Monday, August 16, 2004


Underbelly of Vancouver
Downtown Eastside


Jeff Berg, probably like many of us, was struggling to get by in this crazy mixed up world. Needless to say Mr Berg had challenges and difficulties in life. Three years ago though, while the Vancouver police stood watch, something terrible happened to Mr Berg. As a result, the death of Mr Berg while in police custody needs examination.

Some say, Mr Berg was a petty criminal, at the wrong place at the wrong time, while others say he was a talented, loving, giving compassionate person. Whatever Jeff Berg is or was, shouldn't be the issue. Mr Berg, according to a eye witness account, received blows to the head and neck by unnamed individuals. Individuals have come forward, claiming the police were culpable in the brutalization ofMr Berg and so its in the public interest to re-view the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Berg. What happened to Mr Berg has left too many unanswered questions.

The public became aware of the Jeff Berg case, due to a courageous beautiful women who was undoubtedly devastated by his death. This woman, obviously dearly loved him. Not content with the explanations being given her, around her brother's demise, the grief stricken Julie Berg sensed something remiss and embarked on a fact finding mission. Along the way, what she found has sent shock-waves around the city. What she uncovered appears to be what the Vancouver Police want covered up.

Officially, according to the coroner, Jeff Berg died of an aneurysm caused by several blows to the neck and head. This caused a fatal heart attack, in the hospital, two days later. Left hanging in the air was - who delivered these fatal blows?

How could this happen while Mr Berg was in police custody, handcuffed and prone on the sidewalk face down? We might never know, as the Police are extremely sensitive around issues of individuals, dying in their custody. The police, all too often have been accused of cover-ups, indifference, mistreatment, abuse of authority and neglect. The police often retreat when they sense that their actions are under a microscope.

The sister of Jeff Berg though wanted straight answers but chances are she wasn't going to get them from the Vancouver Police Department. On a crusade to find the truth, Ms Berg discovered that her handsome, relatively young brother, was manhandled and mistreated. Coupled with the fact that Jeff died from an apparent heart attack caused by an aneurysm needed clarification. For any grieving family member, to have a loved one die while in police custody has concerns. Usually, young healthy males do not die from heart failure or aneurysm. And Ms Berg as an astute person knows this.

Compounding Jeff's life and death, was his alleged drug use. As a result, he may have been living on the edge and therefore, was destined to become just another statistic. Well this may or may not be true, however, this shouldn't invalidate Mr Berg's life. Mr Berg's unfortunate circumstances in life, as we know is of importance to the public and therefore it's not in the public interest to treat these individuals as disposable or throw-aways.

Since Mr Berg's death was ruled a homicide, coming one assumes, at the hands of the Vancouver Police, the public and family of Jeff Berg has a right to know the truth. We also have a right to know if police used unnecessary or undue force on Mr Berg.

In order to restore public confidence and trust in our VPD, a public inquiry must be held. The Vancouver police leadership, as they did in the matter of the Downtown Eastside murdered and missng women cases do not favor public inquiries. They hate being put on the defensive. Defending their actions from their perspective is difficult.

The usual course of action by the police, is to deflect calls for inquiries by instituting smear campaigns. To offset public concern over their culpability and actions, they engage is what appears to be wilful character asassination. Their hope is to de-humanize the victim. Their sole desire is to plant dis-course in the public's mind, painting a picture of the victim as the victimizer. And in the case of Mr Berg, the police appear busy at work, spinning their story.

On August 13, 2004, Chief Constable Jamie Graham, held a press conference, disclosing to the public, a police tape recording in his possession regarding a frantic 911 call, made from a distraught individual, claiming that a house break-in was in progress. Mr Graham then went on the offensive, claiming Mr Berg, "was terrorizing this family", and hence painting a picture of him as a bad guy.

Since charges were never laid against Mr Berg and under law, there is a constitutional right of presumption of innocence, one wonders why, the Chief Constable, with no charges or trial to back his claims, chose to engage in this breach of police protocol. Chief Graham as a public servant, has crossed the line of acceptable behavior . Why Chief Graham engaged in this reckless carnage also needs answering.

