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Brian Jones: Smyth charge brings no justice for Don Dunphy

RNC Const. Joe Smyth is being investigated, reports say.
RNC Const. Joe Smyth

It is tempting to suggest some sort of justice might be found for Don Dunphy in the charges against RNC Const. Joe Smyth that were announced this week by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

Smyth has been charged with obstruction of justice, after “a traffic stop conducted on May 12, 2017, that resulted in a traffic violation ticket being issued for an offence that did not occur,” ASIRT stated Wednesday in a news release.

Smyth is the RNC officer who shot Dunphy dead in his own home on Easter Sunday in 2015, after Dunphy had tweeted comments critical of several provincial politicians, and Smyth — a member of then-premier Paul Davis’s protective detail — went to Dunphy’s house in Mitchell’s Brook.

Related story:

RNC’s professional standards section will investigate officer’s actions: Police Chief Joe Boland

Smyth was later absolved of blame by the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Death of Donald Dunphy, which concluded Dunphy pointed a rifle at the officer, and Smyth fired in self-defence.

And yet, Dunphy’s name instantly comes to mind with the revelation that Smyth has been charged with obstruction of justice in an unrelated case. The as-yet-unnamed motorist who filed a complaint against Smyth is a side issue, as are the details of the incident.

A police officer being charged with obstruction of justice of any sort understandably raises questions about his or her character. During his testimony at the Dunphy inquiry in 2017, Smyth generally depicted himself as a proverbial by-the-book law enforcement officer who was diligent and devoted in his work.

How then, the citizenry must ask, can it be that Smyth is alleged to have obstructed justice, even if it involved something as mundane as a traffic stop? (Although, lawyers might suggest there is nothing “mundane” about any kind of obstruction of justice.)

If Smyth is found guilty, it will be some sort of posthumous exoneration for Don Dunphy. It will, at least, provide a partial answer to the long-lingering and unanswered question of why Smyth, when the discussion in Dunphy’s house became heated, didn’t just leave. It comes down to attitude, and the charges announced this week do not reflect favourably upon Smyth.

Of course, Smyth is innocent until proven guilty.

So it is somewhat odd that Smyth has been suspended without pay by the RNC brass.

It’s only “somewhat” odd because the accepted practice these days is that employees almost anywhere can be punished before their guilt in an alleged offence is even established. An allegation of wrongdoing or sexual harassment is often all it takes to get someone fired. “Due process” can be left up to TV crime dramas.

You would think the RNC, of all people, would be aware of the injustice of punishing an employee before his or her guilt has been proven.

A statement issued by RNC Chief Joe Boland included this strange statement: “The RNC’s Professional Standards Section will carry out a separate investigation into the officer’s actions following the conclusion of all court proceedings.”

Surely, the phrase “following the conclusion of all court proceedings” should have been replaced by “if he is found guilty in court.”

In another regard, Boland was admirably adamant: “I want to assure the public that misconduct by any RNC police officer is not acceptable and will not be tolerated within this police service.”

That statement is as good an encapsulation as any as to why the news of charges against Smyth bring Don Dunphy to mind. The conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Death of Donald Dunphy were a major disappointment. A citizen is shot dead by a police officer whose “entry into the Dunphy residence was unlawful” — see the commission’s final report, page 88 — and yet no blame or wrongdoing is assigned.

Understandably, the public still wants justice for Don Dunphy. He didn’t get it from the commission of inquiry.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at brian.jones@thetelegram.com.

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