ARCHIVED - Chair's Final Report – Shooting Death of Mr. Kevin St. Arnaud

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RCMP Act Subsection 45.46(3)

Complainant: Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP

File No.: PC-2006-0385

March 31, 2009

The Complaint

On December 19, 2004 at approximately 12:50 a.m., Mr. Kevin St. Arnaud broke into a pharmacy in a mall in Vanderhoof, British Columbia. Constable Ryan Sheremetta, a member of the Vanderhoof RCMP, responded to the break-in alarm. Constable Colleen Erickson, also with the Vanderhoof RCMP, responded to the alarm in a separate police vehicle. Constable Sheremetta observed Mr. St. Arnaud running from the mall and pursued him in his police vehicle. Constable Sheremetta exited his police vehicle near the Vanderhoof curling rink and continued to pursue Mr. St. Arnaud on foot.

Constable Sheremetta followed Mr. St. Arnaud onto a soccer field while all the time yelling commands for Mr. St. Arnaud to stop. Mr. St. Arnaud eventually stopped, turned around and came back towards Constable Sheremetta. Mr. St. Arnaud continued to advance upon Constable Sheremetta, who later recounted that he stepped backwards but slipped and fell on his back. It was from this position that he shot Mr. St. Arnaud three times in the chest. Constable Erickson, who was in a police vehicle, had come around from the curling rink and was driving beside the tennis court and soccer field when she heard yelling, observed Mr. St. Arnaud "kind of charging back at Constable Sheremetta." She observed Constable Sheremetta, while standing in a police shooting stance, not on his back as he stated, shoot Mr. St. Arnaud twice from a distance of approximately ten feet. The subsequent autopsy confirmed that Mr. St. Arnaud was shot, in fact, three times.

The shooting was investigated by the RCMP's "E" Division North District Major Crime Unit (MCU) based in Prince George. The MCU submitted a Report to Crown Counsel to the Regional Crown Counsel on September 12, 2005. On February 15, 2006, Crown counsel determined that there was no substantial likelihood of conviction and consequently that Constable Sheremetta would not be charged with any offence arising from the shooting of Mr. St. Arnaud.

On March 15, 2006, following the Crown's decision not to proceed with criminal charges, as the Chair of the Commission, I initiated a complaint pursuant to subsection 45.37(1) of the RCMP Act,in which I raised two issues: Firstly, whether members of the RCMP improperly entered into a situation with Mr. St. Arnaud that resulted in his death and, secondly, whether a member of the RCMP improperly discharged his firearm in the incident. On April 26, 2007, I amended the complaint after the conclusion of the inquest into Mr. St. Arnaud's death. The amended complaint also questioned whether members of the RCMP failed to conduct an adequate investigation into the death of Mr. St. Arnaud.

The RCMP's Final Report

On August 4, 2006, the RCMP forwarded the RCMP Commissioner's Notice of Direction, terminating the investigation into my complaint pursuant to paragraph 45.36(5)(c) of the RCMP Act. The Notice of Direction stated that it was not reasonably practicable to investigate the complaint and linked this decision to the fact that a coroner's inquest into Mr. St. Arnaud's death was in the investigative stage.

The Commission responded with a report dated September 28, 2006, which did not address the rationale advanced by the RCMP but, rather, held that the RCMP Commissioner had exceeded his jurisdiction since paragraph 45.36(5)(c) of the RCMP Act does not apply to complaints initiated by the Commission Chair pursuant to subsection 45.37(1) of the Act. I then directed that the RCMP immediately commence an investigation.

Accordingly, as required by the RCMP Act, the complaint was investigated by the RCMP. On completion of the investigation the RCMP Commissioner (or his delegate) shall send his Final Report to the complainant summarizing the results of the investigation and any action taken to resolve the complaint. In this case, the Commissioner's Final Report dated June 26, 2008 informed me of his findings: that RCMP members properly responded to the break-in at the pharmacy; "[...] that Cst. Sheremetta's actions were justified given his reasonable belief that he would suffer grievous bodily harm or death [...]"; and "[...] other than the concerns identified with the Blood Stand [sic Stain] analysis, I find that members of the RCMP conducted an adequate investigation into the death of Mr. St. Arnaud and as such I do not support this allegation."

The Commission's Review and Interim Report

On October 29, 2008, the Commission concluded generally in its Interim Report that:

  • Some elements of the RCMP investigation into Mr. St. Arnaud's death were inadequate.
  • Some elements of the RCMP investigation into Mr. St. Arnaud's death lacked impartiality.
  • The investigative team failed to follow the Major Case Management Model.

The specific findings and recommendations relating to these issues are set forth below.

