Ex-police chief believes it’s too hard to fire bad cops in B.C. Others disagree.

What constitutes a fireable offence for a police officer? In some cases, B.C. police have committed offences that could send a regular person to jail, lied to other investigators about it, and stayed on the job.

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They committed serious breaches of policy. In some cases, they broke the law.

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And even lied to investigators.

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But such offences do not always cost police officers their jobs.

One former Vancouver police chief is now drawing attention to what he describes as problems in B.C.’s police oversight system.

Jim Chu recently concluded a years-long disciplinary process, in which he faced a formal complaint from the parents of a constable he tried, unsuccessfully, to fire.

Speaking out for the first time since the case ended with his name cleared, Chu says the public might be surprised to learn how the system sometimes keeps cops on the job against the wishes of chiefs and management who want them gone.

Chu says the complaint against him — which prompted a seven-year legal fight to keep his service record unblemished — has reverberated through the halls of B.C. police agencies. Other chiefs have told him his ordeal made them less willing to try to remove the “very, very small, small minority” of officers who they feel should not be on the job.

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“It’s discouraging for anybody who wants to take a stand on these matters,” Chu said. “It creates a fear of personal reprisals for doing what the public expects you to do.”

Chu recently outlined his concerns in writing and sent them to B.C.’s legislative assembly.

“This state of affairs is clearly not in the public interest,” he wrote.

Chu’s comments come as jurisdictions around North America are grappling with calls for police reform and greater accountability.

But the retired chief’s stance is not universally popular with police. The head of the Canadian Police Association says Chu’s statements are “ridiculous” and “self-serving,” arguing the system allows police officers to be fired when merited.

B.C.’s Police Complaints Commissioner, the head of the province’s independent police watchdog, says that as society evolves, so do public expectations of acceptable police conduct, and police oversight agencies adapt with them.

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The recently concluded complaint against Chu stems back more than a decade, when he was still chief.

In 2012, the VPD initiated disciplinary proceedings against a constable who engaged in a high-speed car chase against his supervisor’s repeated orders and then deceived fellow officers about it.

After an internal investigation, a VPD superintendent found the officer, Const. Christopher Charters, committed deceit and neglect of duty, and recommended, in 2014, his termination.

Charters exercised his right, under B.C.’s police act, to have the matter reviewed in a public hearing by a retired judge. After that hearing in 2014, retired B.C. Supreme Court Justice William Smart found Charters chased and intentionally struck the suspected stolen vehicle he was pursuing from behind, and gave “knowingly false or misleading” statements about what happened.

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An engineer testified he believed the pursuit that night through East Vancouver saw Charters’ unmarked Chevrolet Tahoe SUV and the Jeep he was chasing reach speeds between 120 and 150 km/hr.

Charters declined to comment for this story.

But Smart disagreed with the VPD’s position that dismissal was the only appropriate sanction. He wrote the constable would “learn from his mistakes,” and keeping him on the force was “inconvenient but it is not unworkable.” He decided a 40-day suspension was appropriate.

Charters subsequently quit the VPD. But the matter did not end there.

In 2015, Charters’s parents, Kerry and Debra Charters, filed a complaint against Chu with B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC). They alleged the letters supporting their son’s dismissal — which were written by VPD managers, signed by Chu, and sent to disciplinary authorities — were “misleading, inaccurate and untrue.”

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Their complaint against Chu was filed in 2015. Coincidentally, Chu became aware of the complaint almost immediately after he announced his retirement after 36 years with the VPD.

Police chief Jim Chu attends the swearing in ceremony for new recruits of the VPD, class 148 on April 23, 2015. Photo: Nick Procaylo
Police chief Jim Chu attends the swearing in ceremony for new recruits of the VPD, class 148 on April 23, 2015. Photo: Nick Procaylo Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

Chu fought the complaint and applied, unsuccessfully, to the courts to have it thrown out, further delaying the saga. A disciplinary process was eventually held in February 2022, and retired Justice Wally Oppal delivered a decision in May. He found that while the letters contained inaccuracies, the former chief did not commit discreditable conduct.

During Charters’s public hearing in 2014, Vancouver Police Union president Tom Stamatakis took “strong exception” to the VPD’s submissions supporting the constable’s dismissal.

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The VPD’s submissions referred to “a number of other allegations of misconduct” against Charters, Oppal’s decision notes, but Stamatakis argued those submissions “contained information that was grossly exaggerated, misleading and out of context.”

“For instance, the VPD alleged that Const. Charters had previously been reprimanded for being involved in a high-speed pursuit, contrary to instructions. However, the allegation made no reference of the fact that in that instance Const. Charters was a passenger and not the driver of the vehicle,” Oppal wrote.

