October 20, 2013 - 1:48 PM
PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. -- One of the few facts not in dispute in the death of former Canadian peacekeeper Greg Matters is that he died on the ground at his rural British Columbia farm, shot in the back by one of the heavily armed members of the RCMP emergency response team sent to arrest him on a charge of assaulting his brother.
A coroner's inquest into his death was supposed to take one week, then stretched into two, and now will continue at the end of January as jury members grapple with conflicting accounts around the shooting of Matters, 40, an ex-soldier in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Already, the province's Independent Investigations Office, called on its very first day in operation to the rural farm Matters shared with his mother near Prince George, B.C., says it may issue a supplemental report after revelations at the inquest the 40-year-old former soldier was shot in the back, contrary to the report that cleared the officers involved of criminal wrongdoing.
That report said unequivocally that Matters was shot in the chest.
"We are aware of the evidence that was presented to the coroner's jury and cannot discuss it in detail, as the inquest is still underway," Owen Court, spokesman for the office, said last week as testimony continued at the inquest.
Court said IIO officers received a copy of an autopsy report that listed the cause of death as "gunshot wounds to chest."
"At the conclusion of the inquest process, we may issue a supplemental report confirming that that bullet paths were known to the IIO and considered ... as part of his decision in this case," Court said.
Matter's mother and grieving loved ones question the account of police officers involved in the shooting, and the family's lawyer made it clear at the inquest that they would like the jury to recommend video or audio recording of such police actions.
Greg Matters is shown in this undated family handout photo.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS
If the jury agrees, it will not be the first time. In fact, it won't even be the first time this year.
A coroner's inquest is held into every fatality involving police in the province and in three inquests held earlier this year, all three made the same recommendation, in the cases of Adam Purdie, Brendan Beddow and Justin Zinser.
In the few years prior to that, four more juries made the same recommendation.
"Those seven inquest juries all felt that we in British Columbia, including the police presumably, would benefit from audio-video recording capability present when police officers are in potentially dangerous interactions with citizens," Cameron Ward, the Matters family lawyer, told the director of standards and evaluation for the provincial government's Police Services Division while she testified at the inquest.
"What work, if any, has your organization, Police Standards, done to implement those recommendations?"
Lynne McInally said priorities and policy are set by the B.C. justice minister and the director of police services, currently Suzanne Anton and Clayton Pecknold.
"I can tell you that from within my unit we are not currently creating standards about the use of cameras ...," McInally replied.
Right now the priority is on the recommendations that came out of the provincial inquiry into missing women, McInally said.
The same recommendation for recording emerged from the coroner's inquest into the fatal RCMP shooting of Ian Bush, a 22-year-old mill worker shot in the back of the head in the RCMP detachment in Houston, B.C., after his October 2005 arrest for having an open beer outside a hockey arena and giving a false name to police.
"You can go over to Future Shop and pick up a tiny video camera with audio capability for about 50 bucks and you can clip it onto a belt or a lapel," Ward said at the Matters inquest.
Henry Waldock, the lawyer for the IIO at the inquest, asked McInally how his office could try to make mandatory recording a priority.
"Cameras on cops would make our job a lot easier," Waldock said.
And coroner Chico Newell, who has presided over several of the police shooting inquests that have made the same recommendation, had a similar question.
"I apologize if this cuts too close to the bone for you, but if it was your son or daughter we were here to look into the facts and circumstances surrounding their death, what would you be suggesting to the jury may be done so to effectively address these issues in a priority fashion," Newell asked.
"To make very clear recommendations to the minister of justice in the jury recommendations about exactly what it is that the jury would like to see done," McInally replied, adding the recommendations should aim not just at police, but the province.
B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said it would be inappropriate for her to comment while the inquest was underway.
"However, I will say that the province is very aware of coroner recommendations and takes them very seriously," she said in an email response to a request for an interview.
Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, spokesman for the RCMP in B.C., also said the force takes the recommendations very seriously. Each is reviewed and researched, and a response sent to the coroner.
"We have to be mindful that any recommendation made could potentially impact on all RCMP resources in B.C. and may require additional significant training, infrastructure and finances, or may have complex legal challenges associated to any implementation," Vermeulen said.
Sgt. Julie Gagnon, a national spokesperson for the force, said the RCMP has conducted research and pilot testing of body-worn video, but there are legal and practical challenges to implementation.
"However, the RCMP does see the value in its use for police and public safety," she said.
"The RCMP will continue to assess deployment options for body worn video in the RCMP, for law enforcement purposes, while also respecting all Canadian legal and regulatory requirements."
Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said any audio or video record would be in the interests of the public and police.
"On many occasions there are questions about the propriety of police conduct, the appropriateness of their actions and having better evidence of that would go some way, in many cases, to helping the police officers," Patterson said.
He acknowledges that this and other oft-repeated recommendations, such as improved mental health response training, would require additional funding for equipment, training and more staff.
One of the jurors at the Matters inquest asked if recording was among the recommendations from an inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski after he was shocked by an RCMP Taser at Vancouver airport.
Inquest counsel Rodrick Mackenzie said in that case, while there was no RCMP recording, eye witness video emerged in the weeks after Dziekanski's death.
"It led to a great deal of controversy, in fact, perjury charges against police officers," Mackenzie said.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2013