The problems created by the investigative shortcomings required the Commission to reject some of the evidence, including Constable Sheremetta's statements and his testimony before the coroner's inquest but not his spontaneous utterances to Constable Erickson or his duty to account statement.Footnote 1

On the key issue of assessing Constable Sheremetta's conduct in relation to Mr. St. Arnaud's death, after reviewing all of the evidence including the testimony of witnesses at the coroner's inquest, the Commission concluded that:

  • The officers entered into their interactions with Mr. St. Arnaud lawfully and were duty-bound to do so.
  • Constable Sheremetta shot Mr. St. Arnaud in self-defence after reasonably perceiving that Mr. St. Arnaud posed a threat of grievous bodily harm or death and believing that he could not otherwise preserve himself from grievous bodily harm or death other than by using deadly force.

The RCMP Commissioner's Notice

Pursuant to subsection 45.46(2) of the RCMP Act, the Commissioner is required to provide written notification of any further action that has been or will be taken in light of the findings and recommendations contained in the Interim Report.

On March 27, 2009, the Commission received the RCMP Commissioner's Notice (Schedule 2). The RCMP Commissioner provided commentary touching upon some of the Commission's factual findings. These comments focussed on three areas:

  • the challenges posed in taking duty to account statements from members subject to criminal investigations;
  • suggesting that members, other than those specifically identified for deficiencies in their conduct during the investigation, were responsible for the investigative inadequacies; and
  • justifying deficiencies on the basis that they did not change the ultimate results of the investigation.

However, the Commissioner agreed with all of the recommendations contained in the Interim Report and reported that the RCMP was either reviewing or developing policies in response to these recommendations.

The Commission's Findings and Recommendations

The aim of the Commission's review of complaints is to improve the performance of the RCMP and its members by emphasizing best policing practices. In the context of a death in custody or other serious matter in which the police investigate themselves, failing to abide by best practices will inevitably fuel the perception that in such investigations the police are partial or that they treat subject members more favourably than members of the public.

In circumstances as grave as those of this case, it is imperative that the RCMP foster the confidence of the Canadian public by demonstrating that it embraces the best practices of a policing organization. To that end, it is not helpful for the RCMP to engage in rationalization and minimization, even where it admits that the conduct of its members falls short of this goal. A frank acknowledgement of deficiencies or errors, where they exist, would serve not only to establish that the RCMP is accountable for its actions but that it is a principled organization worthy of the public trust. Without this trust, the trust of the very people who call upon the police to maintain their safety and security, the ability of the police to perform their duties is seriously eroded. In the words of Sir Robert Peel, "Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law."

One issue raised by the Commissioner which calls for a response is that of the taking of duty to account statements. The Commissioner suggested that the duty to account statement was taken prematurely in this case and that Constable Sheremetta was entitled to the same rights as any member of the public who was the subject of a criminal investigation. At that time, the Commission addressed this issue in a previous review into the death of Mr. Ian Bush.2 The Commission clearly articulated its position that members are entitled to the protections afforded any person pursuant to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In response to the Commission's Interim Report relating to Mr. Bush's death, the RCMP Commissioner provided a notice dated November 2, 2007, supporting the Commission's recommendation relating to duty to account statements and to seek the development of policy to address this issue. In so doing, the RCMP must bear in mind that just as members should expect to benefit from the same rights afforded any member of the public, so too should the public expect that the RCMP will investigate its members with the same vigour and objectivity expected in any serious criminal investigation.

In that case the Commissioner committed to seeking action in a "timely manner." In the case presently before me, the Commissioner noted that the RCMP was "in the midst of drafting policy on this complicated issue." Nearly seventeen months have passed since the Commissioner made this commitment. It is incumbent upon the RCMP to move this file forward zealously. The Commission will continue to monitor RCMP progress on this issue.

My findings are summarized below. A complete list of my findings and recommendations may be found in the Commission's Interim Report (Schedule 1) at Appendix G.

Summary Findings

The officers entered into their interactions with Mr.  St. Arnaud lawfully and were duty-bound to do so.

Constable Sheremetta shot Mr. St. Arnaud in self-defence after reasonably perceiving that Mr. St. Arnaud posed a threat of grievous bodily harm or death and believing that he could not otherwise preserve himself from grievous bodily harm or death other than by using deadly force.

Some elements of the RCMP investigation into Mr. St. Arnaud's death were inadequate.

Some elements of the RCMP investigation into Mr. St. Arnaud's death lacked impartiality.

The investigative team failed to follow the Major Case Management Model.

Pursuant to subsection 45.46(3) of the RCMP Act, I respectfully submit my Final Report and, accordingly, the Commission's mandate in this matter is ended.

Paul E. Kennedy

1 For a full assessment of credibility issues relating to Constable Sheremetta's evidence please see the Commission's Interim Report, Schedule 1.

2 PC 2006-1532. It should be noted that the date of that incident was October 29, 2005.