Labrador man was illegally detained by police following 'provocative' tweets, concludes RNC report

·5 min read
Andrew Abbass was living in Corner Brook in 2015 when he was illegally detained. He now lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. (Submitted by Andrew Abbass - image credit)
Andrew Abbass was living in Corner Brook in 2015 when he was illegally detained. He now lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. (Submitted by Andrew Abbass - image credit)

A police investigation of a public complaint has concluded that a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer abused his power, after he had a man in Corner Brook unlawfully detained in 2015 for provocative tweets in the days following the fatal police shooting of Don Dunphy.

The report found police didn't have grounds to arrest Andrew Abbass and bring him to hospital for a psychiatric assessment under the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act against his will.

"This case involves a serious and wrongful deprivation of [Abbass's] liberty and an unwarranted characterization of [Abbass] as a person with mental health issues arising from an abuse of authority by a police officer," wrote Edmund Oates, a retired deputy chief of the force, in a report he authored after investigating a complaint filed by Abbass in May 2017.

"The circumstances of this case are something one could imagine happening in a police state, but not in a free democratic country which is governed by a charter of rights."

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador also ruled on April 27, 2018, that Abbass had been unlawfully detained.

The report does not name retired RNC sergeant Tim Buckle, identifying him as "Officer X." CBC News has confirmed Officer X is Buckle based on specific details in the report.

Oates concludes Officer X was ultimately responsible for the detention, and would be fired for abusing his power if he hadn't already retired from the RNC.

Oates says the RNC does not have the power to discipline a police officer after they have left the police force.

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CBC

"The unlawful detention directed by Officer X in bad faith represents such a serious departure from the high standards that RNC supervisors are expected to adhere to, that if the Officer X had still been a police officer at the time of this decision, I would have imposed the penalty of dismissal upon him for his conduct in this case," he said in the 110-page report.

In a message to CBC declining a request to speak with him, Buckle wrote, "[I've] been advised to not comment on this report released to Abbass."

Abbass posted Oates's full report on Twitter. He declined CBC's request for an interview.

Abbass's tweets

Abbass's detention happened on April 7, 2015, two days after Dunphy was fatally shot by RNC Const. Joe Smyth.

The shooting occurred when Smyth visited Dunphy at his home in Mitchells Brook on April 5 to ask Dunphy about tweets he posted, which named then premier Paul Davis and another politician.

Smyth was a member of a police unit charged with protecting the premier. An inquiry into the shooting concluded Smyth's use of lethal force against Dunphy was justified because Smyth was acting in self-defence.

The day after the shooting, Abbass, who was living in Corner Brook at the time, posted a series of tweets that were critical of the police and Davis.

This is one of them:

"When will @premierofnl be arrested for #stateSponsoredTerrorism?#cdnpoli #nlpoli."

Buckle opened an uttering threats investigation after Abbass posted this tweet on April 7:

"How about this, premier of NL: I'm going to bring down Confederation and have politicians executed. Ready to have me shot, coward?"

Oates concluded these tweets did not justify Abbass's detention.

"[Abbass's] tweets could certainly be characterized as provocative of authority and politically charged; however, [they] could not, in and of themselves, be said to provide evidence capable of providing an officer with reasonable grounds to believe [Abbass] suffered from a mental illness," he wrote.

No mental illness

Police went to Abbass's home hours after that tweet was posted.

Oates says Abbass was detained under the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act and was brought to hospital for a psychiatric assessment.

Oates's report says the psychiatric assessment concluded Abbass did not have a mental disorder and was not a danger to himself or others.

"There was no evidence of Abbass ever having been suicidal, homicidal or psychotic and it appeared that there had not been any change to his personality over the years prior to his admission to the hospital on April 7, 2015," wrote Oates.

The 2018 Supreme Court ruling found that the Western Health Care Corporation had not produced evidence to show that the detention was lawful.

Complaint about Smyth

Abbass filed his complaint about the RNC after learning about a BlackBerry Messenger exchange between Buckle and Smyth at the inquiry into Dunphy's death.

The inquiry heard that Buckle and Smyth were friends who contacted each other frequently by phone and text.

These BBM texts, sent on April 7, 2015, were entered as evidence at the inquiry:

Buckle: "Arrested Abbass under MHCTA."

Smyth: "Saw that! Nice."

Buckle: "He's at hospital now."

Smyth: "Loser."

Buckle: "Yup."

The complaint Abbass filed after learning about this evidence names Smyth as well as Buckle.

In a separate seven-page report, specifically dealing with the complaint about Smyth, Oates concluded the allegations were not proven "on a balance of probabilities."

Motivation

In his conclusion Oates says Buckle was motivated by his "desire to protect and assist his best friend [Smyth] in the wake of the Dunphy shooting regardless of the illegality, abuse of authority or defamation of character that assisting and protecting [Smyth] would or might entail."

Oates says Buckle was able to direct RNC officers to carry out Abbass's detention without questioning his orders, because Buckle had created a toxic work environment by bullying and intimidating RNC members.

The report also details allegations that Buckle made a number of inappropriate sexual comments, including at least one to the partner of a RNC officer.

Oates' report, dated June 29, 2021, offers six recommendations, including the call for:

  • An apology issued on behalf of the RNC to each officer, civilian staff member, and female partner of officers who reported being negatively affected by Buckle's inappropriate conduct as part of the RNC internal investigation.

  • The RNC to provide additional training to officers regarding the legal grounds required for a detention under mental health legislation, which emphasizes the serious negative consequences arising from an illegal detention.

It also called for the public release of internal disciplinary matters "in the interests of full transparency and increasing public confidence."

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