RCMP beefs up oversight in sexual assault case

A former policeman has been hired to look for potential conflicts of interest among Yukon cops. This is to ensure public trust after RCMP charged two off-duty officers with sexual assault, said a police spokesperson. On Monday,

A former policeman has been hired to look for potential conflicts of interest among Yukon cops. This is to ensure public trust after RCMP charged two off-duty officers with sexual assault, said a police spokesperson.

On Monday, Graham Belak, 29, and Shawn McLaughlin, 32, were charged after a Watson Lake woman reported a sexual assault on Sunday morning.

The Whitehorse-based major crimes unit is still investigating the incident.

Belak used to live in Whitehorse where he volunteered as a hockey coach. An observer from the Committee for Public Complaints Against the RCMP will be looking at whether Belak has maintained ties with police officers in Whitehorse.

“It’s looking at the six degrees of separation,” said Nelson Kalil, a committee spokesperson. “What are some of the perceived conflicts of interest that may exist between the investigation team and the people who are subject to investigation?”

“Did they go to depot together? Do they play hockey together? Do their girlfriends hang out? Did they work together in the past? There’s a litany of things that could contribute to a perceived conflict of interest,” he said.

The observer won’t deal with the fairness of the investigation or the subsequent charges, but rather their context.

“(The observers don’t) look at the investigation itself, but just the impartiality of the people who conducted the investigation,” he said.

The observer, who the commission will not name citing privacy concerns, arrived in Whitehorse Tuesday, said Kalil.

He’s a former policeman from Vancouver, he said.

The observer program is only used in British Columbia and the Yukon. It began as a pilot project in 2007 after multiple police-on-police investigations in the province drew suspicion from victims and civil liberty groups.

“It’s only enforced in British Columbia,” said Kalil. “It’s a collaborative effort between the “E” Division, which is the RCMP in British Columbia and the (commission).”

The head of “E” Division is also responsible for the Pacific region, which includes the Yukon, said Kalil.

“It makes for a natural fit that an observer be used in the Yukon as well,” he said.

An observer was also assigned for the in-custody death of Raymond Silverfox in December 2008.

There are no immediate plans to expand the program to the rest of the country.

“For now it’s particularly BC that we’re focused on,” said Kalil. “A lot of what we do initiates out of BC simply because of the volume of the work we do there. It’s logical that we test things out in our largest market.”

BC is one of the most populous provinces and it doesn’t have its own provincial police force.

Following the charges, both Watson Lake officers have been suspended with pay. They are scheduled to appear in court on April 6.

Belak was once drafted by the Colorado Avalanche and his brother, Wade, plays for the Nashville Predators.

Normally, the commission looks at suspicious investigations and deploys an observer as it sees fit. But this time, the observer was requested by Chief Superintendent Barry Harvie, head of “M” Division.

“It’s invoked when there are serious incidents like in-custody deaths, Tasering, serious assault,” said Kalil. “When the investigation is launched, we try to evaluate whether or not we should send someone to monitor the impartiality of the investigators in the first instance.”

It’s a pro-active approach meant to be deployed early, he said.

A police officer from the Edmonton Police Service will review the investigation to ensure the RCMP behaved properly, but this case is unique because of how quickly the officers were charged.

“The charges have been laid,” said Kalil. “So in many ways, the impartiality aspect probably isn’t as vital as in another case where charged haven’t been laid.

“In this case, charges have been laid, so the most important aspect has already been accomplished,” he said.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

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