Monday, September 11, 2006

 

B.C. tells an odd story ...

I know, I know, this has nothing to do with Basi and Virk. Nor does the cancellation of the fall session of the B.C. Legislature. At least, that's how you might get to thinking, when you live in British Columbia. But when the B.C. Attorney-General's performance is reviewed from outside British Columbia ... as in the lead editorial of this morning's Globe and Mail ... suddenly, it seems as if things which might have become ordinary B.C. events, really do need a serious second look.
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B.C. tells an odd story in a young man's death
Editorial: The Globe and Mail, 11 Sept. 2006


Wally Oppal the judge would have been deeply suspicious of the story that Wally Oppal the B.C. Attorney-General is telling Canadians.

A young B.C. man with no criminal record is taken to an RCMP station on a misdemeanour. Twenty minutes later, he is dead from a bullet to the back of the head. Wally Oppal the Attorney-General says the young man was choking the arresting officer, who had no choice but to kill in self-defence. Wally Oppal the appeal court judge would have wondered whether a young man with a clean record would try to choke a police officer to death within 20 minutes of being taken into custody.

Mr. Oppal has never seen the file on the Ian Bush case. He was briefed by Crown counsel on it. The facts available to the Crown came from the RCMP investigation into the shooting by its own officer. Mr. Oppal cannot be certain, without looking at the file, whether that investigation of the death was thorough.

As Attorney-General, Mr. Oppal is ultimately responsible for ensuring that this deadly shooting in virtually unheard-of circumstances is properly investigated and resolved in a just manner. But when Wally Oppal the Attorney-General offers his legal analysis, attached to it is the credibility he earned when he was Wally Oppal the judge -- initially on the B.C. Supreme Court, beginning in 1985, and then on the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2003. (He resigned from the bench last year to enter politics.) But Wally Oppal the appeal court judge would not have given a legal opinion on the basis of a summary of facts. There is nothing at all judicial in the analysis Mr. Oppal is offering.

Mr. Oppal's version of events is an abbreviated form of the description that the officer, Constable Paul Koester, gave in his statement of defence in a civil suit filed by the parents of the dead young man, 22-year-old Ian Bush of Houston, B.C.

Constable Koester says he gave Mr. Bush a paper to sign promising he would appear in court. Mr. Bush began punching him in the face and head. Constable Koester then, while fighting back, told Mr. Bush he could leave without signing the paper. Mr. Bush began choking him from behind. (The statement does not say whether it was with his hands, his shoulder or twine.) Constable Koester felt he was passing out. He withdrew his revolver. He struck Mr. Bush with the butt of the revolver several times, but failed to break the hold. Finally he shot him, he said, because he had a reasonable belief that would be killed or grievously harmed if he did not.

Wally Oppal the appeal court judge would have asked (as anyone would who ponders the official/Constable Koester version of events): Did the officer provoke the young man's assault? Was the young man, if he was choking the officer, acting in self-defence himself?

Under the law of self-defence, "it's not sufficient to consider a choke in the abstract," says Greg DelBigio, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia law school. "It's necessary to consider what precisely occurred at that time, in those circumstances, and what were the reasons that the police officer acted in the way that he did."

Would Constable Koester offer to waive the promise-to-appear note from a man who had just battered him? This is the same Constable Koester who arrested Mr. Bush for giving a false name when asked about an open beer he was holding. If he was offering to set Mr. Bush free immediately, why would Mr. Bush try to choke him to death? These men were roughly the same size; Mr. Bush was a bit stockier. How did their training in physical battle compare?

With few facts in the public domain, there is little reason for the public to accept that Constable Koester acted in self-defence.

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About cancellation of the fall session, here's what that well-known former B.C. Liberal, David Mitchell, now a vice president at the University of Ottawa, said about it on 08/09/06 [Petti Fong, Globe and Mail], "Unfortunately, the legislature in B.C. has not been as relevant as it could be and should be in the lives of British Columbians. The legislature exists to keep the government accountable and if it's only in session for a few months a year, it's hard to make them accountable."


Well, yeah David, that would be my opinion too. I'd even go a step farther by remembering that the spring session was also cut short ... before the budget was properly debated. I'd actually go so far as to say that it was a reflexive cut-and-run decision, like, to get outa town before the anticipated court appearances of Basi and Virk in June. And now in September. That's what I'm thinking.

I'm thinking that no government should be allowed to get away with highjacking the democratic process. I'm even thinking that we owe thanks to the grand old lady of the MSM, The Globe and Mail, for audacious innovation: honouring the normal commitment to publish the real news.
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