At the hearing, Stamatakis accused Chu of bringing the administration of police discipline into disrepute, Oppal noted, and the VPD’s lawyer “dismissed the Stamatakis comments as ‘mostly bluster.’ ”

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There have been at least a handful of other cases over the years in which B.C. officers broke the rules — or the law — and lied about it, but kept their jobs.

An overview of five such cases over a five-year period was provided in a lawyer’s submissions during a 2015 OPCC hearing.

The hearing was for Delta Police Const. Felipe Gomes, who was found to have falsified police notes, and then lied about it to professional standards officers assigned to investigate. After Gomes admitted to the misconduct, the department’s chief recommended his firing. But Kevin Woodall, the lawyer representing Gomes, argued to the OPCC that suspension would be more appropriate. In his submissions, Woodall cited all five cases, since the police act was amended in 2010, where B.C. police officers were found to have breached department policy or, in some cases, the law, and then lied to investigators about the underlying misconduct.

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One of them was the Charters case. The others included a transit cop unnecessarily using a Taser on a civilian, a New Westminster officer entering a home without a warrant and arresting a person without sufficient cause, and an Abbotsford constable who was found criminally guilty of assaulting someone during an arrest.

In most of the cases cited, Woodall wrote, officers were found to have lied repeatedly — including under oath — about their misconduct, and their chiefs recommended they “must be dismissed: that no other penalty was consistent or compatible with the department’s ‘core values.’”

But adjudicators decided none of them should be fired.

There appeared to be a “widely held belief” among B.C. chiefs that officers found guilty of deceit must be dismissed, Woodall wrote, but the adjudicators handling all five cases disagreed: “The authorities cited above demonstrate a clear difference of opinion between the retired judges who have heard cases of deceit since the amendment of the police act, and many chief constables within British Columbia.”

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Darryl Plecas, a professor emeritus of criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley, said deceit is a serious matter in police misconduct.

Cops should not be fired for every minor offence, Plecas said, or for every wrong decision made in the heat of the moment. Policing is a difficult and important job, and the public understands honest mistakes happen.

Darryl Plecas, a professor emeritus of criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley. Photo: Mark Yuen
Darryl Plecas, a professor emeritus of criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley. Photo: Mark Yuen Photo by Mark Yuen/Postmedia /jpg

But a situation where an officer commits an offence that could send a regular person to jail, and then lies to other investigators about it, and they stay on the job, he said, “that’s a major hit on the credibility of the profession of policing in general.”

Plecas, a former MLA and speaker of the B.C. Legislature, said: “All of us as citizens have a right to expect that if nothing else, out of a police officer, we have to take it to the bank that they have integrity each and every time. And when they don’t, that’s where you start eroding trust in police.”

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Adjudicators carefully base their decisions on the precedents and law, Plecas said, but members of the public might be surprised to learn of these cases where a retired judge overrules a chief’s attempt to fire a cop for serious misconduct.

“It is damn near impossible to fire a police officer,” Plecas said.

He believes Chu’s experience could discourage other senior police managers from firing bad cops.

“Police chiefs all across the country are aware of what happened here,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of police officers about this, and 95 per cent of police officers would say: ‘Fire that guy’s ass. Fire him.’ Because they don’t like it either.”

In the case of Gomes, the adjudicator disagreed with Woodall’s analysis, deciding the constable was “no longer able to fill the role of a police officer.”

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Gomes was dismissed.


In a recent interview, Stamatakis, who now leads both the Canadian Association of Police and International Council of Police Representative Associations, called Chu’s recent statements “ridiculous” and “self-serving.”

There are examples of officers fired promptly for serious misconduct, Stamatakis said, but the process has to be fair, evidence to support dismissal must be clear and cogent, and retired judges must take into account several factors, including an officer’s work history and other mitigating and aggravating factors.

Chu was unsuccessful in trying to fire Charters because he failed to make the case for dismissal, and the letters submitted contained inaccuracies, Stamatakis said. “That’s the bottom line.”

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“This is no different than what exists in other workplaces or for other professions including those who also interact with the public regularly and where misconduct or a mistake can have a negative impact on a citizen: teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, parole officers.”

B.C.’s Police Complaint Commissioner Clayton Pecknold, who took the OPCC’s top job in 2019, said the public’s expectations for acceptable conduct in several professions and institutions continue to evolve. Policing is just one such profession, albeit one with a particularly significant public interest.

