VANCOUVER - Wally Oppal, the always loquacious Attorney-General of British Columbia, suddenly has a dry throat. He doesn't want to talk about the abrupt and shocking ending to a disciplinary hearing the RCMP initiated against one of its own officers.
The hearing was terminated when a three-member tribunal ruled the force contravened its own bylaws by not initiating disciplinary proceedings against Constable Justin Harris soon enough.
Constable Harris is alleged to have paid underage prostitutes to have sex with him, a charge the officer has denied.
I phoned Mr. Oppal's office to ask whether the minister felt an independent inquiry should be ordered into the matter. After all, a police officer's reputation is at stake.
Harris hit her when she refused to perform oral sex
Everyone in the world now knows a prostitute has alleged Constable Harris hit her when she refused to perform oral sex because he wouldn't wear a condom. And that another prostitute described him as a "bad date," a term ladies of the evening ascribe to clients who are often drunk and aggressive.
In the past, Mr. Oppal has expressed his frustration with the province's lack of jurisdiction over the RCMP given that it pays the salaries of the officers working here. When it comes to the force, the Attorney-General has said, it's a federal responsibility.
That is not good enough here. The allegations against Constable Harris are extremely serious. And they are incidents alleged to have occurred under Mr. Oppal's watch as Attorney-General.
If Mr. Oppal can't do anything himself, then he should publicly call for something to be done. He should urge Stockwell Day, the federal minister responsible for our national police force, to order an inquiry.
Because heaven knows there are many questions to be answered.
A request to speak to Mr. Oppal about these matters was declined. Questions were referred to a spokesman in the Criminal Justice Branch.
A request to speak with Bev Busson, Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP in B.C., was also denied.
You see, while on paper the RCMP is answerable to Canadians through Parliament, in practice it is accountable to no one.
Our politicians are mostly afraid to question the actions of the force, or its leadership.
But here are some of the questions they should be asking in the case of Constable Harris.
It is now known that in December of 2002, Assistant Commissioner Gary Bass, received a report that up to nine RCMP officers in Prince George, including Constable Harris, were being investigated for possible links to underage prostitutes. And yet it wouldn't be until June, 2004, that he thought to inform his superior, Bev Busson, of what was going on.
Huh? Nine officers are being investigated for possible links to underage prostitutes and the assistant commissioner doesn't think it's important enough to inform his boss?
He also neglected to inform one of the officers within the proper time frame that he was facing a possible disciplinary hearing stemming from an investigation into his conduct. It was because of this oversight the disciplinary hearing was quashed.
Under the RCMP Act, a commanding officer must launch a disciplinary hearing within one year of becoming aware of an officer's misconduct. An initial disciplinary hearing against Constable Harris wasn't initiated until September of 2004, almost two years after Mr. Bass was first informed of the allegations against Constable Harris.
After that initial hearing, the constable was suspended with pay.
But in February of this year, the Federal Court of Appeal clarified when the one-year time limit on disciplinary hearings begins. A new disciplinary hearing against Constable Harris then commenced on Oct. 2, at which time his lawyer made clear he would argue the action against his client should be dropped because the Mounties waited too long to commence the hearing initially.
If that was the case, why did the tribunal hear any evidence before making its ruling that ended the hearing? Why didn't it deal with the matter at the outset, thereby preventing provocative and damaging testimony against the officer from being heard and published?
If Constable Harris is innocent of the accusations levelled against him, what recourse does the officer now have to clear his name?
Why is there a one-year limit on the commencement of these hearings anyway? Especially given the notoriously slow pace at which the RCMP conducts investigations involving its own officers. Why is the RCMP allowed to investigate itself in the first place?
What does Giuliano Zaccardelli, the embattled commissioner of the RCMP, think of all this? Is he satisfied with the way this case was handled? Does he still have complete confidence in Mr. Bass? Does he intend to allow despicable allegations to forever hang over the head of one of his officers? If the answer is yes, does he think that's fair?
Does he think the one-year statute of limitations on disciplinary hearings is a good idea?
Why did the RCMP go ahead with the disciplinary hearing against Constable Harris when the B.C. Attorney-General's Department had earlier decided there was not enough evidence against the officer to lay criminal charges? Did the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry get it wrong?
So many questions. So few people willing to answer them.
VANCOUVER - The Conservative government may change the RCMP Act after a misconduct investigation was tossed out due to a technicality, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Friday.
Disciplinary charges against a Prince George, B.C., RCMP officer who was alleged to have paid underage prostitutes for sex were dismissed this week because the RCMP took too long to bring a case against him.
Day told reporters in Vancouver the RCMP has a "long and proud" history, but "no organization is perfect."
He said the RCMP Act and other legislation governing the force "over time needs to be looked at, needs to be improved, and that is what we are doing."
Const. Justin Harris -- who has been on paid suspension -- will not be allowed to return to work until the force decides whether to appeal Wednesday's decision by an RCMP disciplinary panel.
Harris, who maintains his innocence and has not been criminally charged, was accused of behaving in a "disgraceful manner" by having sex with prostitutes under the age of 18 between 1993 and 2001.