Perhaps, Jamie Graham senses the public's increasing lack of confidence in the VPD and hopes to alter public perception. Maybe he believes the public will accept his line of defence. His desire to paint Jeff Berg a criminal and dope addict who didn't deserve to live, however, is troubling. Chief Graham's motives are suspect and I think the public has become wise and won't easily accept the Chief Constable's tales.

In the recent past, on the witness stand, the Vancouver Police Department and its leadership has been found to be sorely lacking in its presentations to the public. Under questioning or cross examination, the VPD has been scolded by the courts for their misrepresentation of facts in matters of justice, culpability and wrongdoing.

No question, as leader of the VPD, Chief Graham has a difficult job. When he was first hired by the Police board in 2002, his mandate was to fix this dysfunctional institution. In order to restore the public's confidence in what one senior police officer claimed to be an old boys club operating within the Vancouver Police department, the newly hired Chief articulated the need for the department to be more transparent and better communication was one of his goals to ensure this. This, he claimed as one of his top priorities in a Vancouver Sun story on July, 27, 2002, just days before being sworn in as Chief Constable on August 2, 2002.

Chief Graham's record, in the relatively short period of time since he was hired, though tells a different story. For example, when the then police media spokesperson, Scott Driemel in June 2002, relayed offensive, sexist and demeaning jokes to a luncheon gathering, that "Downtown Eastside sex trade workers were too ugly to get a date", Chief Graham, upon this matter being brought to his attention, defended publicly, his media spokesperson. In fact, Mr Graham said in a Vancouver Courier story that, "Mr Driemel has my unqualified support".

Again, on the Downtown Eastside murdered and missing women front, Chief Graham on August, 23, 2002, rules out ordering a public inquiry into the disappearances, claiming it wouldn't be in the public interest.

Re-viewing the VPD leadership, sadly you see a trend. Remember Chief Graham's declaration of transparency. Well on the 23rd day of June, 2004, an individual again dies, by way of lethal force at the hands of the Vancover police department. The police wait a full month before disclosing to the public, this serious matter. Mr Graham's response is,"we wanted to first complete our investigation". As a result of this accounting, The Police Complaints Commssioner has ordered a public inquiry.

Now Mr Graham, in order to gain advantage and deflect what will surely be another public relations nightmare for the Vancouver Polce department, has chosen to sully and smear the reputation of a deceased man. Mr Graham just last Friday, implies Mr Berg was a bad guy, criminal and a drug addict. This, in my opinion, is behavior unbecoming of a Chief Constable. As a public servant, its questionable whether Mr Graham should engage in these types of petty, nasty, unecessary assaults.

The Vancouver Police Department needs to get it's act together. While we may never know the truth surrounding Jeff Berg's homicide, the public needs to feel confident that our police, who carry deadly weapons will exercise due care and caution when carrying out their duties to serve and protect us.

While, homicide may be a neutral term to imply death at the hands of an unknown person(s), and in the case of Jeff Berg, the coroner's inquest has ruled this way, however, the public needs to be re-assured that the Police are not engaging in wilful acts of violence. The Police need to confirm to the public that they are not out of control.

Hopefully, the homicide of Jeff Berg will translate into a rallying cry for change within the VPD. Issues of transparency, brutality and lethal force by the Vancouver police, need addressing. Moreover, the culpability that contributed to Mr Berg's death needs to be acknowledged and corrected.

Since the reputation of Jeff Berg, the victim, has already been tarnished by the police and the worst possible damage done, there's no other remedy then to re-store public confidance in our public institutions. The Chief Constable must act quickly and decisively, in letting the public know that his organization is stable and free of bullies. He needs to articulate that an investigation of one or more of his officers is being conducted to ensure their wasn't criminal intent or wrongdoing. Forwarding this matter to Crown council for re-view, might be a wise move. Its also a good first step to ensure police accountability.

If the Police Chief fails to act in the public interest, the Police board needs to step in and do the right thing. And most importantly, a public apology needs to be offerred by the Chief of Police to the family of Jeff Berg. As a matter of fact, Justice demands it.

Jamie Lee Hamilton
(604) 781-3361