IIO’s chief civilian director heads into retirement after six-and-a-half years with organization

IIO's chief civilian director heads into retirement after six-and-a-half years with organization
Ron MacDonald in an undated file photo.

Ron MacDonald has been the head of B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office for over six-and-a-half years, but this week he will be heading into retirement.

He took over as the chief civilian director in October 2017 after acting as the director of Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team, which is the equivalent of the IIO.

In his time with the organization, MacDonald says there are a number of projects he has taken on that he is proud of.

“I’m number one, very proud of the fact that we were able to have government agree to increase our resourcing last year to both allow us to have more investigator positions and support positions here at the IIO and in addition, help us and make their salary levels more competitive,” he told CHEK News in a Zoom interview.

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Prior to the province approving hiring additional staff, MacDonald had been raising the alarm about the level of staff, saying it was causing delays in the investigations.

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MacDonald says he is also proud of the work that has been done on building and improving relationships with people who deal with the IIO.

“That includes the police, government, media and the public in general, but also work with equity groups, in particular, Indigenous communities, we’re still improving the way we do that, but I’m quite proud of that as well,” he said.

“I’m most proud at the end of the day, to kind of sum it up, that I leave this organization knowing that that everyone out there on the floor, as we call it, has internalized the idea of continuous improvement, and the pursuit of excellence.”

Ongoing work

However, MacDonald has one issue he thought would be done in time for his retirement on May 8, but work still needs to be done. He was working on a report looking into the cases that the IIO forwards to the BC Prosecution Service to recommend charges, which have a low follow through rate.

CHEK News recently spoke with MacDonald where he said he had recommended charges against police officers in 39 cases in the last five years, but only 18 of those resulted in charges once placed in the hands of BCPS.

Since the IIO’s inception, no criminal code charges it has recommended have resulted in a conviction.

“I think there are certainly significant questions around holding police accountable and while I think we do a very good job in the majority of our cases where we demonstrate that the police actions were justified, that’s that’s only part of our business,” he said.

“The other part is when necessary and fortunately it’s not that often, but when necessary, that police are held accountable and I think there are issues there.”

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MacDonald says he will continue to work on his own time to complete the work on this report.

“I will stay involved to a certain extent, basically, on my own time to finalize the report and then obviously there are folks here at the office that will give it the once over, and once it goes off to the minister’s office, I’ve made it known to her and her office that I would be available again on my own time for any questions,” he said.

“There are important issues to be addressed with respect to the issues surrounding our charge approval rate and I’m prepared to assist and offer comment if anyone asks.”

Trust of the IIO

One thing that MacDonald says can be tricky to navigate is that no matter what decision the IIO makes, there will be people who disagree with it.

“Whenever you make a decision, there’s always someone who doesn’t agree with you, so that’s challenging,” he said.

MacDonald says there are some days where he might make a decision on something, and one group of people will be angry and accuse him of being biased, then the next day he’ll make an opposing decision on another file and another group will accuse him of being biased.

“That is, quite frankly, quite frustrating, but it’s part of the territory. And I tried to explain to people look at the track record, look at how we make our decisions,” MacDonald said. “We go into each investigation, we start from zero, we find out what happened, then we make a decision.”

One thing that can help with the public’s trust is transparency and communicating.

“In my view, any body in particular that owes a duty to the public, and that would obviously be a governmental body, but someone who does business with the public would equally qualify, should be as transparent as practically possible with them,” MacDonald said.

“If you want the public’s trust, you need to tell them stuff. Because if you don’t, number one, they’re going to fill in the blanks and they’re going to usually put a negative spin when they fill in those blanks, and secondly, they’re not going to trust you as much because they think you’re hiding stuff from them.”

“Sometimes you can’t tell people things and I think the public understands that if you take the time to explain it to them why we can’t tell you something at this point. But the bottom line is, if you want the public’s trust, you have to be open and transparent with them.”

What’s next for Ron?

“My goal after I retire is to, as I tell people, do what Ron wants to do,” MacDonald said.

Some of his professional plans include doing consulting in areas like oversight and media communications in the areas of public interest and advocacy.

He also plans to pursue some creative endeavours.

“I want to start to capture some of my stories and thoughts about life and people and quite frankly, write screenplays and see if someone’s interested in in doing something with those,” he said.

Interim chief civilian director appointed

Starting on May 9, an interim chief civilian director has been appointed to head the organization, but MacDonald says the search is well underway for the permanent replacement.

Sandra Hentzen is the current chief operating officer of the IIO, and she will act as the interim CCD.

“It is my pleasure to act as interim CCD until the Province appoints a new permanent CCD in the coming months,” Hentzen said in a news release.

“I look forward to serving the public in this capacity and continuing both to deliver on the IIO mandate and further some of the essential projects our office has underway. These include working with government to review the investigator compensation model and the charge approval in IIO cases.”

For whoever is stepping forward to fill his shoes, MacDonald has some advice.

“The things that a person needs to do this role, first of all, I would say is a really, really thick skin,” he said.

“You need to be confident in yourself, you need to be able to make decisions, you need to be able to guide a large team in an area which is one that it’s hard to get any experience in anywhere else, you need to understand the particular challenges of oversight, which are unlike anywhere else. And I could go on. It is beyond a doubt the hardest job I’ve ever done in my career.”

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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