Harris was first notified of the disciplinary charges against him in September 2004.
Under the RCMP Act, a commanding officer must launch a disciplinary hearing within one year of becoming aware of an officer's misconduct.
Harris' lawyer Reginald Harris argued the Mounties failed to meet that standard in his client's case because senior members of the force -- including assistant commissioner Gary Bass -- were aware of the allegations as early as July 2002.
Before Harris' disciplinary hearing was shut down, it heard accusations that Harris had sex with two underage prostitutes in Prince George. One woman claimed he hit her when she refused to remove the condom he was wearing. Another claimed he was "drunk and aggressive."
When the Mounties don't get their man it's disappointing.
When the man they do get is one of their own and they let him go, it's downright suspicious.
Const. Justin Harris faced an RCMP tribunal this week that was to determine whether he had sexual encounters with underage girls selling themselves on the streets of Prince George.
But the case was thrown out on the grounds that fellow members of the force -- including senior officers in the B.C. headquarters -- had taken too long to investigate the allegations and lay disciplinary charges. The tribunal found that even though senior RCMP officers knew of the allegations in 2002, no disciplinary action began until 2004.
Only after Provincial Court Judge David Ramsay pleaded guilty to having sexual relations with aboriginal teenage girls did the RCMP launch disciplinary investigations into allegations that officers and others were using and abusing young sex trade workers.
Harris was the only one called upon to face a hearing. He maintains his innocence.
The RCMP Act requires that a commanding officer begin a disciplinary hearing within a year of becoming aware of an accusation of misconduct.
But senior officers, right up to the level of assistant commissioner, had known about these allegations for more than two years before even informing Harris about them.
Harris is not facing criminal charges, even though he was described as "drunk and aggressive" by one woman who says he had sex with her when she was 16 and another woman told investigators he hit her during a sexual encounter.
We don't know if investigators discounted these accounts or why the process was stalled.
We do know that other disciplinary hearings have been abandoned because it has taken too long for the RCMP to investigate one of their own. We've heard an RCMP spokesman explain, in relation to the shooting death of Ian Bush by a rookie RCMP constable in Houston in 2005, that an investigation "takes long because it takes long." And we know that in that case, where no criminal charges were deemed necessary, the force's civilian oversight commission has opened an investigation -- by asking the Mounties to investigate one more time, to see if required procedures were followed.
It's time the procedures, and those who are following them, were examined in a public inquiry.
If Constable Justin Harris wanted to clear his name of any involvement with prostitutes in Prince George, he chose an unusual way of doing it.
Yesterday the tribunal, in which Harris was appearing before, decided too much time had elapsed and so the disciplinary tribunal was dismissed, Harris had won.
Now that raises the question; if you wanted to have your name cleared why in the world wouldn't you encourage the hearing to go ahead so you could tell your side of the story?
If he felt as confident as his father (an ex- police officer) did, he also would have wanted the truth to emerge.
But there remain other questions.
Judge Ramsay, (who was sent to jail for using underage prostitutes) appeared in court in P.G.
Why wasn't Harris's tribunal set for the same city? This is where the allegations first surfaced, and is home to the women who lodged the complaints.
Why did it take a fraction of the time to get Ramsay to trial but not Harris? With the same people prepared to testify against Ramsay, why were there no criminal charges? The testimony of the same group of women was sufficient to have Judge Ramsay plead guilty and yet somehow wasn't sufficient in Harris's case.
Did the light not go on that to delay would allow Harris to go free?
Had the average citizen been accused of this same conduct, would they have escaped a criminal charge? Just how long a delay would they have been granted?
The Ian Bush death is an example of the system dragging its heels.
There was only one witness to interview; (the police officer who did the shooting) why has that matter taken nearly a year to be heard?
Society wants a better explanation of why there were no criminal charges and is entitled to an answer.
When the general public loses its trust in the police force, it loses its trust in the whole system.
People no longer report crime because they see no reason to do so. Two many events have taken place in the past year not to erode the trust of society in the police force in Canada. Instead of circling the wagons, those police forces should now be looking at how they can regain the trust of the people they are sent to protect.
Harris can now return to his old job with the comfort of knowing that by winning his case by a TKO, he has made the public even more suspicious about the whole affair.
That isn't exactly what we as a society should expect from someone we have hired to uphold our laws.
I'm Meisner, and that is one man's opinion.
Prince George Const. Justin Harris isn't the first RCMP officer to have disciplinary charges dropped against him because the Mounties waited too long to launch their case.
In 2001, Burnaby RCMP Const. Michael Pratt -- who was criminally convicted of assaulting Vancouver dentist Kary Taylor during a routine traffic stop -- had his disciplinary charges thrown out because the time limit had expired.
The time limit on disciplinary charges is in Section 43(8) of the RCMP Act. It says a commanding officer must launch a disciplinary hearing within "one year from the time the contravention and the identity of that member became known to the appropriate officer."
Disciplinary hearings and the courts have wrestled over what it means for a commanding officer to have "knowledge" of misconduct.
