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the Body Politic
Vol. 06, No. 11 - Dec 1996, Page 10
Copyright © 1996, 1999 by the Body Politic Inc.

Police Protecting Police

By Will Offley, R.N.

At every point along the line, the police forces involved have conducted themselves more to protect one of their own than to investigate a crime.
We told you so.

That was the reaction of many pro-choicers in British Columbia to the new revelations in September that Delta police constable Steve Parker had run the license plates of at least six more clinic staff and clients than he had previously admitted to.

Parker, the former B.C. provincial treasurer of Campaign Life Coalition, was found guilty by the Delta Police Board last June of having run the plates of five staff and clients at Everywoman's Health Centre.

Two of the participants in the inquiry who had had their plates searched by Parker warned the Delta Board that more instances would come to light. They pointed to the fact that no effort had been made to systematically crossmatch the 3,000+ license searches Parker had done since 1992 with a comprehensive list of providers. They also pointed to the testimony of a Canadian Police Infirmation Centre computer expert before the inquiry that he could not rule out that Parker might have done more searches, and the fact that Parker repeatedly refused to say he had not done any more searches.

Testifying under oath, Parker carefully stated only that he could not "recall" any more. Nine days after the Delta Board upped Parker's suspension from four days to five, another search came to light. It was not uncovered by the police, but by yet another Freedom of Information search by the affected individual herself, a former Everywoman's nurse. This forced Delta Police to appoint Vancouver Police Staff-Sgt. Bob Murphie to conduct a new investigation.

Despite the fact that Murphie uncovered six more cases where Parker had run providers' plates (for a running total of 12 at this point), he only recommended that Delta Police lay internal disciplinary charges against him for discreditable conduct. There will be no criminal charges, and the worst that Parker can expect is to be demoted from constable first class to constable. To add insult to injury, it now turns out that sometime after being found guilty of discreditable conduct by the Police Board last June, Parker was promoted to constable first class.

These latest developments underscore an absolute unwillingness by local police to deal with this issue. As stated above, the current six cases were uncovered after ICBC told a former Everywoman's nurse last June her plate had been run by Parker. However, Vancouver Police had been told in August, 1994 that this nurse had received anti-choice mail at home, and that the only way the antis could have found her address was through a computer search through ICBC. Vancouver Police were given this information a month after the Britton/Barrett murders in Pensacola, and a week after Gordon Watson's assault on Margaret Panton outside Everywoman's Health Centre. Despite this, they did nothing to investigate.

Quis Custodiat Delta

At every point along the line, the police forces involved have conducted themselves more to protect one of their own than to investigate a crime. Vancouver Police are not alone in this conduct. For example, take the original Delta Police investigation back in January, 1995. When the Vancouver Sun originally broke the story, Delta appointed Inspector Phil Harden to conduct its investigation of Parker. It did not become clear until sixteen months later, after the conclusion of the public inquiry, that Harden had been Parker's commanding officer (and immediate superior) on the elite 6-member Criminal Investigation Branch up until a month before the scandal broke. This information had been withheld by the Delta Police.

Harden's report (and the subsequent decision of the Delta Police Board) completely ignored 31 pages of documentation submitted by Everywoman's Health Centre showing that there was prima facie evidence that Parker's actions were part of an organized and clandestine campaign to obtain clinic workers' home addresses and other personal information, and that this involved numerous named leaders of Campaign Life Coalition in addition to Parker. It ignored Parker's association with Gordon Watson, an individual now convicted of common assault, aggravated assault, civil contempt of court and criminal contempt of court, who is publicly calling for providers to be murdered.

A letter from Everywoman's Health Centre to the Delta Police four days after Parker was exposed told them bluntly: "...we are asking that the allegations around Constable Parker be situated in their proper context. That context can be summarized as follows: It is possible to document the existence of an organized, ongoing, semi-clandestine campaign to collect information on abortion providers and clients, including their home addresses. This campaign has been carried out by leading members of Campaign Life Coalition, and has extended to include an individual with a known history of violence, Gordon Watson. It is occurring in a context of outright assassination of abortion providers now occurring across North America." Harden made no attempt to challenge or impeach any of this evidence. He simply ignored it.

The summary of Harden's report stating "the facts of the case" consisted of Parker's January 5th statement given to Harden. No evidence from the staff of Everywoman's was included in this summary, or taken into account. Harden made no attempt to crossmatch the 3,000+ computer searches made by Parker from 1991 to 1994 with the license plates of clinic staff, volunteers or clients. This critical omission was never explained.

At the public inquiry, Inspector Harden could not say why he had looked only at charges of discreditable conduct under the Police Act, and why he had declined to consider four other sections of the disciplinary regulations under which Parker could have been charged.

Under cross-examination, Harden could give no explanation for failing to examine whether Parker's actions breached the Supreme Court injunction prohibiting "watching and besetting" of clinic staff.

No attempt was made to canvass doctors, staff and clients to try to unearth suspicious incidents.

