when he was shot fatally.” This is not correct. Mr. Boyd was armed at the time of the final shot. When the police were safely able to approach Mr. Boyd after the final shot, located in Mr. Boyd’s waistband was a pair of vise grip pliers.

The letter also indicates that the Criminal Justice Branch preferred some police witness testimony to that from other witnesses, both police and civilian, and suggests the CJB relied on use of force opinions that have never been released publicly. The opinions are exempted from freedom of information rules.

“Prosecutors should do their own job and not try acting as judge and jury as well,” says Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA. “Instead of guessing whether a judge or jury would find the evidence sufficient to convict, the CJB should be directed that if there is any admissible evidence to support a criminal charge, the job of judging should be left where it belongs – with a judge or jury after a fair, open and public trial.”

The BCCLA supports a “preliminary inquiry” model for police-involved deaths where prosecutors would use the test that courts use at preliminary inquiries when deciding whether to commit ordinary accused persons for a full trial. That test is whether there is any admissible evidence that a reasonable jury properly instructed could use to convict the accused. No police officer has ever been criminally charged in B.C. for force used in relation to a police-involved death. Two public inquiries have resulted from the Criminal Justice Branch’s non-charge decisions in police-involved deaths, the Frank Paul Inquiry and the Robert Dziekanski Inquiry.

Click here to read the BCCLA’s original letter to the CJB
Click here to read Robert Gillen’s letter to the BCCLA
Click here to read the BCCLA‟s response to Robert Gillen

Robert Holmes, Q.C., President, (604) 681-1310
David Eby, Executive Director, (604) 630-9752