Alberta justice minister to conduct review after Crown declines to prosecute police killing

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Alberta Justice Minister Mickey Amery says he will review the relationship between Alberta’s police watchdog and the Crown after prosecutors declined to charge a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man — the latest case in which the two agencies have found themselves at loggerheads.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) announced May 15 that Edmonton police Const. Alex Doduk will not face charges, despite an investigation finding “reasonable grounds” to believe Doduk committed a culpable homicide when he gunned down Steven Nguyen June 5, 2021.

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ASIRT said it would not lay the charge because an Alberta Crown Prosecution Service’s (ACPS) review of the case found there was no “reasonable likelihood” Doduk would be convicted at trial.

The Crown has declined to prosecute police in several other high-profile cases. Those include the case of Pacey Dumas, an Indigenous man who was kicked in the head by an Edmonton police officer, leaving a hole in his skull; as well as the St. Albert RCMP officers who mistakenly arrested Ryley Bauman, a non-verbal autistic youth. ASIRT concluded charges would be warranted in both cases, while ACPS said the cases were not winnable.

In response to questions about the ASIRT-Crown relationship, Chinenye Anokwuru, Amery’s press secretary, said the agencies are both arm’s length from government “and we respect their autonomy to make decisions.”

However, the minister “will be reviewing practices surrounding the relationship between ASIRT investigations and prosecutions to determine if there are policies or practices we might explore to help ensure that the processes are improved,” she said.

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Anokwuru offered no timeline or specifics about the review.

Samantha Labahn, a lawyer for the Nguyen family, hopes the review will lead to changes in the system.

Mickey Amery
Minister of Justice Mickey Amery in the Alberta legislature. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Among the reforms she supports are B.C.’s “clear statement” policy, which requires prosecutors to release a detailed explanatory statement when opting not to charge police officers.

A recent clear statement in the case of Jared Lowndes, who was fatally shot by police in Campbell River, B.C., runs 11 pages and includes a lengthy description of the Crown’s reason for not supporting charges.

The Alberta Crown’s statement justifying the decision in the Doduk case, by contrast, is 68 words.

“The Crown prosecutor assessed all the circumstances of this event and the potential admissible evidence and determined it could not be proven that the actions of the officer were unreasonable,” ACPS spokeswoman Michelle Davio wrote.

“In hindsight, the perception of the constable was mistaken, and the result was tragic, but the action taken could not be proven to be criminal. Given this conclusion, no charges were recommended by the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.”

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The statement does not address ASIRT’s assertion that Doduk may have lied about being unable to see Nguyen, or allegations Doduk “tailored” evidence by returning to the scene to photograph the cellphone Nguyen was holding, which Doduk claimed appeared to be a gun.

Tom Engel, a defence lawyer who is also representing the Nguyen family, supports the creation of a “pool” of senior Crowns experienced in police misconduct law to handle files involving ASIRT.

He said as it stands, there is no way of knowing who is making decisions on ASIRT files, whether they are qualified or have real or perceived conflicts of interest.

Davio, for her part, said excessive force allegations are reviewed by “senior” prosecutors from the Appeals and Specialized Prosecutions office, who prepare an opinion “that is then assessed by other senior prosecutors.” A final review is conducted by ACPS assistant deputy minister Kimberly Goddard.

She noted Doduk is facing charges in another excessive force case involving an alleged assault with a baton, which is next in court in August for pre-trial proceedings.

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