COLUMN: Arm’s length study needed in hit-and-run death

Identify hit-and-run victim to allow community to mourn

A fatal crash involving a semi-truck tractor unit and a pedestrian on Langley Bypass last Wednesday, just inside the Surrey border, raises far more questions than the answers provided thus far.

And it also begs the question – why do police continue to have the power to investigate the actions of someone who is working for them, when we have an Independent Investigations Office (IIO) that is supposed to remove the blatant conflicts of interest?

This particular incident involved a civilian contractor who does regular work for police agencies. He was working for Surrey RCMP, investigating the circumstances of a fatal crash involving a truck and a police cruiser driven by Surrey RCMP Const. Adrian Oliver. That crash took place in Nov. 12, 2012, at the corner of 64 Avenue and 148 Street, near the end of Oliver’s overnight shift.

On Tuesday evening, Aug. 7, the contractor was using the semi-truck as part of the work he was doing, related to the police investigation.

A few hours later, the truck was heading eastbound when it struck a 37-year-old man in the 19500-block of Langley Bypass.

The driver did not stop. Police put out a public plea for information, and a short time later, a truck was located. Soon afterwards, it was traced to the contractor.

Surrey RCMP deserve credit for quickly letting the public know that the prime suspect is a contractor who was working for them, and was working on a case involving the death of an RCMP officer. This type of transparency has not always been on display from police agencies.

Surrey RCMP also stated that, because the man was a contractor who worked for them, the investigation would be observed by another police agency.

While that is a step toward making this an arm’s length investigation, it is far too tentative.

We have seen from the Robert Dziekanski case, and numerous others, that police simply cannot investigate incidents involving fellow officers and remain 100 per cent objective. That isn’t a criticism. It’s human nature.

Because of the Dziekanski case, and several others before and after, the province set up the IIO. Thus far, it has been called in to a fair number of cases, many of them quite minor. This is exemplary. When police officers are involved in an assault, crash or shooting death, it makes sense that someone from outside be given the power to do the investigation.

The legislation setting up the IIO did not make allowances for the agency to investigate civilian police employees (those who are not officers), or contractors doing work for police agencies. Yet it would seem logical that the same conflicts of interest that have caused so much public concern would be present when Surrey RCMP are tasked with investigating a fatal traffic crash involving someone working for them.

This is particularly true when the contractor is doing work for the police on a case involving the death of a fellow RCMP officer.

The death of Oliver prompted a great outpouring of support for Surrey RCMP and the work they do, which was welcomed and appropriate. But to pretend that RCMP investigators are able to set their emotions completely aside while investigating such a crash is to suggest that police officers are not human beings.

An argument could be made that the IIO should investigate all deaths of police officers, given the emotional impact involved.

There is another oddity in this investigation of the bypass crash. A representative of the coroner’s service told a Black Press reporter that the identity of the victim would not be released to the media until the investigation is complete, and also said the investigation will be lengthy. He appears to be suggesting that providing that name compromises the investigation.

This is completely bogus. The names of victims in similar crashes are routinely provided within 48 hours, no matter how long the investigation takes.

The victim’s name should be released immediately. Friends and family need to know who the victim of this needless death was.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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