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Pam Frampton: Dunphy inquiry — expert opinion


I got a scathing email about my March 4th column on the Dunphy inquiry in which I opined that the RCMP investigation into the fatal shooting of Donald Dunphy was well-intentioned but not entirely objective.

Pam Frampton

The author of the email said I had not provided evidence to back up my claim, which I had.

“The reason why the media is at the bottom of rotten apples in terms of truth and integrity is due to writers like you…,” he wrote. “Your column constitutes the typical media ‘Fake News’ which has the world in an uproar on the subject.”

He also suggested I be fired, post-haste, for “abject violations of basic rules for journalism.”

It can be very convenient to disparage as “fake news” anything with which you disagree — the president of the United States certainly has the hang of it. But that’s not what fake news is.

Fake news is lies being passed off as truth, which is not what I wrote. I wrote an opinion — not news, granted — based on evidence and testimony presented at the inquiry, including acknowledgements from some RCMP members themselves that their kid-glove handling of RNC Acting Sgt. Joe Smyth was at times inappropriate.

Of course, my opinion is just that, and people are free to discard it or disagree (though fact-based criticism would be my preference).

Gareth Jones, on the other hand, is a former London police officer, former investigator with the Special Investigations Unit of the attorney general of Ontario, and an expert in investigating deaths and serious injuries involving police, including police shootings.

He testified at the inquiry on Tuesday and submitted a report outlining both his praise for and his concerns about the investigation into Smyth’s shooting of Dunphy. (You can find it in the Phase 2 section of the inquiry website, http://www.ciddd.ca/.)

He writes, “In some respects this investigation did not, at least in my view, meet the standards of impartiality expected in a thorough and objective investigation of an incident of this nature. … The investigators may — consciously or otherwise — have a tendency to be overly empathetic with the subject officer, particularly if they conclude early in the investigation that the use of force was warranted.”

And that is precisely what happened in the Dunphy case.

While aspects of the investigation were handled well, such as the RCMP’s use of outside experts to interpret evidence, there were flaws — though flaws “do not necessarily mean that the investigation came to the wrong conclusion,” as Jones writes.

But flaws do colour public perception of policing, which is the point I was making. And that matters.

Any suggestion that the RCMP arrived at a conclusion before their investigation was complete undermines public confidence in the justice system, stokes the unease of the Dunphy family, and prevents Smyth from being able to point to the independence and objectiveness of the investigation as confirmation that he acted in the only way he could.

Smyth’s texted comments to a friend, that the RCMP investigators who interviewed him the day after the shooting “were perfect, actually, and very supportive” … “were very complimentary of how I did things. Said I was by the book” are ironic, because the RCMP’s conduct in its treatment of Smyth, far from being “perfect,” actually underscored the investigation’s lack of consistent neutrality.

In his report, Jones pays particular attention to a news release issued 48 hours after Dunphy was killed as an example of how the RCMP were quick to adopt Smyth’s version of events as “gospel.”

“Evidence indicates the police officer responded to this threat with lethal force by drawing and discharging his service pistol,” the news release concludes.

Yet Jones points out that crucial evidence had yet to be collected, and says the news release “tainted the investigation” and “telegraphed a conclusion.”

Saying the RCMP investigation showed aspects of bias is hardly fake news. And it doesn’t mean their conclusion was wrong.

What it does mean is that only by examining mistakes that were made as well as things that were done right can improvements be made for the future.

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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