Monday, 20 April 2015


Death by police, whether some place in the U.S.A. or in Mitchells Brook, NL evokes a range of emotions that transcends all the normal reactions of people especially when transparency is tattered.

Though the victim’s family will suffer all the pain and loss of a loved one, society also has a lot at stake, if the state has erred or engaged in aberrant behavior. 

A collective loss of confidence in authority figures is the first casualty. If the actions of the police and those of politicians have overlapped, as in the Dunphy case, unwittingly or otherwise, the fear is that not just an injustice the rule of law has been undermined. 

For democratic society, such a jolt to certainty is compounded by a sense of shared responsibility of the need to make sure the process that led to the wrong is repaired. 

Bonds of trust between the governors the governed are always tenuous. An Inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act (and not the more restricted Fatalities Investigation Act) ought to have been immediate.  That did not happen.

The case has dominated all forms of media; but the obvious misinterpretation of Mr. Dunphy’s tweets by the Premier's security system, caused both dismay and reflection on a personal level.

At what other time would a friend inform you her daughter is an RNC Officer and reveal that officers are trained to kill in certain circumstances?

Or a family member volunteer that some of his friends are police officers and, can't believe that what happened in Mitchells Brook does not reflect their values; leaving one to wonder if this is how "social licence" takes root, this time to shoot, as if shooting is normal. 

But aren’t such reactions essentially manifestations of a community in confusion; much in the manner humans offer up when something so unexpected and disproportionate has occurred?

Certainty is rarely a viable proposition, anyway, especially when it is needed most. But on this occasion an alliance of interests has evolved, expressed by the public and a bereaved Dunphy family.  The demand from both quarters for the highest standard of judicial objectivity and unfettered transparency has become indistinguishable. 

But there was bafflement, too. What other way can one describe the shooter’s release of a 900 word letter to “Friends and Colleagues” and to an almost “ubiquitous” readership; the letter having been leaked to the media.  While the manner of its release has troublesome aspects, were not the letter's alarming contents an even greater source of dismay?

Might the letter have indicated that the police-state thinking of the shooter had elevated the risk in the Dunphy home; a risk level the local RCMP detachment had deemed low mere hours earlier?  Is not normalcy betrayed when the shooter portrays himself, and possibly other police officers, as acting in the normal course of events?

Hans Rollmann and Cabot Martin, a lawyer, wrote enormously insightful commentaries on the RNC officer’s strange plea for validation. 

Rollmann's lengthy missive entitled "Officer's letter in Don Dunphy letter inflames controversy", published in reviewed the language which the officer used including his appeal “to public sympathy” and “his distinction between the police and the public”.  Writes the Officer: “We are the experts in our field, and can’t expect everybody to simply ‘get it’”

Not surprisingly, Rollmann comments: “The content of the officer’s letter…raises more serious questions than it answers about the circumstances leading to Mr. Dunphy’s death, not to mention about how deeply the attitude of impunity and callous self-righteousness which (it) conveys has infected our policing culture.”
Cabot Martin's missive entitled "A Plea To Premier Davis", a seemingly perfect complement to Rollmann’s, focussed chiefly on the public policy issues raised.  States Martin: “the very act of sending the letter contradicts its own request for proper investigational procedure, inserting itself, as it does, into a RCMP investigation into his conduct and omitting a better advised call for a Judicial Inquiry – not that any personal letter was advisable and proper at this stage.”
Still Martin believes: “The letter’s contents…cannot be allowed to chill the debate about the Dunphy affair and about the laws and procedures we need to properly govern the activities of the police.”
He states, too, we need answers regarding the function and authority of the Protective Services Unit (PSU) and if it was run out of the eighth floor. 
As it stands, completion of the RCMP investigation is awaited in spite of widespread view the Force ought to have stepped back, given its association with the PSU and the tragedy.

Leadership on the matter was expected from Dwight Ball and Justice critic, Andrew Parsons. But, again, the Official Opposition have chosen to lead from the rear; unable to ask even basic questions on behalf of a concerned public, and in respect of the call for a Public Inquiry. More needs to be said about this problem but not here, not now.

Rightly, bewilderment in the Dunphy case is saved for Premier Paul Davis.

The Premier had the ability and responsibility to call the Inquiry and to resolve what Cabot Martin called an “investigational mess”. He has yet to do his duty.

That Newfoundland and Labrador is a society saddened is indisputable.

Heartfelt sympathy for the Dunphy family is both profound and universal. But condolences, alone, are inadequate. 

If there more we can do? The answer is, yes.

We should honor the society for whose betterment Mr. Dunphy was a tireless member, having contributed as a worker, as a champion of his community, and as an advocate for others turned away by a system perceptibly inadequate for injured workers.  

We can do this now, only if we share a collective determination not to let our quest for the truth get misplaced among the comparative detritus of budgets, boundary redistribution, and election planning. 

A saddened society can always find remedy and repair; unless it is, also, a sad society.