RCMP Commissioner’s Response
Feb. 25, 2021
Ms. Michelaine Lahaie Chairperson
Civilian Review and Complaints Commission
for the RCMP
P.O. Box 1722, Station "B"
Dear Ms. Lahaie:
I acknowledge receipt of the Commission's interim report with respect to the Public Interest Investigation into the Coquitlam use of force incident involving Mr. Myung Lee and Ms. Kap Su Lee; file number PC-2016-2613.
I have completed a review of this matter with respect to the findings and recommendations set out in the Commission's interim report.
I agree with the finding that Constable Abboub and Constable Fortin were ineffective in resolving concerns over the securing of the ballot box, which resulted in crowd volatility.
I support the recommendation that Constable Abboub and Constable Fortin be directed to read this report to emphasize the value ofusing proper problem-solving techniques to resolve calls for service. I will direct that this be done.
I disagree with the finding that Constable Abboub and Constable Fortin did not properly articulate a statutory authority for the arrests, thereby rendering the arrests unreasonable.
Constable Abboub had grounds to arrest Ms. Lee for a number of offences, including assaulting a peace officer, assault, and obstruction of a peace officer.
Constable Abboub articulated the grounds for arresting Ms. Lee in his statement to the New Westminster Police Department. Constable Abboub recalled seeing Ms. Lee follow Constable Fortin, who was escorting her spouse, Mr. Lee, out of the meeting room. Constable Abboub saw Ms. Lee holding a glass of water raised above her head. Constable Abboub feared this would be thrown at Constable Fortin and told Ms. Lee to drop the glass twice, before removing it from her hand. After the glass dropped to the ground, Ms. Lee tried to push past Constable Abboub to get to Constable Fortin. At this point, Constable Abboub arrested Ms. Lee for obstructing a peace ofificer to prevent her from assaulting Constable Fortin or obstructing Constable Fortin's arrest of Mr. Lee.
In its analysis, the Commission reviewed applicable case law to analyze how the offence of obstruction is proven in Court. Those cases identified the elements of the offence; namely, that there must be an obstruction, the peace officer must be in the execution of their duty when the obstruction occurs, and the person obstructing did so willfully. To further support the analysis, the Commission cited a decision about obstruction explained by Judge Dunnigan that is included in the reference material.
The Commission concluded that Ms. Lee's actions amounted to an inconvenience to the members and that there was no underlying criminal activity. This interpretation is limited and does not consider all of the facts, including Constable Abboub's perception. When applying the elements of obstruction to this event, it was evident both Constable Abboub and Constable Fortin were in the lawful execution of their duties. In the midst of a dynamic and volatile situation, Constable Abboub believed that Ms. Lee was going to willfully throw a glass at Constable Fortin and interfere with the arrest of Mr. Lee. Constable Fortin, who was unaware of this threat, could have been seriously injured by a thrown glass object. Ms. Lee's actions were not a mere inconvenience; they were, in fact, a criminal act. To prevent Ms. Lee from committing an assault with the glass and obstructing the arrest of Mr. Lee, significant intervention was required from Constable Abboub. Based on the circumstances, her arrest was reasonable.
I also disagree with the finding that the arrest of Mr. Lee by Constable Fortin was unreasonable. In the occurrence file, Constable Fortin provided a summary of his involvement. He described how, with the concurrence of the organizers, the meeting was adjourned and those in attendance were told to leave. A decision was made to have the disputed ballot box secured by hotel staff. According to Constable Fortin, this decision caused commotion and led to Ms. Lee approaching the security guard to initial the ballot box. Mr. Lee also attempted to approach the ballot box, despite already being told by police to leave the premises. Constable Fortin wrote that he placed his hand on Mr. Lee's back and gently tried to move him forward. Mr. Lee then slowed down and uttered comments that Constable Fortin did not understand, but given that it was clear Mr. Lee was non compliant and given the situation with the crowd, Constable Fortin arrested Mr. Lee for cause a disturbance. Constable Fortin's actions are in line with the results of New Westminster Police Department's investigation.
Several witnesses were interviewed by the New Westminster Police Department as part of their external investigation into this incident. Some described Mr. Lee as causing a disturbance by yelling and refusing to leave. One witness said Mr. Lee "charged" at the security guard who had possession of the ballot box. The security guard was perhaps closest to the interaction between Mr. Lee and Constable Fortin. The security guard stated he heard the police tell everyone to leave. As he began to walk out with the ballot box, Mr. Lee followed. Mr. Lee continued to yell. Constable Fortin told Mr. Lee to leave and to be quiet Mr. Lee ignored Constable Fortin and was arrested.
One witness heard the police direct Mr. and Ms. Lee to stay out of the way or they would be arrested. Multiple witnesses reported that Mr. and Ms. Lee refused to comply with police directions. The information in the supporting materials points to behaviour by Mr. Lee, such as continuing to shout and attempt to impede the security guard, which led to Mr. Lee's lawful arrest.
Even though the members may not have articulated their grounds for the arrest, that does not negate that they had reasonable and probable grounds to arrest Mr. and Ms. Lee. In paragraph  of its report, the Commission wrote "Ms. Lee certainly attempted to impede [tfhe security guard's} leaving tfhe room;". At paragraph  of its report, the Commission wrote that "Mr. Lee was sfhouting and yelling at tfhis time...". There were other people present, besides the police officers, to be disturbed by the behaviours of impeding and shouting.