B.C. Police Complaint Commissioner Clayton Pecknold, pictured in 2010 when he was deputy chief of Central Saanich police. Photo: Darren Stone
B.C. Police Complaint Commissioner Clayton Pecknold, pictured in 2010 when he was deputy chief of Central Saanich police. Photo: Darren Stone Photo by DARREN STONE /TIMES COLONIST

“I don’t think that whether you’re in the judiciary, or a decision-maker on an administrative matter, that you’re somehow in isolation of public expectations. And expectations change over time,” Pecknold said. “There’s a very important conversation that’s been going on for a few years now about police accountability. So if that becomes reflected in the independent decisions of decision-makers — whether it’s a chief constable or whether it’s an adjudicator — I think that’s the way the law evolves.”

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Pecknold said he generally does not comment on adjudicators’ decisions and specific complaints. But, he said, these adjudicators are making decisions based on precedents, the police act, and the principles of administrative fairness.

“The threshold for dismissal of a police officer is something that the law determines through the courts, it determines it through decisions, through judicial review or otherwise. It is not determined by this office.” he said. “It’s an evolution.”

Pecknold pointed to two more recent files handled by his office, both involving misconduct by VPD officers.

In 2020, after the VPD’s internal disciplinary authority investigated complaints against Const. Neil Logan, stemming from a confrontation with his then-girlfriend, and decided he should be suspended for six days and attend “emotional regulation sessions,” Pecknold determined the decision might be incorrect and ordered a review of the matter.

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Retired judge Brian Neal reviewed the case, finding Logan committed misconduct by “assaulting (his then-girlfriend) on five occasions over several hours” while he was off-duty. The retired judge found Logan “demonstrated no remorse” for the assaults, and disagreed with the VPD’s initial suspension, concluding “the only correct disciplinary sanction” was kicking Logan off the force.

The other case Pecknold pointed to involved a discipline proceeding that found two VPD officers “acted oppressively” and committed misconduct when they “recklessly” arrested and handcuffed a Bella Bella man and his 12-year-old granddaughter at a downtown Vancouver Bank of Montreal in 2019. The adjudicator — Neal again — found “no reasonable police officer standing in the shoes of the two officers could support such actions based on suspicion alone.”

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Those two officers were suspended and ordered to apologize and undergo additional training.

OPCC records show Pecknold has also ordered reviews of other matters where he believed internal department discipline was incorrect. In June 2020, Pecknold ordered a review on the record of the case of an Abbotsford police officer who assaulted his estranged spouse.

The officer was criminally charged with assault and unlawful confinement, criminal harassment and uttering threats, and pleaded guilty to assault. The investigation found the officer placed GPS tracking devices on the spouse’s vehicle, among other misconduct, and the Abbotsford police internal disciplinary authority recommended a 16-day suspension.

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In ordering the review, Pecknold wrote that the original suspension did “not sufficiently acknowledge the trauma and erosion of public trust among victims of relationship violence caused by this officer’s actions and the potential chilling effect on future reporting of intimate-partner violence given that the officer remains an Abbotsford Police Officer.”

During the review, the lawyer representing the OPCC said the Abbotsford constable “made no effort to stop his misconduct for many months even though he had been warned by his superior and a lawyer,” arguing his actions “must merit dismissal in order to retain public confidence.”

The adjudicator disagreed with the OPCC lawyer, deciding suspension was more appropriate than dismissal, but increasing the suspension to 75 days without pay.

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After a 35-year career in policing, including the VPD, Rollie Woods served as B.C.’s deputy police complaint commissioner from 2011 to 2019. He remembers both Charters’s disciplinary proceedings, and the launch of the complaint against Chu. Woods says it’s unfortunate that the situation led to the deterioration of Chu’s relationships with both the OPCC and police union leadership.

But Woods disagrees that it’s overly difficult for chiefs to dismiss cops when merited.

“It’s hard to fire cops in B.C., and that’s the way it should be. You don’t want police chiefs to fire police officers because of personal opinion, or their views on things,” Woods said. “There’s tons of precedents that they can look at and say: ‘This falls in the category for dismissal,’ and ‘This one, the officer should be given a second chance.’”

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There are many examples, Woods said, of police officers who are found to have committed misconduct and, when given a suspension and second chance instead of termination, go on to have great careers of public service.

Woods cited the example of the “Stanley Park Six,” as they came to be known, a group of VPD officers who packed suspected drug dealers into a patrol van one night in 20103 and drove them to a secluded beach to beat them. The incident only came to light when a rookie cop blew the whistle to supervisors. Two of the officers were fired, but four were suspended and stayed on the job.

“The officers that remained, they did their penance, and every one of them went on to have good careers and no more issues,” Woods said. “They’ve all been promoted, and some of them have gone on to management. One mistake an officer makes should not define their whole career.”

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