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Pam Frampton: Dunphy inquiry — postscript


I was on vacation June 27 when I found out that Commissioner Leo Barry’s report for the Dunphy Inquiry was about to go public. During the few hours’ wait until it was available online, I paced the house, puttered restlessly in the garden and found it hard to sit still. The anticipation was unnerving.

Pam Frampton

After months of testimony, dozens of witnesses and two years of mourning and mistrust among members of the community following the police shooting of Donald Dunphy at his house in Mitchell’s Brook, we were about to find out… What, exactly?

Just what did we think would be revealed?

We already knew how Don Dunphy died and who fired the shots that killed him.

We knew why RNC Const. Joe Smyth said he’d felt it necessary to go to Dunphy’s house.

We knew that the RCMP, in investigating the shooting, had found no suggestion of any wrongdoing and that no charges would be laid.

Judge Barry determined the RCMP had come to the only conclusion they could based on Smyth’s recounting of events and the evidence at hand, even if they did so by way of an investigation that was far from impartial. And I agree.

So what exactly was I waiting for when I already knew what to expect?

Judge Barry’s mandate was clear, and he fulfilled it. He was fair and objective and his report and recommendations reflect that.

Yet, somehow, reading the report felt anticlimactic. Talking to others, I know I’m not alone in that.

Donald Dunphy

I think the problem is that many of us were waiting for a judgment that Judge Barry was never asked to make. One, in fact, that it would have been inappropriate for him to have made.

And that is, who is to blame?

Was Joe Smyth justified in investigating the person behind tweets he felt might have contained a threat to politicians he was sworn to protect? He felt sure he was, though he had other options.

Would Donald Dunphy ever have found himself in a volatile confrontation with police had Smyth not gone to his home that day? Probably not.

Is it Smyth’s fault for going to Mitchell’s Brook, commenting on the run-down state of Dunphy’s house and stirring up bad feeling? Was it Dunphy’s sense of affront and rising frustration with an unjust system that led him to raise a gun?

You can’t blame Dunphy for being angry and indignant. You can’t blame a police officer for defending his own life.

You can understand citizens being shocked and mistrustful.

And you certainly can empathize with a daughter left devastated and determined to seek justice.

Judge Barry has suggested steps that need to be taken to lessen the likelihood of a similarly terrible event. His recommendations go to the heart of what went wrong. And so many things went wrong. So many missteps, miscommunications, misconceptions.

Of course, there’s no simple solution. The events leading to Donald Dunphy’s death were a complex web involving policing, politics, power, poverty, pride, security, social media.

The inquiry was a public airing that was badly needed and Judge Barry’s report is a thorough and contextual examination of what happened. It identifies weak links in the system and recommends ways to strengthen them.

I think the commission’s work will change things for the better.

But I suspect it will be awhile yet before we stop feeling that we were all changed somehow on April 5, 2015; that we were all left feeling just a little more unsure, a little more vulnerable.

This was not suicide by cop; it wasn’t an inevitable end to some drug-fuelled, violent rampage.

This was a man sitting at home in rural Newfoundland, the remnants of Easter brunch still in his belly, with plans for the future and hope that his circumstances might improve.

A man whose tweeted outrage at the callousness of the system brought the police to his door.

It will take awhile to forget about that.


Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email Twitter: pam_frampton

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