The Pacey Dumas case, where an investigation found that an Edmonton cop had assaulted a young Indigenous man but crown prosecutors then refused to press charges showed how crown prosecutors shielded police from accountability. But a recent report from the Edmonton Police Service shows that the police have the power to quash charges from their end, too.
The 2022 annual report from EPS’ Professional Standards Branch (PSB) reveals that a criminal investigation into a police officer was sent to crown prosecutors, crown prosecutors recommended criminal charges but the office of Chief Dale McFee “was not in agreement with the Crown recommendation and advised the Crown of the decision not to proceed with criminal charges.”
The PSB is the part of the Edmonton Police Service responsible for investigating complaints against other police officers.
Heather Steinke-Attia, a former lawyer for the Edmonton Police Service and the current lawyer for Pacey Dumas, says it’s concerning that the police chief appears to be overruling the Crown decision.
“It certainly raises a whole lot of question marks and requires explanation,” said Steinke-Attia.
According to Steinke-Attia the crown has ultimate discretion on whether or not to prosecute. “Where does the power of the chief come from to not proceed with criminal charges against another police officer? The crown recommended charges but the chief says ‘no, we disagree, despite all of that we’re not going to proceed with charges.’ Where does his authority come from to say we’re going to let this one go?”
“There’s so much information we don’t know here which is the biggest part of the problem. We don’t have the thought processes, the evidence, the investigation. It all feels very hush hush,” said Steinke-Attia.
Ian Runkle, an Edmonton based lawyer and legal commentator, called the news that the EPS legal team declined to press charges against one of their after crown prosecutors recommended they do so “a very weird turn of events.”
“I can say a lot of people don’t have faith in police accountability these days. People see these stories, they see video of police behaving badly and want to see charges,” said Runkle.
“The best thing you can do if you face a criminal charge is to become a police officer,” said Runkle. “The crowns have to work so closely with the police that there’s a lack of appetite for it. Judges are also reluctant as well. I think the public is getting really annoyed with what they see in policing.”
Further inquiries with Chief Dale McFee did not yield any useful information. When asked about this by Edmonton Police Commission chair Erick Ambtman. McFee said he did not know any specifics but spoke at a high level. “I can say it rarely, rarely happens,” said McFee.
This matter came up in the scrum after the police commission meeting. He assured the assembled reporters that this file was not similar to the Pacey Dumas case but unfortunately he was unaware of the specifics.
“What I can say is that we still have to do a police service regulation investigation in relation to that issue so there is still an ongoing investigation that we would be doing on that matter,” said McFee.
I was at this commission meeting, and asked about the matter, but McFee ignored my question. When another reporter followed up with the same question McFee appeared annoyed.
“Again. I said I’d get back to it. We’ll actually look at that particular one and we’ll do it because it’s not ringing a bell to me right now,” said McFee.
Chief Dale McFee speaking with the media after an Edmonton Police Commission meeting in city hall on February 16, 2023.
The report also revealed that eight officers were charged with criminal offenses in 2022, relating to seven separate complaints and including 12 charges that included two counts of assaulting a peace officer, two counts of assault with a weapon, four counts of assault, one count of assault causing bodily harm, one count of breach of trust, one count of fraud, and one count of impaired driving. Unfortunately the report doesn’t break out when the events related to these charges took place or any names or specifics.
The professional standards branch also concluded 36 additional criminal investigations in which no criminal charges were laid. Seven of them were serious enough to be referred to the Alberta Crown Prosecutor Service. In all seven cases the crown prosecutor declined to lay a charge. While these cases differ from Pacey Dumas case in that PSB is not recommending that these officers be charged, they still demonstrate the reluctance of crown prosecutors to charge cops.
“There is always a human element to police oversight. Maybe if we all knew the circumstances surrounding that decision maybe we might agree with it, maybe they wouldn’t. I just want to be fair. It’s very difficult to form any kind of a judgment when you don’t know the facts about these important decisions being made in our community,” said Steinke-Attia.
Jason Maloney, the acting communications director at the Ministry of Justice said that media responses were limited during an election period and referred to a “Decision to Prosecute Guideline” document.
In response to the Crown’s decision not to recommend charges in the Pacey Dumas case the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association’s policing committee called on the province to mandate “clear statements” from crown prosecutors when they decide not to press charges against police officers. The CTLA is also calling for the names of the prosecutors who decline to charge cops to be made public.
Runkle agrees with the call for clear statements.
“It does get to be troubling when we see a pattern where the numbers are so stark. The way to answer those questions is to bring those decisions out of the darkness. Have the crowns explain in clear language why they decided not to charge these police officers. When they make that decision not to explain then the public is left wondering,” said Runkle.