Appeared in the North Shore News – March 14, 2014
The political take on the West Vancouver Police Department’s turmoil is that Mayor Michael Smith now has a strong grip on Nov. 15 – municipal election day.
That’s a long time off in politics. Smith may not run anyway. But the recent WVPD theatrics – scandal, if you wish – have made it more, not less, likely that he’ll go for a second mayoral term. So he confirms.
The WVPD affair – accusations of bullying, sexism and racism in the 102-year-old department – seems to have energized him. Once off the mark, too slowly some thought, he got in front of the story.
Now Smith seems to have defanged any potential rivals who – since the mayor is automatically chair of the West Vancouver Police Board – might have made the scandal an election issue.
Delicately, of course. The West Vancouver way.
Investigation of the claims didn’t move at the usual glacial speed. Nine days after Province reporter Sam Cooper broke the story, citing a 2013 report showing that station morale was very bad, WorkSafeBC dispatched two staffers who, within a week, announced that the WVPD’s harassment procedures and compliance with B.C. anti-bullying legislation were OK.
Days later, two executives under Chief Peter Lepine, Insp. Mike Rattray and Insp. Barry Nickerson, with 34 and 31 years’ experience respectively, resigned. Lepine, a 35-year police veteran whose five-year contract expires Sept. 13, stated his plans for retirement had begun before Cooper’s scoop.
Story over? I don’t think so. There’s more insinuation than information in this apparent denouement.
The public understandably will have jumped to a “logical” conclusion. But there isn’t a jot or tittle of evidence out there about what role Rattray and Nickerson played in this miserable affair. If any.
This is the distance between the sun and the next nearest star, and a public hearing or trial, with sworn evidence and cross-examination. What the public knows about l’affaire WVPD at this point is just slightly more respectable than gossip over a pint in the pub.
What we do know emanates from a fired police officer, a disgraced former WVPD chief with enough baggage of his own to bend a Tennessee mule’s back, and a stack of anonymous Internet comment and bitching quoted by reporter Cooper. (Who knows more than he’s written, if this resembles other sensitive media stories that have to be carefully lawyered, as we say, for libel.) In any turmoil like this one, in any organization’s hierarchy of status and responsibility, a midmanager can be the one who (1) did something wrong (sin of commission); (2) coulda shoulda woulda done something right (sin of omission); (3) takes the fall for the boss, and/or the boss’s boss – or falls on his sword for the sake of the company, the government, the country, whatever. Yes, even friends.
He or she could also be long-serving, muses about retirement, weighs the pension against present needs, and doesn’t need the hassle of more months or years of a poisonous workplace. So g’bye already.
I stress that I’m not defending the two departing officers. I’m modestly defending the integrity of process.
And not to doubt there isn’t some sullen, serious stuff that’s gone on within the WVPD. A couple of years ago a malcontent – obviously in, or with close ties to, the cop shop – repeatedly emailed me, making accusations but declining to come forward for a meeting. Some people try to exploit the media for self-centred purposes – what a surprise, eh? Getting nowhere, he stopped. Just the sort who might turn to another journalist to undermine a chief he clearly hated. One claim he made was perhaps accurate: When the WVPD turned 100 in 2012, he wrote that Lepine couldn’t get enough cops to take part in an appropriate ceremony. True, it wasn’t held.
For those annoyed by my weakness for grand quotations, some lodged immovably in my memory for 70 years, here’s another annoyance: Voltaire said that before accepting any news, “we should await the sacrament of confirmation.” What a stunning phrase (even in English). That’s why Voltaire is great, and I’m an old hack on the edge of the Western world. In any event, I suspend judgment that we’ve heard the last of turmoil in the WVPD. Faction against faction? Secretive tips and leaks to media? They may continue.
Encountered former mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones recently at the Caulfeild Pharmasave. She looked smashing, chic, as upbeat as ever. She’s operating a consultancy and studying for a master of business administration degree at Simon Fraser. This is a lady with plenty of future.
I’ve lashed myself 100 times for recently misnaming the Vancouver-Fraserview New Democrat candidate in the 2009 B.C. general election. That was Gabriel Yiu, not Dwaine Martin, who was his campaign manager. Apologies to both, and to readers.
© Trevor Lautens, 2014