Newly unsealed court documents reveal that a rare criminal libel investigation launched against a New Westminster resident this summer relate to alleged defamatory statements made online against an RCMP officer mired in a scandal over sexually explicit photos and other members of the force.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which together with media outlets fought to unseal the records, is questioning why a criminal investigation was needed when defamation issues are normally handled through civil channels.
“The idea that a bunch of people with guns can take away your computer if you say the wrong thing on the Internet is anathema to free speech and democracy,” David Eby, the BCCLA’s executive director, said on Friday.
“Here, somebody was punished without proof of wrongdoing. He lost all his computers and had a search warrant executed at his house by armed police.”
A statement posted on the B.C. RCMP’s website says the search warrant was “a step in the collection of evidence” stemming from allegations of criminal behaviour by several individuals.
“The investigative team was tasked with investigating all aspects of several allegations and to follow investigative leads regardless of where those leads took them. This is what is expected in criminal investigations,” the statement said.
Eby says the resident who was the subject of the Aug. 18 warrant told the association that 10 RCMP and New Westminster police officers took part in the search of his home.
According to the 71-page document in support of the search warrant, defamatory statements were published on the Erotic Vancouver website by a Daniel Fawkes and in various Twitter messages posted on the account of@De_Fawkes. Investigators traced the comments to an IP address belonging to a Grant Wakefield and police suspected his computer might contain evidence related to the defamatory statements.
The targets of the allegedly defamatory statements were RCMP members Cpl. Jim Brown and Sgt. Farid Siddiqui, both of the Coquitlam detachment, and retired police officers Insp. Fred Biddlecombe and Sgt. Darryl Pollock.
In July, Brown came under heavy scrutiny after The Vancouver Sun and other media reported that the officer appeared online in photographs depicting scenes of sexual bondage and dominance.
The RCMP announced at the time that the Coquitlam detachment first became aware of the staged photos back in December 2010. Because the images appeared on Brown’s personal flash drive, a code of conduct review by his superiors resulted in a warning and the matter was concluded, court documents say.
But in March of this year, a new investigation was opened after police learned the photos of Brown were online.
The court records state that the investigation was prompted after an individual, identified as “Informant A,” came forward to police with allegations against Brown and his “BDSM lifestyle” (bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism). Much of what this informant told police was blacked out in the records obtained this week.
In early July, knowing that media outlets were now aware of these photographs, a code-of conduct investigation was ordered against Brown with the Richmond RCMP tapped to lead the investigation.
In a public statement at that time, Assistant Commissioner Randy Beck said that while the force recognized an individual’s rights and freedoms when off duty, he was “personally embarrassed and very disappointed” that the RCMP would be linked to photos of that nature.
Days later, the court records state, yet another code-of-conduct investigation was launched against Brown because of the discovery in his briefcase of DVDs containing sexual images depicting Brown, and other items. Brown had previously been ordered not to bring such images to work, but Brown said he was only warned to be “mindful” about bringing such material to work, according to the documents. ...