A B.C. RCMP officer’s suspension and subsequent resignation following a complaint that alleges he posted “racially insensitive, rage-fuelled and anti-government” material on Facebook is highlighting what some say is a flawed process of raising concerns about police conduct.
The characterization of Dustin Dahlman’s comments is part of a complaint filed with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, which reviews complaints about police conduct and makes recommendations to the RCMP. CBC has obtained a copy of the letter.
Dahlman, who used the name Vedder McNutt on Facebook, was stationed at an RCMP detachment in Sayward, a small town at the north end of Vancouver Island, for three years. He was previously stationed in Prince George, B.C., for six years and in Lytton, B.C., for three years.
For at least the first half of 2020, he posted videos, memes and comments on his now defunct public Facebook page that were critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, of police conduct he considered “too soft,” and of some of the government’s COVID-19 safety guidelines.
One video he uploaded showed a man criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement who at one point says, “If you don’t want to be killed, don’t break the law.”
The man can also be heard saying, “If the Black lives mattered so much to you Blacks, then you wouldn’t be burning down our country like a bunch of effing heathens.”
Dahlman posted the five-minute video to his own page with the comment, “I couldn’t say it better myself.”
“That video by itself is fairly disgusting, and for that video to be posted by a police officer is incredibly concerning,” said Chad Haggerty, a former RCMP officer who spent 17 years on the force and has previously spoken out about systemic racism within the RCMP.
Haggerty was himself suspended for using excessive force and faced domestic assault charges when he was an officer and says there should be consequences when police step outside the code of conduct.
“I chose to leave the RCMP because of the charges I was facing and because I recognized in therapy that I was no longer suitable to be a police officer,” he said. “Dahlman decided to leave the RCMP, and that is good for both the community and the RCMP.”
Ex-officer says difference of opinion doesn’t make him racist
Haggerty helped one of the Sayward residents who publicly voiced concern over Dahlman’s posts file a formal complaint against the officer.
Dahlman defended the posts, telling the CBC that the video he posted was simply stating facts.
“If you watch the video, it is true,” he said in an interview. “If you’re not breaking the law, then there is a low percentage that you will get into a confrontation or altercation with police — where there is a potential to be shot.”
If someone steals a candy bar or a T-shirt, for example, and resists arrest and gets shot, “whose fault is that?” he said. “Who started that event?”
Dahlman said he is not racist and that in the current public debate around racism and police conduct, “people are getting called racist just for having a different opinion.”
Dahlman said he does believe the lives of Black people matter but that he also thinks “all lives matter.”
Suspended July 1
Several people in the Sayward community raised concerns about Dahlman’s posts in mid-June on social media and with the Sayward RCMP detachment, but only one person made a formal complaint to the RCMP oversight body.
At least four people who spoke to CBC News say they didn’t complain to the RCMP out of fear of retaliation since at the detachment level, there’s no guarantee a complainant’s identity will be kept confidential.
The CRCC, on the other hand, says it is committed to protecting complainant’s identities.
At the beginning of July, a week after CBC inquired about Dahlman’s posts, RCMP spokesperson Janelle Shoihet said he was no longer with the force.
“We were aware of the [social media] materials, and a code of conduct investigation was initiated,” Shoihet said in an emailed statement.
Dahlman told the CBC he was suspended on July 1 and says it was over social media posts that some considered misogynistic, racist and bigoted.
Shoihet confirmed Dahlman’s posts were the reason for his suspension and said he subsequently submitted his resignation, which was accepted.
“Public trust is essential for the RCMP to effectively fulfil its mandate, and these kinds of comments can erode that trust,” Shoihet said. “RCMP members are expected to be culturally sensitive and … to treat all Canadians without bias of race, colour, gender.
“When concerns about offensive content believed to be shared or written by an RCMP employee are brought forward, they are investigated and can lead to consequences pursuant to the force’s code of conduct. That was the situation in this matter.”
‘I am none of those things’
Dahlman claims he resigned before the suspension and that he is now rescinding his resignation. He said he intends to take legal action against the RCMP to fight the suspension.
The RCMP told the CBC it would not have been possible for the department to suspend him if he had already resigned and that he has not rescinded his resignation.
CBC asked Dahlman over Facebook how he felt that some people considered his posts racist, sexist or conspiratorial and about fears in the community that he would retaliate against those who complained.
“I can guarantee I am none of those things, and there would be no reason for retaliation,” he wrote.
“In today’s climate, people react and misinterpret things on a regular basis and are unfortunately willing to cancel good people.”
He said that while he believes COVID-19 is real, he doesn’t trust the government’s information about the pandemic.
Complaints process can be difficult to navigate
The woman who eventually filed a complaint against Dahlman says she was punted to and from different RCMP departments — online and on the phone — and that throughout the process, RCMP representatives were unable to provide the information she needed to lodge the complaint.
“[She] tried numerous times to get the RCMP to recognize and address this behaviour. It’s unconscionable,” Haggerty said.
The CBC has agreed to not name the complainant as she says she fears retribution from Dahlman.
Haggerty said it was only when he called the Sayward detachment, “knowing the RCMP’s jargon,” that he found out how to direct the complainant to file her grievance online with the Complaints Commission.
“The complaints process is difficult on the complainant because they are complaining to one police officer about another police officer,” he said. “There are concerns about personal security, the ability of the officer to access the information they disclose and repercussions.”
While the CRCC does provide a form online, Haggerty says it’s often not clear where a complaint should start.
With Haggerty’s help, the woman filed a complaint with the CRCC but was told since her concerns pertained to off-duty conduct, “they do not fall within this commission’s mandate.”
The oversight body forwarded her concerns to the RCMP, which initiated an investigation that is still ongoing.
More transparent reporting needed, says researcher
While the CRCC says it passes the majority of complaints on to the RCMP for investigation, it does encourage those with concerns about RCMP conduct to contact the commission first to find out how the complaints process works.
“Our knowledgeable and well-trained independent intake officers can provide assistance to the public and explain the entire process,” commission spokesperson Kate McDerby said.
At the RCMP level, a complainant is first assigned a professional standards officer, who investigates the complaint internally. If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome, they can then ask the commission to review the investigation.
“So, when you talk about police accountability and oversight, that’s a huge red flag in terms of their ability to oversee an investigation because people make complaints [first] to the detachment,” said Krista Stelkia, a research associate at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., who recently wrote a paper on RCMP oversight.
Out of the 2,000 or so complaints the CRCC receives each year, almost all are sent to the RCMP to investigate first, McDerby said.
But Stelkia found that in the case of the B.C. RCMP, 54 per cent of complaints made between 2010 and 2015 were found to be unsupported by evidence and 29 per cent were resolved informally by the RCMP without a full investigation.
She says the CRCC’s enforcement power needs to be enhanced so that it can impose discipline rather than merely making recommendations.
The complaints process would also benefit from “more transparent reporting by police oversight agencies,” she said. “Including the collection and reporting of race-based demographic data on who is making the complaint along with the officer who has the complaint filed against them.”