Conduct Case Summary MPCC-2014-051

This complaint arose from interactions between members of the Military Police (MP) and the complainant, a Canadian Armed Forces member, who was charged with abandoning a child and failing to provide the necessaries of life after he left his 19-month old daughter in his car for approximately 3 hours.

On the morning of the incident, the complainant was asked by his wife to drop off his daughter at the daycare. At the time, the complainant had been under significant stress both at work and at home. His wife suffered from a disability and child care arrangements were difficult. The previous night, his wife had made a decision to return to another part of the country with their daughter during the last year of the complainant’s posting. The complainant had not had much sleep, and had woken up early to care for his daughter. He was discussing the situation with his wife when he noticed he was late for work and she asked him to drive their daughter to daycare. The car seat had recently been moved to a different location, immediately behind the driver’s seat, and the complainant did not usually drive his daughter to daycare. He placed her in the car seat, saw a message about a work meeting on his blackberry, and drove away. By the time he arrived at work, he had forgotten his daughter was in the car. She was asleep and made no sounds. When the complainant’s wife attended the daycare shortly before lunch time, she learned that her daughter had not been dropped off. The complainant’s assistant was contacted, and his daughter was located in the car, sleeping. The complainant was asked to step out of a meeting and told about the situation. He arrived at his car as his assistant was taking the child from the car seat and his wife was arriving in the parking lot. The temperature was cool, but the child appeared unaffected by her stay in the car.

The complainant’s wife was upset and decided to walk home with her daughter. However, when she realised she could not walk this distance, she went into the MP Detachment to ask for a ride. Upon learning about what had happened, the MP initiated an investigation. The complainant’s wife was interviewed, and the MP had a conversation with the complainant’s assistant and obtained temperature readings for the day. The complainant was also contacted and agreed to attend the Detachment the next day for an interview. When he attended, upon being informed of his rights, he decided to contact a lawyer, and then indicated he would not participate in an interview. The following day, the MP conducted an interview with the complainant’s wife and obtained a written statement. The MP subsequently contacted a staff member from the daycare, who refused to provide a statement, as well as the complainant’s assistant, who also refused. The MP then swore an Information charging the complainant, and attended at his residence to serve a summons on the complainant. In September 2014, at the second court appearance, the complainant’s lawyer had a discussion with the Crown prosecutor, who made a decision to withdraw the charges.

In November 2014, the complainant transmitted a complaint to the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC). The complaint alleges that the MP members involved improperly laid charges against the complainant, and failed to apply the appropriate legal criteria. It also alleges that the MP members failed to interview witnesses who could have spoken on the complainant’s behalf, that they failed to consult with the Crown or seek authorization through their Chain of Command (CoC) prior to laying the charges, that the MP CoC did not provide adequate supervision for the investigation, that the MP members summoned the complainant in an inappropriate public venue, on his front porch while his neighbours were having a party outdoors, and that the MP members involved lacked the competence and experience to investigate this matter. In the complaint, the complainant provided an explanation of the events and the stress he was under at the time, and outlined how the charges affected him and his family.

The complaint was directed to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal (CFPM) to be dealt with in the first instance as per the National Defence Act (NDA). The Canadian Forces Military Police Group’s (CF MP Gp) Professional Standards (PS) section conducted a preliminary review of the complaint. Following this review, the Deputy Commander for the CF MP Gp determined that no breaches of MP policies, orders or code of conduct had occurred as the MP had acted lawfully within the scope of their duties, and determined that the decision to lay charges was reasonable in the circumstances and did not indicate misconduct on the part of any MP members. As a result, the Deputy Commander directed that no PS investigation be started.

The complainant was not satisfied with PS’ disposition of his complaint, and requested that the MPCC review the matter. The MPCC conducted an investigation and interviewed several witnesses, including the complainant, his wife and three of the MP subjects of the complaint.

The MPCC found that the allegations in the complaint were unsubstantiated. In particular, the MPCC found that the decision to charge the complainant was an exercise of police discretion by the investigating member. As confirmed by the Crown prosecutor involved, there were sufficient legal grounds to lay the charges. The investigator’s decision to proceed was not unreasonable. Further, the evidence obtained indicated that the MP consulted a military prosecutor prior to laying the charges, and that the CoC was aware of the matter and supported the investigating member’s decision. While formal approval from the CoC was not necessary pursuant to the policies applicable at the time, there were mechanisms in place to ensure that the CoC was kept advised of the developments and could intervene if necessary. The MPCC also found that the MP cannot be faulted for failing to interview witnesses, as they interviewed or attempted to interview the most important witnesses. Other witnesses cited by the complainant were character witnesses with no direct knowledge of the facts.

Further, the MPCC found that the supervision provided by the MP CoC was adequate, and that the members involved in the investigation demonstrated an adequate level of competence and experience. While the investigating MP member’s experience was limited as he was a relatively new member, the offences and facts involved in this case were unusual and, as such, few police members would have had experience addressing these matters. In addition, the MPCC found that the service of the summons on the complainant was conducted in an appropriate manner. While the investigating MP member initiated the process outside the complainant’s residence, his supervisor appropriately suggested they step inside. It was the belief of the MP members that the complainant was alone in the residence at the time, and they did not seek to embarrass or humiliate him in any way.

Although the MPCC found the allegations unsubstantiated, the MPCC made recommendations to address certain shortcomings identified during the review in terms of the lack of sufficient notes and records regarding the directions provided by and received from supervisors and the failure to consult with the civilian Crown prosecutor. The MPCC recommended that instructions be provided to MP members and supervisors to ensure that records of direction provided and received are kept. The MPCC also recommended that MP members be reminded of the existing guidance in the MP Orders about seeking legal advice and be encouraged to consult with the relevant Crown prosecutor prior to laying charges in cases involving unusual facts or offences.

In response to the MPCC’s report, the CFPM accepted all the MPCC’s findings, as well as the MPCC’s recommendation regarding records of direction provided by supervisors. The CFPM did not accept the recommendation regarding legal advice. The CFPM recognized that seeking legal advice prior to laying charges in cases involving unusual facts or offences is good practice, but did not believe there was a need to further reiterate existing policy guidance, and also noted that the guidance was found by the MPCC to have been complied with in this case.

Having considered this response, the MPCC notes that the MP members involved in this case did not consult with the civilian prosecutor prior to laying charges in the civilian justice system. While this was not a violation of existing policies, the MPCC finds that a reminder to MP members about the importance of seeking advice from the applicable military or civilian prosecutor prior to laying charges, particularly in cases involving unusual facts or offences, would be helpful in ensuring that both the letter and spirit of the existing policy guidance are fully implemented.

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