In Harris's case, the RCMP argued that while Assistant Commissioner Gary Bass knew of the allegations in 2002, he didn't have sufficient evidence to launch disciplinary action.
But the three-member panel of senior Mounties hearing Harris's case disagreed Wednesday and found Bass did have enough information in January 2003 to start the clock on the one-year time limit.
In reaching its decision, the panel relied heavily on a February 2006 ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal involving an RCMP officer in Quebec by the name of Gerard Theriault.
Theriault was ordered fired in 2000 on charges of managing a bar frequented by biker gangs and of trying to facilitate a drug deal.
But the appeal court reversed that. It said Mounties don't need rock-solid proof -- or even enough evidence to warrant a suspension -- before they need to notify an officer of disciplinary proceedings.
The legal standard, it wrote, is that the commanding officer must only have "sufficient credible and persuasive information" that the offence occurred and that the suspect officer was the perpetrator.
The RCMP's duty to notify an officer of disciplinary charges is complicated in cases -- like that of Harris -- in which the allegations are so serious that a criminal investigation has also been launched.
In such cases, the criminal investigation takes precedence. Criminal investigators may not want internal affairs to tip off suspect officers that they are being targeted.
As the Harris case illustrates, that delay in notifying the officer can pose a problem if, in the end, the evidence isn't strong enough for criminal charges -- but is sufficient for disciplinary charges to go ahead.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
Canada has a limitation period only for less serious criminal offences. B.C. has limits in many civil cases. In indictable crimes such as sexual assault or murder, the offender can be charged at any time.
EXAMPLES OF LIMITATIONS
Six months: Committing an "indecent act."
Two years: Your spouse locks you in the bathroom; someone's negligence causes a death in your family; You have a medical malpractice case; Someone publishes nasty, untrue information about you.
Six years: Suing your landlord.
10 years: Contesting a will; suing a trustee for selling your residential property for less than its worth.
VANCOUVER - The lawyer for an RCMP officer accused of having sex with underage prostitutes said the department was wrong to not start an investigation earlier and discipline charges should therefore be dismissed.
Reginald Harris said that, in the interest of fairness, Constable Justin Harris should have been investigated sooner and had the opportunity to answer the charges against him earlier.
Constable Harris was supposed to be answering to an RCMP tribunal this week over three allegations that his conduct was disgraceful and "could bring discredit on the force."
Constable Harris is the only officer of nine in Prince George allegedly named in investigative reports to be brought up before adjudicators for misconduct after allegations against RCMP officers and other high-profile community members first surfaced in 1999. A subsequent police investigation led to the arrest of a Provincial Court judge.
Former judge David Ramsay was sentenced to seven years in jail after pleading guilty in June of 2004 to having sex with underage sex-trade workers who had appeared before his courtroom. No RCMP officer has yet been charged.
Constable Harris's lawyer has argued that the adjudication panel should be quashed because senior RCMP officers failed to bring the allegations before the hearing in a timely fashion.
The RCMP counters that the allegations against the officer, which included second- or third-hand information and reluctant sources, could not be substantiated before a thorough investigation.
In his testimony, Assistant Commissioner Gary Bass said the allegations made by the sex-trade workers were broad and noted the women were not prepared to follow up with statements.
Mr. Harris said Mr. Bass knew by 2002 that Constable Harris had been accused of being involved in sex with underage prostitutes.
The RCMP Act says a hearing must take place within a year of a senior officer becoming aware of allegations against a member.
Those allegations, the lawyer said, were clear enough that Mr. Bass asked for a more thorough investigation and expended RCMP resources to look into the matter, proving the senior officer knew what was happening.
"It's not necessary to have all the information necessary to start a prosecution," Mr. Harris said. "Sketchy information is enough" to have compelled the RCMP to put Constable Harris on notice that he was under investigation.
The panel was told that Constable Harris had oral sex with a prostitute after paying her $60. On another occasion, the panel was told, the officer became angry and struck the young woman after he paid for oral sex and she refused his request to remove the condom he was wearing. The allegations span a period when the prostitute was between 13 and 15 years old.
A second sex-trade worker told investigators she had sex with the officer on two occasions and in both instances, he was drunk and angry.
"She considered him a bad date," said Sergeant Armin Teitz, who testified yesterday. "She was 16 years old at the time. He knew her, and he knew how old she was."
Sgt. Teitz was part of a task force that was in charge of looking into the criminal investigation against RCMP officers in Prince George. Finding witnesses who were prepared to talk to authorities and who were not under the influence of drugs was difficult, he said.
"They were very transient and difficult to locate and many of them had distrust of police," Sgt. Teitz said. "We had to make contact with them several times."
Brian Radford, the lawyer for the RCMP, said that on the basis of reasonable evidence, the force did not have enough concrete information to proceed with disciplinary charges against Constable Harris until after the investigation was concluded in 2005.
"The investigation had to be carried out," Mr. Radford said. "Otherwise, we are in a situation of advising the designated officer based on rumours."
The panel will return with its decision today.