Death by police,
whether some place in the U.S.A. or in Mitchells Brook, NL evokes a range of emotions that transcends all the normal reactions of people especially when transparency is tattered.

Though the
victim’s family will suffer all the pain and loss of a loved one, society also
has a lot at stake, if the state has erred or engaged in aberrant behavior. 

A collective loss of confidence in authority figures is the first casualty. If
the actions of the police and those of politicians have overlapped, as in the
Dunphy case, unwittingly or otherwise, the fear is that not just an injustice the rule of law has been undermined. 

For democratic
society, such a jolt to certainty is compounded by a sense of shared
responsibility of the need to make sure the process
that led to the wrong is repaired. 

Bonds of
trust between the governors the governed are always tenuous. An Inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act (and not the more restricted Fatalities Investigation Act) ought to have been immediate.  That did not happen.

The case has dominated all forms of media; but the obvious misinterpretation of Mr. Dunphy’s
tweets by the Premier’s security system, caused both dismay and reflection on a personal level.

At what
other time would a friend inform you her daughter is an RNC Officer and reveal that
officers are trained to kill in certain circumstances?

Or a family
member volunteer that some of his friends are police officers and, can’t believe that what happened in Mitchells Brook does not reflect their values; leaving one to wonder if this is how “social licence” takes root, this time to shoot, as if shooting is normal. 

But aren’t
such reactions essentially manifestations of a community in confusion; much in the manner humans offer up when something so unexpected and
disproportionate has occurred?

Certainty is
rarely a viable proposition, anyway, especially when it is needed most. But on this occasion an alliance of interests has evolved, expressed by the
public and a bereaved Dunphy family.  The demand from both quarters for the 
highest standard of judicial objectivity and unfettered transparency has become indistinguishable. 

But there was bafflement, too. What other way can one describe the shooter’s
release of a 900 word letter to “Friends and Colleagues” and to an almost
“ubiquitous” readership; the letter having been leaked to the media.  While the manner of its release has troublesome aspects, were not the letter’s alarming contents an
even greater source of dismay?

Might the letter have indicated that the police-state thinking of
the shooter had elevated the risk in the Dunphy home; a risk level the local
RCMP detachment had deemed low mere hours earlier?  Is not normalcy betrayed when the shooter portrays himself, and possibly other police officers, as acting in the normal course of events?

Hans Rollmann and Cabot Martin, a lawyer, wrote
enormously insightful commentaries on the RNC officer’s strange plea for

Rollmann’s lengthy missive entitled “Officer’s letter in Don Dunphy letter inflames controversy”, published in reviewed the
language which the officer used including his appeal “to public sympathy” and
“his distinction between the police and the public”.  Writes the Officer: “We are the experts in
our field, and can’t expect everybody to simply ‘get it’”

Not surprisingly, Rollmann comments:
“The content of the officer’s letter…raises
more serious questions than it answers about the circumstances leading to Mr.
Dunphy’s death, not to mention about how deeply the attitude of impunity and
callous self-righteousness which (it) conveys has infected our policing
Martin’s missive entitled “A Plea To Premier Davis”, a seemingly perfect complement to Rollmann’s, focussed chiefly
on the public policy issues raised. 
States Martin: “
the very act of sending the letter contradicts its own request for
proper investigational procedure, inserting itself, as it does, into a RCMP
investigation into his conduct and omitting a better advised call for a
Judicial Inquiry – not that any personal letter was advisable and proper at
this stage.”
Still Martin believes: “The letter’s
contents…cannot be allowed to chill the debate about the Dunphy affair and
about the laws and procedures we need to properly govern the activities of the
He states, too, we need answers regarding
the function and authority of the Protective Services Unit (PSU) and if it was
run out of the eighth floor. 
As it stands, completion of the RCMP investigation is awaited in spite
of widespread view the Force ought to have stepped back, given its association
with the PSU and the tragedy.

Leadership on the matter was expected from Dwight Ball and Justice critic, Andrew Parsons. But, again, the Official Opposition have chosen to lead from the rear; unable to ask even basic questions on behalf of a concerned public,
and in respect of the call for a Public Inquiry. More needs to be said about this problem but not here, not now.

Rightly, bewilderment in the Dunphy case is saved for Premier Paul Davis.

The Premier had the ability and responsibility to call the Inquiry and
to resolve what Cabot Martin called an “investigational mess”. He has yet to do his duty.

That Newfoundland and Labrador is a society saddened is indisputable.

Heartfelt sympathy for the Dunphy family is both profound and universal. But condolences, alone, are inadequate. 

If there more we can do? The answer is, yes.

We should honor the society for whose betterment Mr. Dunphy was a tireless member, having contributed as a worker, as a champion of his community, and as an advocate for others turned away by a system perceptibly inadequate for injured workers.  

We can do this now, only if we share a collective
determination not to let our quest for the truth get misplaced among the comparative
detritus of budgets, boundary redistribution, and election planning. 

A saddened society can always find remedy and repair; unless it is, also,
a sad society.

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


If a Big Mac costs McDonalds $10 to produce and it is sold for $1.50, McDonalds will go out of business. They would not declare a profit!


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

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  1. No one wants to hear from the RNC officer who pulled the trigger. It's sickening to read that smug, unapologetic letter. If he's not going to identify himself, he should just go away and shut up until the time comes for him to officially answer for his actions that day in an inquiry. So far it seems he's acting as if we should believe him and leave it at that. Not a chance.

  2. The sad reality is Mr. Dunphy's death could have in all likelihood been avoided. I find the entire matter to be very concerning given the less than threatening message tweeted by Mr. Dunphy, coupled with the fact that whenever the RNC are confronted with a potentially dangerous situation, they show up in full force as they should. Why then did we have a lone officer show up on an Easter Sunday afternoon to confront Mr. Dunphy if there was no real concern or threat? As for Mr. Dunphy's reaction to a brief exchange with this officer, we will forever question a one sided view of the events that occurred that tragic day.

    As for the letter, nothing more can be added but to say that this officer was not the author of the document. He or she may have played a part in the writing, but the final wording and decision to give this wide distribution was a unforgivable and a self serving attempt to sway public opinion in defense of the RNC. That coup[led with Chief's reference to discipline in dealing with the leak to the media is but another example of just how sad this situation has gotten. It's been weeks since several members of the force were assigned to seek out the person who broke the code of silence, yet nothing and why should we expect anything, when the purpose of the letter was to give it wide circulation.