Updated: Jan 13, 2020
If you've spent any amount of time in court, you are bound to hear a flurry of phrases in a dead language traded back and forth as a kind of professional short-hand. Latin and the law go together like emojis and texting. "Bona fide" is one such Latin term you probably use yourself. It means "good faith." Fortunately for me, the lawyers I spent time with speak English as their lingua franca. And so it was, in plain English several years ago that a lawyer acquaintance gave me some advice. They confidently suggested I wouldn't be able to write a book about the sprawling story that began with the death of Robert Dziekanski. It wasn't a judgement about my ability. They just didn’t think the story would ever be truly finished. A part of me understood that, but I wasn’t discouraged. Yada yada yada…one year ago today, Blamed and Broken was officially published and I was a bona fide author.
I say officially, because by January 12, 2019, a fair number of people had already read it. I learned some book sellers had jumped the gun and started selling it ahead of publication. A year ago, I had no idea how it would be received. It would be disingenuous to say I wasn’t interested in what critics – armchair or otherwise – thought. There’s no question some of my pride was invested in the hope that Blamed and Broken would get more good reviews than bad. I’m happy to say that’s been the case. A year later, Amazon is still showing Blamed and Broken as a best seller. But I’ll let you in on a little secret about book publishing in Canada: there’s no money in it. Despite having a bona fide publisher behind the book, I’ve lost money. But writing this book was never about getting rich. It was about getting it right. Looking back on the past year, the impact of Blamed and Broken and those who contributed to it, is undeniable.
Within weeks of publication the Federal government moved swiftly to settle lawsuits filed by two of the four Mounties who are central characters in the book. Anyone who’s read the book can understand why. I know its revelations played a role in this because the department of Justice referenced it repeatedly in mediation discussions.
Over the past year, the book and its narrative circulated widely within the rank and file of the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies, such as the Vancouver Police Department. I have had feedback from academics, fellow journalists, police officers and casual readers. Their response has been almost universally, “I had no idea. This changes everything.” That’s why I wrote Blamed and Broken – so people could know what I knew.
In my last blog post, I wrote about the relatively sudden willingness by the RCMP to open files to determine whether a long list of complaints – many of them illuminated in Blamed and Broken -- by retired corporal Monty Robinson and constable Gerry Rundel should be investigated as criminal. The officer in charge of the files has read the book.
Referencing the book, Robinson and Rundel moved the ball forward. Both have pursued a series of Access To Information Requests (ATIP) to the RCMP. The responses have taken years in some cases, and after complaints to the Information Commissioner of Canada for noncompliance. Buried in the thousands of pages handed over to Robinson just weeks ago, are some references to the opaque process of getting the government to pay his legal bills, which I detail at some length in Blamed and Broken. In the book you can read how Ralph Goodale, Public Safety Minister at the time, OK’d the bills for former Mountie Kwesi Millington to appeal his perjury conviction.
But Goodale’s department sat on Robinson’s request until finally denying it without explanation in 2017. Goodale effectively left Robinson on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars, stemming from something that – internally at least – the RCMP believed happened “in the scope of his duties” and done in "good faith.” Bona fide.
No one of any senior rank spoke openly about the treatment these four Mounties received by the court, the public inquiry or the Minister. It was a different story inside the RCMP.
Bob Paulson – the Commissioner at the time – had publicly lumped the YVR four into a group he called “bad apples”. Yet, privately, Paulson urged Goodale to bankroll Robinson’s appeal.
“The primary public interest in Mr. Robinson’s case,” Paulson wrote to Goodale, “is that not providing legal assistance for the purposes of his appeal could have a chilling effect on the willingness of other members to execute their duties and responsibilities.”
The full membership of a special advisory committee that was struck to advise Goodale on the matter is still unknown. But RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jim Gresham was involved. In a conference call on the subject, Gresham asserted that Millington’s appeal was being funded at public expense, and so “there would be a significant impact should Mr. Robinson, an aboriginal male, not be treated in the same manner. “What sort of impact? Gresham forecast another lawsuit.
It’s not clear how much, if any, of the documents and evidence in the RCMP’s possession that supported Robinson’s defense were ever turned over to the Minister, or whether Goodale’s decision was entirely based on optics and unaccountable prerogative. I know that in my case, I made certain to look at everything I possibly could to get it right. And I was just writing a book. I wasn’t making a decision that could influence the outcome of a criminal trial. Not surprisingly, Robinson is troubled by what he’s read in the newly released documents.
“The Federal Government, by denying my Legal Funding for my Appeal, is either racist or complicit in the scapegoating”, Robinson told me recently.
The lawyer who once told me I couldn’t write a book about what happened because the story wasn’t finished was half right. There are still some things being revealed, even today. But he was also half wrong. I wrote Blamed and Broken in good faith. A year later I'm certain it was the right thing to do.