Thursday, 9 April 2015


The shooting death of Donny Dunphy by an RNC Officer of the Protective Services Unit (PSU) is a tragedy. In the circumstance, it demands nothing less than the thoroughness and independence afforded by a Judicial Inquiry. 

The late insertion by the RCMP of long retired Judge David Riche as an “independent observer”, an apparently new species of “oversight”, is no replacement for a full Judicial Inquiry – especially when it is inappropriate for the RCMP to be conducting the investigation in the first place. 

The process speaks to damage control both for the RNC and for the Government. The RCMP is a non-arms-length Agency in this case. 

An apparently defective chain of decision-making placed the PSU Officer in Mr. Dunphy’s home. The very first decision in the matter originated in the Premier’s Office. There have been inappropriate statements by the Premier.

All this has added a distressing political dimension to the case; one that begs for complete transparency.

Photo Credit: CBC
The Dunphy family lawyer, Erin Breen, has indicated they are chiefly interested in what went on inside the home following the visit of the RNC Officer. 

While the family’s concerns are important, the case raises issues which call into question the command and control process inside and over the PSU and its relationship to political staff, politicians and the Government.

Hence, very serious issues of justice and public policy, in relation to the rights of citizens not to be subject to unreasonable police tactics, must also be examined.

Many people have noted the possibly annoying, though not on their face threatening “tweets”, by Mr. Dunphy.  They have keyed in on why a lone RNC/PSU Officer, operating outside his area of jurisdiction, fired a weapon killing Mr. Dunphy.

There are many such questions. That is why nothing should impede a thorough and objective investigation. It is also why we should be wary of anyone who threatens to colour the issues around which the tragedy revolves or takes any action to shield those connected to it.

For example, how does a series of Twitter messages by a frequent member of the ‘twitteratti’, read by a staff Member in the Premier’s Office, get rewarded with a visit from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary?   

Did a Senior Officer send the PSU Officer to intrude upon a private person’s life on the basis of his latest series of tweets or did that PSU Officer make the decision to go to Mr. Dunphy’s house on his own?

Who ordered the PSU Officer to get in his car and go to Donny Dunphy’s house?

And, if the PSU Officer was sent by a senior officer, was that decision cleared by Fort Townsend before leaving for Mitchells Brook?

Should Twitter users now become concerned that their 140 characters, expressing dissatisfaction with the Government, may earn them a PSU tap on the front door?

Just what is needed to deserve that knock?

Who sets the secret “threat” criteria that guides such decisions? 

Who exactly, and under what supervision, goes through electronic databases to check the citizen out? 

Is this done on the 8th floor?

And, given that the Premier says how the world has changed so much, is all this evidence of a new paradigm on the eighth floor?

Is it still at work despite the public clamour that greeted the Premier’s move, right after his Swearing-In Ceremony, to replace “justice” with its ‘jack-boot’ cousin: the Department of Public Safety?

Has it taken the tragic shooting of Mr. Dunphy to crystalize the image and operations of the PSU?

How big is the PSU in members and budget? Is it growing?

What exactly does it do?

Who oversees its day to day risk assessment and surveillance and “citizens’ visitation” operations?

The Protective Services Unit (PSU) cannot be allowed to float nebulously in a justice system in which the police and the politicians have become far too close.

All these questions further support the need for an immediate Judicial Inquiry.

And it must be a full and Independent Judicial Inquiry.

The RCMP is disqualified.

It was the Premier himself, who, in his initial statements, acknowledged that both the RCMP and RNC are jointly involved in the Protective Services Unit. For that reason, it ought to have been clear to him and to the Chief of the RNC, that the RCMP is an unsuitable investigator in the Dunphy case. 

Why would the Government or the Chief of Police risk having the key question of the investigation’s integrity remain at issue when the Report is submitted?

The Chief should also be mindful, whether he acknowledges the fact or not, that politics has already played a role in this investigation.  

At issue is not only how a Twitter feed is handled by the Premier’s staff and what instructions accompanied the hand-off to the PSU/RNC.  The Premier, unwittingly or otherwise, has compounded one trail of poor decision-making with another, this one of his own making. 

Understandably, he was expected to comment on the incident given that a member of his security detail was the one involved in the shooting.  But an expression of condolence and a comment that he would await the report of the investigation, was all that was necessary. Exhibiting terrible judgement, the Premier felt compelled to say far more.

CBC's David Cochrane asked the Premier: “Did you view what Mr. Dunphy put on Twitter as any kind of threat?” This is the Premier’s response:

“When people put their hand up to enter politics and to do these types of roles you know that sometimes your life and your families lives becomes an open book in so many ways…quite often we become used to people’s challenges on policies and the decisions we make and how we govern….it’s upsetting when you see a comment made like that….(when) it appears to be directed towards me and another Cabinet Minister and the people who are most important to us – our families. I’ve got an 83 year old mother, a wife and child…this impacts them as well. They never put their hand up…I put my hand up...that causes some concern.”

The Premier’s words were inappropriate.  They may even be seen as prejudicial to the investigation. The manner in which his comments are framed imply Mr. Dunphy had made a threat. He has provided justification for the Police Officer’s visit to Mr. Dunphy and cover for the confrontation that ensued.   

Those comments are all the more egregious because public disclosures to date, do not suggest Mr. Dunphy was a violent person. There is no ‘pattern of behaviour’ that suggests his private narrative, his health and financial circumstance, should be undermined.

But, even this display of poor judgement by the Premier did not stop there.
Davis acknowledged that he had called the Police Officer who did the shooting.  “I called him to offer my support”, said the Premier. 

Davis either does not understand, or if he does he ignores the fact, being Premier does not afford him the flexibility he enjoyed in his former employ.  He ought to know his actions are widely interpreted especially for their perception of fairness. His call to the Officer was one more in a sad comedy of errors.

Even his reference to and characterization of the age of social media media implies Mr. Dunphy is at fault. The Premier states:

“We’re in a very different time today than we were 2 years ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago through social media, web sites and so on. People often make very harsh and difficult comments…one time it would be a letter or a phone call…”

Again, although it is apparent to all observers that Mr. Dunphy did not make a threat, the Premier already has the investigation wound up.  He seems not to understand that ubiquitous social media constitutes only a change in the proliferation and the immediacy of content transmission. The importance of ‘judgement’ in what is said, including and especially by those in authority, is as important as it was a hundred years ago. 

The Premier truly exhibits an unfortunate level of indiscretion in this tragic affair.

As much as the RCMP is a respected policing institution, it has no place in this investigation. 

Only an authority external to both police forces, a Judicial Inquiry with unfettered power and authority to direct the investigation and draw conclusions that are evidence based will put to rest questions that will forever hang over this case.