As a result, I disagree with the finding that given that the arrests were unreasonable, the amount of force used to perform these arrests was necessarily unreasonable. The Use of Force expert from the New Westminster Police Department wrote the following about Constable Fortin's initial interaction with Mr. Lee:
"It is my opinion tfhat Constable Fortin used tfhe appropriate response level for tfhis situation and attempted to use communication skills as tfhe first option and fhad to escalate to soft pfhysical control. Constable Fortin would fhave been justified in using a fhigfher level of force based on Mr. Lee's befhavior fhowever opted not to."
At all times during this event, the Use of Force expert concluded that Constable Fortin and Constable Abboub appropriately applied the Incident Management Intervention Model to arrest and control Mr. Lee and Ms. Lee. The expert wrote:
"It is my opinion that the members took into account the age of the subjects and that this is a reason for why they did not resort to higher levels of force which would have been jusĽified and may have concluded the incident sooner. I feel that all the officers used considerable restraint in resorting to mainly soft physical control throughout the incident. The situation was a dynamic situation with many onlookers who werefilming the police, yelling at police, and not helping the volatile situation."
Regardless of disagreeing with the finding, I generally support the recommendation that Constable Abboub and Constable Fortin be reminded of the importance of clearly articulating grounds of arrest. I will direct that this be done.
I do not agree with the finding that escorting Mr. and Ms. Lee via the stairway instead of the elevator was unreasonable in the circumstances.
In the report, the Commission wrote it was unclear why Mr. Lee and Ms. Lee were escorted outside using the stairs, as opposed to a nearby elevator.
The Commission stated "The members were aware of a nearby elevator, as they took this elevator to reach the upstairs room where the vote was being held." This statement is not accurate. According to the hotel security guard, [Mr. C], he told the New Westminster Police Department in his statement that he escorted the first two members up the stairs to the second floor meeting room. This was depicted by the hotel's lobby security camera footage. When Constable Fortin arrived, the security camera footage showed him walking up the stairs. Constable Fortin and Constable Abboub may or may not have been aware of the nearby elevator; however, it is clear from the supporting material they arrived on the second floor using the stairs.
Another consideration is that the elevator may not have been an option, because of the number of people using it. Constable Gibson recalled seeing people leave the second floor by elevator, while [Mr. C] said he helped people exit by the elevator. In their statements to the New Westminster Police Department, [Ms. C, Mr. Ch, Mr. S, Mr. H, and Ms. H] all recalled using the elevator to get to the lobby.
The hotel security camera depicted a large group of people getting off the elevator, less than two minutes after Constable Fortin and Constable Abboubappeared in the security camera footage with Mr. Lee. If the members were aware of the elevator, it would not have been tactically sound to bring the arrested person back towards a crowd of people because of how the event itself unfolded.
After being directed to take the ballot box, [Mr. C] carried it out of the meeting room towards stairs that led to the lobby. Ms. Lee and Mr. Lee followed [Mr. C] in this direction. When Constable Fortin made the decision to arrest ffir. Lee, they were at or near the top of the stairs. As this interaction unfolded and as Mr. Lee resisted Constable Fortin, they slid or fell partially down the stairs to the first landing. The continued arrest of Mr. Lee occurred on the stairs as Constable Fortin and Constable Abboub tried to gain control of Mr. Lee. In the circumstances, it was reasonable to gain control of Mr. Lee and escort him down the remaining stairs to the lobby. It would have been unreasonable to take Mr. Lee back upstairs, only to bring him back down in the elevator.
I do not support the recommendation that Constable Abboub and Constable Fortin be provided operational guidance by a use of force expert concerning the intervention in this matter and the decision to leave via the stairway.
As noted earlier, an independent Use of Force expert found that Constable Fortin and Constable Abboub appropriately applied the Incident Management Intervention Model, and commended them for using restraint in a volatile situation.
I agree with the finding that Constable Abboub, Constable Fortin and Constable Gibson failed to document taking reasonable steps to ensure the wellbeing of Mr. and Ms. Lee's granddaughter.
I agree with the finding that the RCMP policy dealing with ensuring the welfare of children whose parents or caregivers are arrested did not provide adequate guidance in this instance.
I support the recommendation that Constable Abboub and Constable Fortin be provided operational guidance on the importance of after the arrest of caregivers. I will direct that this be done.
I support the recommendation that the RCMP review its policies relative to ensuring welfare of children whose parents or caregivers are arrested or otherwise indisposed. I will direct that Operational Manual 18.1 -Arrest and Detention be reviewed and amended to add information regarding this recommendation. I will direct that this be done.
I agree with the finding that Constable Fortin did not have the legal authority to take and damage the cell phone of [Ms. Y] while she was using it to take pictures.
I support the recommendation that the RCMP apologize to [Ms. Y] for Constable Fortin throwing her cell phone on the ground. I will direct that this be done.
I support the recommendation that the RCMP offer to reimburse [Ms. Y] for the damage to the cell phone. Any offer for reimbursement is to be based on the actual receipt from replacing the cell phone or on a reasonable amount based on current rates for a similar product. I will direct that a claim be opened through the "E" Division Claims Unit to contact [Ms. Y] to gather the necessary information, review, quantify and assess the claim.
I support the recommendation that Constable Fortin receives operational guidance concerning his actions with respect to [Ms. Y's] cell phone. I will direct that this be done.
In closing, I wish to inform the Commission that I recognize that the time the RCMP has taken to respond to the Commission's interim report in this matter has not been ideal. Nonetheless, I assure you that, as always, we place great value on the work of the Commission, and that my staff and I work diligently to provide meaningful responses.
The RCMP considers all public complaints to be important and we are committed to responding to all interim reports, eliminating the backlog and meeting the service standards agreed to in our Memorandum of Understanding while ensuring comprehensive and appropriate assessments of each report.
I look forward to receiving your final report on this matter. Kindest regards,
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