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Painful Truth: Police culture of secrecy in B.C. is a problem

IHIT kept a murder in Richmond secret for almost six years
Langley RCMP and IHIT at a Langley murder scene earlier this year. (Langley Advance Times files)

Last week, Langley saw a depressingly typical event – a major police operation took place, and the public isn’t allowed to know what was going on.

Officers from the Delta Police Department were searching an area for evidence. One of my colleagues made inquiries with multiple police units, including Delta PD and RCMP.

Were they in Langley related to a murder investigation? Was IHIT involved? No one can say!

Well, they could. But they won’t.

Police agencies in B.C. vary widely in how much information they are willing to release. Local detachments and departments often do try to inform their communities. The higher up the chain you go, the less forthcoming police become. Sometimes they defer inquiries to other agencies, which then claim to know nothing. If two agencies are involved, it’s not uncommon that both will claim only the other one can comment.

This has serious consequences for the public’s ability to know what is happening in their communities. We literally are in the dark about how effective our policing is.

Two examples immediately come to mind for me, showing how little the police in this province trust the public with even basic information.

The first was a dramatic incident at the Langley Regional Airport in November 2019.

A man in a light airplane led Washington State authorities on an aerial chase from the tiny Methow Valley Airport. En route, bags were flung out of the aircraft and into the woods below. The pilot then darted across the border and landed at Langley, where he was arrested.

And that’s all we know.

For weeks and weeks, I pestered Canadian authorities for any details – was the pilot being charged in Canada? Was he being extradited? Was the pilot Canadian, was he a Lower Mainland resident?

After several months of this, I was told that U.S. Homeland Security was now in charge of the case. They also ignored all requests for information.

Officers with high powered weapons arrested an illegal border crosser and suspected drug smuggler in Langley, and we know nothing about what happened after that!

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An even more alarming case was the May 4, 2016 murder of a woman in Richmond, which IHIT kept secret from the public for six years.

The public was not told there had been a murder, nor did they know that the police had identified a suspect within days.

The problem – revealed in a court ruling on stored evidence this year – was that police got a statement from the suspect, then a minor, that was inadmissible in court. The entire investigation stalled. Evidence sat in police lockers without being tested. Investigators on the case left IHIT.

No one has been charged, and it is likely that no one ever will be. But at least, after six years, the public finally knows a murder took place.

With a public arrest or search, at least we know that we’re being kept in the dark. But how many other files slide under the radar?

Thanks to a culture of police secrecy, we don’t even know how much we don’t know.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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