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Former Staff Sgt. Tim Buckle is subject of ASIRT probe into arrest of Andrew Abbass
A now-retired RNC officer who is the subject of a criminal investigation into the unlawful detention of a Corner Brook man for an angry social media post insists he did the right thing.
Former Staff Sgt. Tim Buckle said it was his duty to arrest Andrew Abbass because he could have potentially been a public threat for what he said on Twitter.
“I respect the transparency and accountability required in the policing profession,” Buckle told The Telegram in a message from his home in Ottawa.
“However, in light of the violent ideation expressed by Abbass in his tweet to cause harm to elected officials, even a lay person would recognize the responsibility of the police to act in an effort to ensure public safety and, more specifically, the safety of public officials."
On April 7, 2015 — two days after Donald Dunphy was shot dead in his Mitchell's Brook home by RNC Const. Joe Smyth, then a member of the premier’s security detail — Abbass took to Twitter to express his outrage over the shooting.
Dunphy had made tweets that some misconstrued as threats to provincial politicians.
Abbass tweeted, “How about this @PremierOfNL: I'm going to bring down Confederation and have politicians executed. Ready to have me shot, coward?”
That prompted Buckle to go and arrest Abbass in Corner Brook, where he lived at the time. He was taken to Western Memorial Regional Hospital, where he was involuntary held in the psychiatric unit for six days under the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act (MHCTA). He was released following a psychiatric assessment.
Abbass was outraged at his treatment and pushed for legal action, saying what happened to him was a huge injustice.
In April 2018, a Newfoundland Supreme Court judge agreed. Justice Brian Furey ruled that Abbass should not have been held in hospital against his will, since he was not mentally ill. Furey called it “profound and serious.”
Furey wrote in his decision that, in his interaction with the police, Abbass “was not provided with any documentation, having been told there was no need for any. He stated he was not advised of his rights, given any caution or given any opportunity to contact a lawyer.”
Now, the RNC has taken steps to look into what happened.
Last week, Buckle posted on Twitter that he had been questioned at length by RNC officers, who he later said travelled to Ottawa to interview him. He tweeted that he spent two and a half hours in an “interrogation room” voluntarily giving an audio/video cautioned statement.
“Just wanted to assure you @RNC.PoliceNL is hard at work on your behalf!” he tweeted.
“THEY are investigating their own tho … No SIRT?” he added, referring to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigated the police handling of the Don Dunphy case.
RNC Chief Joe Boland confirmed to The Telegram Wednesday that an investigation into the incident is underway and that ASIRT is, in fact, conducting the investigation.
No further information could be provided at this time, according to the RNC’s media relations officer, Const. James Cadigan.
When contacted by The Telegram, Abbass said he is relieved someone is finally investigating what happened and how it happened, and it’s something he pushed for in 2017 when he contacted the RNC Complaints Commission following the Dunphy Inquiry.
“It’s about time,” said Abbass, who now lives in Labrador. “The repercussions of everything that happened are pretty severe. You think it’s just a six-day detainment, but it’s not, especially when you are becoming a father.”
Abbass said the allegations that he was “a radicalized terrorist and criminal mental patient” were extreme.
“It’s all in the way you read the tweet. Anybody can take a snapshot of that and take it out of context,” he said. “People just get so outraged and jump down people’s throats.”
He said if police thought there was an actual threat, officers could have arrested him for that. Instead, they detained him as a mental health patient for six days.
“The repercussions of everything that happened are pretty severe. You think it’s just a six-day detainment, but it’s not, especially when you are becoming a father.” — Andrew Abbass
“It was a ridiculous situation to be stuck in,” said Abbass, who wants to know if the situation was the result of police errors or systemic errors.
“It’s thrown my life for a loop.”
He said he’s also taken legal action against the hospital as well as the Crown prosecution.
“It shouldn’t take this long to resolve,” Abbass said with a heavy sigh, “but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
Buckle cites Section 20 of the MHCTA. He said he believes he had “reasonable grounds to believe” Abbass was “likely to cause harm to himself or herself or another.”
Buckle said, “Tweeting that you’re going to have people executed definitely demonstrates violent ideation and would be sufficient grounds to believe the person is suffering from a mental disorder, sufficient to have an assessment by professionals in the field.”
Buckle said Abbass’s tweet was too serious for police to just let it go.
“In national and international tragedies, where public safety is compromised and death results, the first question is why police failed to recognize warning signs in social media,” Buckle told The Telegram.
“There is no ‘context’ where expressing an intent to have elected officials executed is acceptable, nor is it an option for police to ignore such public statements.” — Tim Buckle
Buckle said he consulted with his supervisors before detaining Abbass, and he assumes they are also subjects of the investigation.
“If they aren’t, they should be,” he said.
ASIRT was retained by the province’s Department of Justice and Public Safety to investigate.
Buckle said the doctors’ improper handling of the situation played a major role in Abbass’s detainment in hospital.
He pointed out that the court decision did not suggest any wrongdoing by police, “only failure of doctors to justify their decision for a (six)-day detention.”
“Had the doctors properly documented their decision to hold him for a seven-day assessment, we would not be here … or had they determined immediately there was no cause to detain further, the police would have drove him home.”