In a 2007 case the Supreme Court of Canada said, “Police officers have multiple duties. There is no question that one of them is the duty to investigate crime. This duty exists at common law.” The court went on to say that in the statute, which is very similar to our Police Act in this regard, that describes the general duties of a police officer, although “investigating crime” is not specifically mentioned, several of the listed duties are related to, or form part of, the police investigation into crime. The court said further, “there is no dispute that a police officer owes an overarching duty to the public to investigate crime”.
With this in mind I question the assertion in some quarters that with respect to the apparent falsifying of a degree certificate by a former Airports Authority (AA) deputy manager the police must wait for a report from the AA. There is nothing in the law which requires this as a condition precedent to an investigation. If that were so then the discovery of a dead body (as has happened in recent times) without a report being made of homicide or a missing person would preclude any investigation by the police.
Certainly if a report is made by some person (and this includes a company) the conduct of the investigation would be easier. It would mean that there is some information that the police could start off with and some cooperation could be expected from the reporting party in locating other evidence. In that regard, given the publication of an apparent full investigation, albeit for journalistic purposes, which demonstrated that the degree certificate of Dayanand Birju was fake, one wonders what the AA is waiting for to make a report. If the AA has at least a copy of the fake document produced to them and evidence that a purported original was shown to them, is that not enough to make a report?
What else could the AA’s legal department say or do? The Chairman of AA has said he has sent the matter to his legal department. Since it is the police that has the public duty to investigate crime why is it necessary for the legal department to do anything? Assuming for a moment that there is some explanation for the fake certificate, is it not for the police to hear that as part of their investigation? That is what “investigation” means. The AA does not have to conclude beforehand that anyone is guilty before passing the matter on to the police. But in the face of a clear statement that checks were made at the relevant university and the reproduction of what is said to be a fake certificate, are there not reasonable grounds for suspicion that an offence has been committed?
As to whether there is a discretion to report one must bear in mind that the AA is not a private body. It is a body funded by taxpayers’ money and owes a duty to the public. Let us not forget that. There should be no choice by management or a minister as to what to do about the matter when there are reasonable grounds for concluding that an offence involving a State body has been committed.
Before I elaborate on the minister’s statements let me first clarify the issue of police response. The police usually have two approaches in dealing with alleged criminal activity. One has been termed the reactive approach and involves the police responding to public calls for help. The police operate openly and in response to real public demand and with the consent of the public. When not answering calls, the police are expected to be patrolling openly to deter wrongdoing. This is the traditional approach to policing and it is important to realise that most crime is reported by and detected on the basis of information from members of the public. The police are heavily dependent on public cooperation and this is sometimes more important than any legal powers to detect crime (which include the powers of arrest, search, seizure and questioning).
The other is the proactive approach which usually involves the targeting and surveillance of potential criminals. They are seen as threats to the peace and national security. Intelligence plays a vital role here and the police often detect drug, firearms and terrorism offences by this method.
In the matter of the fake passport the police should be bound by their overarching duty to the public to investigate crime, report of no report. The Police Act requires that a police officer should, among other things, “detect crime”. It does not say to wait for a formal report from an alleged victim before doing so.
I must confess that I was flabbergasted by the minister’s response to the suggestion of an investigation by the police into the alleged fake degree. On being asked about the matter he said it sent a message that if found out you would be “very embarrassed”. The minister is reported to have said he had not decided if a police report should be made since this could cause greater embarrassment to Mr Birju and his family.
What nonsense. If this is a determinant for deciding if to investigate a suspected offence then the police would be out of work.
Ironically this is the man who is reported in the Parliament website as the one who, “following the murder of his employee, Keith Noel, became so angered by the rising crime rate and apparent indifference of the authorities to the deteriorating social situation” that he formed the Keith Noel 136 Committee.
So indifference to white collar crime, even if committed in a State body, is okay then?
* Dana S Seetahal is a former independent senator