PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 February, 2007, 12:00am

The pitiful life of Frank Paul ended, predictably and anonymously, in a Vancouver alley.

His lingering death nine years ago was technically caused by exposure - officially labelled an accident by the coroner's office - but the native man's spectre haunts Vancouver police.

It was a tidy coincidence then that the city's police boss, Chief Constable Jamie Graham, last week announced that he was retiring this summer. Hours later, the province's solicitor-general, John Les, announced that he was going to hold a public inquiry into Paul's death.

Paul was a 47-year-old alcoholic and, in the parlance of the streets, a mean drunk. On his last day alive, he was taken into police custody twice. The second time, he was left in the alley where his body was found. Numerous native groups had called for a public inquiry into Paul's death, but Vancouver police resisted, saying an internal review had found no serious wrongdoing in police conduct.

So it was that Mr Graham, whose five-year tenure was praised for returning stability to a troubled force, found himself dogged by Paul to the end. But at a hastily scheduled press conference announcing his retirement, Mr Graham said his decision was not prompted by recent and current controversies.

'There is never an ideal time to leave a job like this one,' he said. 'I've loved every moment.'

He might have loved it, but he and Mayor Sam Sullivan have clashed, often. Before Mr Sullivan won his seat, the police chief asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to look into whether the then-councillor committed a crime when he admitted he supplied money to addicts to help them obtain drugs.

Then, last year, the mayor asked the police complaints commission to look into Mr Graham's actions after he placed a paper showing a silhouetted human target riddled with bullet holes on the desk of the city manager. Accompanying the diagram was a note that read: 'A bad day at the range is better than the best day at work.' Mr Graham insisted the note was a joke and no investigation was conducted.

Chief Graham's retirement was 'a surprise and a disappointment,' Mr Sullivan said.

On the upmarket side of the city, Chief Graham has good standing. His problems have always been in his dealings with the down-and-out elements in Vancouver. Last month, he announced minor punishment of four police officers who had posed in a trophy photo with a career criminal.

And in his darkest professional moment, Mr Graham was at the helm when six police officers took three known drug users on the 'starlight tour': a colloquial term for depositing problem people in a different area of town. The added attraction on that particular tour in January 2003 was a brutal beating of the three men by officers.

However, at his press conference to announce his resignation, the chief focused on a bright note. Last year, after a round-the-clock investigation, police found Graham McMynn, a wealthy young university student who had been kidnapped and held for ransom.

'This decision for me to leave has no reflection or rationale, it is simply time for me to move on,' he said. Moving on from the controversies that have dogged his career will hardly be that simple.