Conduct Case Summary MPCC-2011-046

At the end of 2011, the Military Police Complaints Commission of Canada (MPCC) received a request for a review of a complaint about the conduct of a Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) sudden death investigation conducted eight years previously. In late 2003, a young officer cadet attending the Royal Military College (RMC) inexplicably disappeared from his student residence and was found dead in a nearby river some three weeks later. As the body had washed onto land belonging to RMC, the CFNIS assumed jurisdiction over the death investigation. A post-mortem examination determined no specific cause of death, nor could it be determined whether the officer-cadet’s death was the result of an accident, suicide or homicide.

Several months later, the Coroner directed the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to take over the death investigation. A second post-mortem examination by the Chief Forensic Pathologist for Ontario took place in Toronto in late 2004, but again the cause of death remained “unascertained”. A coroner’s inquest was commenced in 2006, concluding in 2007. The jury returned with a verdict of cause of death as “Unascertained, Non-Natural Causes” and manner of death as “Undetermined”. The jury also returned ten recommendations concerning the processes used in death investigations.

Following continued questioning from the deceased’s family, in late 2007, the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal (CFPM) asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Office of Investigative Standards and Practices (RCMP OISP) to review the work of the CFNIS in the matter. Also, a Canadian Forces Board of Inquiry (BOI) was convened in 2008. The BOI recommendations were sent to the CFPM in late 2009, and the RCMP OISP report was submitted in late 2010. A final joint briefing to the deceased’s family was given by representatives of the OPP and CFNIS in mid-2011.

Following receipt of the request for review of the conduct complaint in December 2011 from the father of the deceased, the MPCC assigned two investigative counsel to review the vast amount of evidence and documentation generated by the various prior inquiries noted above. The complainant’s eleven allegations were broken down into 24 separate allegations against five subject MP members of the CFNIS. Reviewing the more than 200,000 pages of material (including photos and documents), amounting to some 70 gigabytes of data, was an immense and time-consuming undertaking. Investigative counsel also conducted 39 witness interviews.

In its report on the complaint, the MPCC concluded that some allegations dealing with the proper gathering and preservation of evidence, as well as failing to properly implement a ‘major case management’ model, were substantiated. The rest of the allegations, dealing with such matters as wrongly taking jurisdiction over the investigation in the first place, undue focus on suicide as the cause of death, bias in favour of military interests, and poor communication with the family, were all found to be unsubstantiated. In total, there were 25 findings made; 18 of the allegations were unsubstantiated, 6 of the allegations were substantiated and one substantiated in part.

The CFPM agreed with and accepted all of the MPCC’s findings except for one which was accepted in part. The MPCC found the leader of the investigation team failed to ensure that a civilian agency’s identification officer adequately photographed or videotaped the body recovery scene. The CFPM accepted that the audio-visual documentation of the scene was inadequate; however, the CFPM would not have held the team leader solely responsible for this in the absence of an explanation from the civilian identification officer (who was deceased and thus unavailable to provide reasons for his actions).

The MPCC made five recommendations in its report (all accepted by the CFPM) relating to: the establishment of protocols with other police services aimed at enhancing the field experience for CFNIS investigators as well as the conduct of joint investigations; the review and, where necessary, the revision of MP orders and policies regarding the attendance of investigators at autopsies and maintaining the integrity of ‘crime scenes’, even when it is not evident that a crime had occurred; and, making briefings of families in death investigations more informal and interactive.

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