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Editorial: Inquiry aftermath

Dunphy Inquiry Commissioner Leo Barry speaks to reporters at Tuesday.
Dunphy Inquiry Commissioner Leo Barry speaks to reporters at Tuesday.

It is, in the final analysis, just about the only final analysis that could have been reached. The public inquiry into the death of Donald Dunphy, shot in his home by a lone police officer on Easter Sunday 2015, was hampered from the start by a particular issue: there was only one surviving witness to the shooting, and the physical evidence at the scene did not, in Judge Leo Barry’s view, contradict Const. Joe Smyth’s testimony of what happened that day.

Barry’s main findings were that the shooting was an appropriate use of force, that Smyth should not have been charged, that politics was not involved in the investigation, and that the tweet that brought Const. Smyth to Dunphy’s home was not a threat, but did warrant further investigation.

It’s not the set of conclusions that some were hoping for.

That’s not to say the inquiry did not come up with important recommendations: there are crucial recommendations about how the investigation of the shooting was handled by the RCMP, and whether Const. Smyth was given a particular sort of preferential treatment in the investigation that would not have been the case for any ordinary citizen.

It’s worth thinking about that treatment.

Barry identified six distinct aspects of apparent favouritism during the RCMP investigation. They were:

• Permitting Const. Smyth to meet with RNC colleagues at the RCMP detachment before providing his statement to the investigators.

• Readily agreeing to delay taking Const. Smyth’s statement for approximately 24 hours.

• Giving the appearance of friendly support in the interview process and “going too easy” on Const. Smyth.

• Failing to rigorously challenge Const. Smyth’s version of events.

• Failing to maintain for a sufficient period an appropriate degree of suspicion in analysing Const. Smyth’s version of events.

• Supplying Const. Smyth with unnecessary information during and after his interview.

The report recommends a series of important structural changes in how officers should handle a situation like the investigation that led to the shooting, including police officers being clear about identifying themselves and obtaining permission to be in someone’s residence.

All of the report’s recommendations should be implemented: as the judge said at the end of his inquiry report, “I ask the community to recognize that the RNC has a genuine desire for improvement. I ask the province to provide the resources needed to permit the implementation of these recommendations. I believe, at the end of this process, that a much improved police force will be Donald Dunphy’s legacy.”

Crucial, though, above all else, is that everyone be treated the same, both by the law, and by the police officers who are sworn to uphold it.

No one should be above the law, nor should anyone receive special treatment because of their position or power.

That argument cannot be made forcefully enough.

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