Mounties got their man and the taxpayer paid
The trial of Allen Dalstrom versus the Organized Crime Agency of B.C. had been under way in B.C. Supreme Court for only a few days when lawyers representing both sides approached Madam Justice Catherine Wedge asking for a temporary adjournment.
It was granted. And although no one knew it then, a wrongful-dismissal case that threatened to level serious allegations of misconduct against high-ranking RCMP members would never resume.
The Globe and Mail has now learned that $2-million of B.C. taxpayers' money was used to quietly end the affair in September, 2008. The secret arrangement was hatched on the courthouse steps during a break in the proceedings. Lawyers for the Crown approached Kevin Woodall, Mr. Dalstrom's lawyer, saying it was not in the public interest for the trial to go ahead.
At the time, the RCMP could not afford more damning headlines, given that support for Canada's national police force was at an all-time low after the tasering death of Robert Dziekanski one year earlier. On top of that, there were the in-custody deaths of Ian Bush and Kevin St. Arnaud that had raised serious questions about the conduct of the force in B.C. The turmoil rocking the RCMP has continued, most recently with the scathing findings of the commission set up to investigate Mr. Dziekanski's death, and the similarly damning report from the Air India commission.
The terms of the settlement were buried in a Crown Proceeding Act Report ending fiscal 2009, which said the province and OCABC accepted the plaintiff's offer to settle for $1.3-million plus salary and benefits, with the province contributing $550,000 and OCABC paying $750,000 plus salary and benefits for the six-year period outlined in the agreement. Mr. Dalstrom was making about $100,000 a year as an investigator, which puts the amount of the settlement over $2-million when benefits are factored in.
In November, 2008, Mr. Dalstrom received a written apology from OCABC, which is funded by the B.C. government. In essence, B.C. taxpayers were on the hook for the entire $2-million payout.
In exchange for walking away a rich man, the only promise the plaintiff made was to never reveal the terms of the offer or discuss details of the ugly internecine war many believe was ignited by the RCMP inside the walls of the OCABC, a joint operation between the Mounties and municipal police.
Today, few who played a part in the story are willing to talk about the events that destroyed the career of one of Canada's most accomplished gang investigators. That list includes the B.C. Solicitor-General's office, the RCMP and senior Mounties who have since retired.
Mr. Woodall issued a statement on his former client's behalf that read in part: "The events surrounding Mr. Dalstrom's dismissal from (OCABC) … were very painful for Mr. Dalstrom's family. … He does not wish to make any further comment on this difficult period."
Still, a transcript of Mr. Woodall's opening submission at trial obtained by The Globe lays out Mr. Dalstrom's case against his former employer. And while it is only the plaintiff's version of events, it makes clear why the Mounties might have worried about the trial going further.
According to Mr. Woodall's opening statements, Allen Dalstrom's troubles began when he opposed the RCMP's attempt to shut down a major drug investigation by the OCABC. Mr. Dalstrom was the lead investigator on the probe, called Project Phoenix, which was targeting Hells Angels.
The RCMP, though it had officers on the OCABC, was upset that Phoenix might jeopardize its own parallel undercover drug investigation. It is widely believed that Mr. Dalstrom's successful defence of Phoenix earned him the eternal enmity of the RCMP.
Three RCMP officers would eventually be assigned to Phoenix, and months afterward allegations began being leveled against Mr. Dalstrom. One RCMP officer said Mr. Dalstrom urged him to massage wiretap affidavits to give them a better chance of succeeding before a judge. Mr. Dalstrom was accused of harassing and intimidating another RCMP officer at the agency. It was also alleged he sexually harassed a female civilian employee.
Mr. Dalstrom was cleared of all those allegations, and Phoenix resulted in scores of drug seizures. But the infighting eventually doomed the project, and charges were never laid.
The fighting worsened after a book by Julian Sher, The Road to Hell, came out with a quote from an OCABC insider about how the RCMP viewed the joint operation as an affront to the force's prerogatives: "We are seen as infringing on their exclusive bailiwick of federal policing and organized crime policing, and they have done fuck all here for 25 years."
The hunt was on to find out who it came from, the suspicion falling on Mr. Dalstrom, who confirmed he'd talked to Mr. Sher but denied saying those words.
After that, life was even more difficult for Mr. Dalstrom at OCABC. He was put on administrative leave on Feb. 5, 2004, ostensibly because there wasn't anything suitable for him to do in the organization. In July of that year he was terminated, with no explanation. In April, 2006, he filed his wrongful-dismissal suit.
The case promised to make for some uncomfortable time in the witness box for Bev Busson, who headed the RCMP's ‘E' Division in Vancouver and was chair of OCABC's board of governance when Mr. Dalstrom worked for the agency. (After briefly serving as commissioner of the RCMP in Ottawa in 2006-07, Ms. Busson retired.)
According to Mr. Woodall's opening submission, it was Ms. Busson and David Douglas, a career Mountie from Manitoba who was retired from the force when he became chief officer of OCABC, who "entered a secret agreement" to get Mr. Dalstrom fired. Mr. Woodall also said there was expected to be evidence that Mr. Douglas threatened to "starve" Mr. Dalstrom out by dragging the court case on while the unemployed officer's legal bills piled up. It was also alleged that Mr. Douglas wanted Mr. Dalstrom to know that, if he sued for wrongful dismissal, the unproven allegations of sexual misconduct would be raised in court.
Andy Richards was Mr. Dalstrom's supervisor during the plaintiff's time at OCABC. Mr. Richards, now a senior ranking officer with the Port Moody, B.C., municipal police, had a front-row seat on the unsightly antics allegedly being cooked up to get rid of a respected investigator. In an interview, he said he was asked to change Mr. Dalstrom's employee performance appraisal to make it less flattering. Mr. Richards refused. He said statements Mr. Douglas was alleged to have made about "starving" Mr. Dalstrom out and bringing up the unfounded sexual misconduct allegations were made in his company.
Asked why he thought such a lavish out-of-court settlement was offered to Mr. Dalstrom, Mr. Richards said: "I think OCABC and the government wanted all that nastiness and RCMP dirty tricks to remain a secret." He added: "It really is one of the sorriest chapters in our policing history in this province."
Al Dalstrom now lives in a Vancouver suburb with his wife and two children. He has never returned to policing, and works in the construction industry.
Gary Mason is a columnist for The Globe and Mail. For more news and stories from the Globe's B.C. bureau please visit The Globe and Mail's B.C. website.
Watch CTV News at Five and Six on Wednesday for an exclusive report from CTV British Columbia's Lisa Rossington