July 31, 2015


By Gordon Sinclair Jr.

Columnists

Where is the transparency?

Winnipeg's police chief needed to be out front

Chief Devon Clunis was questioned by media Wednesday as to why it took Winnipeg Police six days to release the cause of death of Andrew Baryluk as a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief Devon Clunis was questioned by media Wednesday as to why it took Winnipeg Police six days to release the cause of death of Andrew Baryluk as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Photo Store

It had been a week since an "armed and barricaded" standoff in front of 512 Stella Ave. led to shots fired and the death of its only resident.

Yet police hadn't released the cause of Andrew Baryluk's death, or much else about how police handled the tragic incident.

Andrew Baryluk, seen in a photo with his niece in the 1990s, loved to dress up on Halloween, his family remembers.

SUPPLIED PHOTO

Andrew Baryluk, seen in a photo with his niece in the 1990s, loved to dress up on Halloween, his family remembers.

And police Chief Devon Clunis had said even less publicly. Nothing, in fact.

So Wednesday morning, I decided to send him an email asking him if he would answer some questions.

That email was sent at 10:55 a.m.

About an hour-and-a-half later, at 12:24 p.m., Clunis responded.

"Hello Gordon: It is my intention to provide further details on this incident in the very near future. I will ensure all media outlets are advised."

Just over 50 minutes later, at 1:15 p.m, the police public information office announced Clunis would be giving a media briefing "update" on the case at 3 p.m.

That was quick. And purely coincidental, according to what Clunis told me later. Still, it offered the perception of a timely response the family, the public and even the police would have been better served with a day or even two days after Baryluk died.

Not nearly a week later.

Finally, at Wednesday's afternoon news conference, Clunis did reveal the cause of death: a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

It's hard to imagine the autopsy, conducted late last week with homicide detectives present, didn't reveal that same outcome; a single shot of a specific calibre that is unlikely to match police-issue ammunition.

Clunis couldn't say whether that was the only shot fired from the suicide weapon found at the scene.

He couldn't even say what kind of firearm Baryluk killed himself with. And allegedly fired at approaching tactical team members.

There were other details offered. But from what I heard Wednesday, most of what the chief said - if not all of it - could have been revealed days ago.

Yet, here we newshounds were - six days later - taking the scraps of information our police "handlers" tossed our way.

What took so long?

"In the perfect world, we would love to be able to give you information instantaneously. But these are complex investigations."

Clunis's answer smacked of disingenuousness.

I told the chief about a Boston Globe brief I read Monday morning. It was about a state trooper who shot and killed an armed and barricaded man. The shooting happened Sunday, the day before.

Why don't we have the same kind of police promptness here?

"I'm not saying what we do is perfect," Clunis responded. "But, again, things happen very differently in the U.S. than they do in Canada. I'm not saying one is right or wrong. And I'm not saying the time frame is acceptable to everyone."

Clunis went on to suggest being prudent with the release of information was more important than being prompt.

"In my perfect world, yes, we would like to get you the information sooner."

Police in the U.S. appear to be aware of the need to offer as much information on police-involved events as possible.

The voting public demands it. Police get it and have for decades.

I asked if police had learned anything about being more timely with the release of basic information that isn't going to interfere with an investigation. Information that will offer more transparency. The kind of transparency and timely disclosures - I was thinking, but didn't say out loud - that don't make the public suspicious and leave the service looking as if it's hiding something, even if it's not.

After all, police recently cited transparency as part of the rationale for refunding more than $1 million in traffic tickets because they were wrongly worded.

But we still can't get the type of transparency we should when a man dies in a police-involved case.

Clunis responded by referring to himself as "very open and transparent."

That's not the way I saw it this time.

On a case like this, the chief of police needs to be out front when it happens, not long after a grieving family member is left to tell a radio show Wednesday morning it was "murder."

Finally, I asked the chief if the family had been told about the cause of death.

Yes, they had - that day.

In fact, the hour the news conference was happening, two homicide detectives arrived at the Garfield Street home of Baryluk's 66-year-old brother, Bill Baryluk.

Before they arrived, Bill's wife, Colleen, had been looking through photos of Andrew Baryluk as a younger man, when he loved to dress up on Halloween and have fun with the kids in the family.

"He was the life of the party," she recalled. "The brightest light in the room."

Then Bill finally learned how his kid brother's light went out.

And soon, he was angrily telling the officers to get out.

"It was not a good day for these guys to come," Colleen said. "Of all days."

No, the police didn't get their timing right there, either. Bill had just returned home from burying his brother.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2014 A4

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