At every opportunity, Harden endorsed the unsupported testimony of Constable Parker, despite evidence to the contrary. For example, he accepted Parker's denial that he had ever met Gordon Watson, even though Watson himself had told Harden that the two of them had met, and despite eyewitness testimony that both had attended a small meeting of Campaign Life in 1993.

Ever since Parker's activities first came to light, two months after the shooting of Gary Romalis and five days after Brookline, we've been treated to another textbook case of what happens when the police investigate the police. Remember, Parker is a star cop. He wasn't just the treasurer of Campaign Life Coalition B.C. He is also a field hockey and soccer coach, and a member of the executives of the Delta Police band, the Knights of Columbus, and the Delta Police Athletic Association. He's a former vice-president of the Delta Police union. He's a blood donor, a bone marrow donor, a good father, devoted husband, staunch citizen, a saint in blue. No way is he going down the tubes for something as trivial as invasion of privacy.

It hasn't just been Delta Police covering for him, either. For two years the actions of every force involved have shown how powerful a reflex cop self-protection is. CPIC itself cannot explain why it sat on the initial information given to it by Everywoman's for over a month. Delta Police were only informed of Parker's actions after the deputy Attorney-General's office phoned CPIC to let them know that there would be a front-page story in the Vancouver Sun the next day, and maybe it would be a good idea to inform Delta. CPIC also cannot explain why it never bothered to launch its own investigation into the incident.

Mom Made Me Do It

Bad as all this was, the Delta Police Board outdid them all. Parker's whole case rested on the defense that he had only run the plates for his mother, who was feeling nervous because of incidents she said had happened to her outside Everywoman's Health Centre. She cited alleged instances where there had been aggressive verbal harassment, photographs being taken, cars being driven close to pickets, eggs being thrown, and the like.

During Mrs. Parker's cross examination, she was systematically stripped of this defense. She was forced to acknowledge that every single instance she gave had nothing to do with the clinic, did not involve clinic staff or supporters, took place elsewhere, or took place after the plates had been run.

A reasonable person would probably wonder at this point, "OK, then why did he run the plates?" Not the Delta Police Board. Their decision resurrected many of the same reasons that Mrs. Parker had been obliged to withdraw.

There's worse. During the inquiry proof surfaced for the first time that clinic clients were being targeted as well as clients. Susan Doe (a pseudonym) testified that she attended the clinic accompanying a friend, and found out much later Parker had run her license plate in a batch including three clinic staff members.

Susan Doe was at Everywoman's on August 11, 1993. Parker's mother had already testified under oath that she was in Ireland for the entire month of August. She had also testified, several times, that she was the only person to give plate numbers to her son (since to admit to anyone else being involved would acknowledge our case that there was an organized covert campaign under way).

Faced with this devastating contradiction, one that clearly raises the question of perjury, Parker's lawyer then repeatedly grilled Mrs. Parker as to whether she was certain she had been out of the country for that whole month. Repeatedly she refused to budge. Then the next day, she breezed back into the inquiry and blithely informed everyone she just remembered that, well, she'd really returned on August 8, just in time.

In the face of this outrageous change in her testimony, we called on the Delta Police Board to investigate further. The Parkers' whole defense had collapsed. The likelihood of perjury was clearly at stake, but there were documentary sources that could conclusively prove or disprove it. We told the Board that there were any number of ways Mrs. Parker could obtain this documentary proof as to the critical question of the date she had returned to Canada. She could produce her passport, a statement from her travel agent, documents from the airline she travelled on, credit card or bank records, or documentation from the Irish Government as to when she left Ireland, or records from the British Home Office as to when she transited through Heathrow airport.

No proofs were required. The Delta Police Board let the Parkers walk. And nine days later, the next search on a clinic staff member came to light.

Marx once observed that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. But he didn't comment on what happens when it repeats and repeats and repeats, like bad acid, a recurrent nightmare, or your fourteenth trip to an incompetent dentist.

The Parker inquiry's sort of like that.

Where We Go From Here

What's urgently needed now is for a full public inquiry to be initiated by B.C Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh. Two years ago the B.C. Task Force on Access to Contraception and Abortion Services made a priority recommendation "that the Attorney General launch a province-wide investigation into the nature and extent of criminal harassment of contraception and abortion providers and that he instruct the Crown Counsel in writing to prosecute such offenses to the full extent of the law." The Province newspaper has added its voice as well.

A September 18 editorial stated "Abortion rights supporters are calling for a full public inquiry, and they deserve one.... Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh should call a public inquiry and alleviate any concerns that the police buddy system is in charge here."

Providers and pro-choice activists have long known the police are less than enthusiastic about protecting us from the antis. But its time to put a stop to the state of affairs where the police refuse to protect us from the police.

Mr. Offley is a member of the B.C. Coalition for Abortion Clinics [BCCAC], former security coordinator at Everywoman's Health Centre [1988-l995], an independent researcher on the Christian right and the anti-choice movement, and a neurosurgical nurse.

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