THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
Pages of Special Interest;
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Opening comments: More at the end.
This is a good read about how the public should not blindly trust the police to act lawfully and should be the ones that over see police actions, not the police.
It notes that the police have their own loyalties to one another, like a secret society.
In the end, it is right fully noted that the main reason for this would be that the police can be just as EVIL as any human can be.
National Post Sept. 30 2000 - By A. Alan Borovoy is the General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Union.
Who will police the police?
Almost daily, we hear chilling stories about the police. A few years ago in Montreal, police beat a hapless cab driver into a coma; he later died. This past summer in Toronto, witnesses claim that police beat a mentally ill man senseless; he too died in the aftermath. Last winter in Saskatoon, police reportedly abandoned some aboriginal men in isolated areas during sub-zero weather; the men froze to death.
There are further stories -- not only about brutality, but also about indignity. It appears that arrested people are increasingly being strip-searched. Because of certain police decisions, this has happened recently to even political demonstrators in cities as diverse as Toronto, Guelph and Vancouver.
Of the protesters arrested in Guelph and Vancouver, only the females were strip-searched.
Considering the exceptional powers the police have, it's not surprising that there are recurring abuses. True, most police officers are decent and fair, but there are bound to be "bad apples" and, even among the good ones, some bad judgment calls.
What is noteworthy is the defective nature of the available remedies. Even if some of the above cases prompted special measures, most allegations against police are investigated, at least initially, by the police themselves. Not a very user-friendly system. Even in places with external monitoring and rights of appeal, the mere prospect of having to deal first with police will scare off many potential complainants.
At Nova Scotia's Donald Marshall Inquiry some years ago, an RCMP officer revealed what is wrong with police investigating police. He explained why the RCMP pulled their punches when they reviewed the Sydney police investigation that wound up imposing 12 years of jail on Donald Marshall for a murder he did not commit" Police officers are like a fraternity. You feel a certain loyalty to one another."
If this is so when one police force investigates another, how much more true will it be when a police force investigates itself? Thus, no matter how fair in fact a police self-investigation might be, it cannot appear fair. The investigators will have collegial relations to maintain and departmental reputations to protect. Inevitably, therefore, the investigating officers will have a conflict of interest. Elsewhere, our society has been eliminating conflicts of interest. Why should the police, of all groups, be treated so differently?
Certain experiences are particularly revealing. Consider, for example, what an external inquiry said about a Winnipeg police investigation into the role played by one of its officers in the killing of an aboriginal man"... much more attention was given to protecting [the officer] than ... to uncovering the facts." In Toronto, a police officer was reportedly ostracized by his colleagues after his testimony helped jail a fellow officer who had seriously assaulted a prisoner. In the result, the testifying officer resigned from the force. In view of such situations, it's hard to fathom how defenders of self-investigation can still talk with a straight face.
Civilian complaints against the police should be handled, therefore, by parties independent of the police and everyone else affected. Admittedly, doctors, lawyers and many other professionals are still mandated to discipline their wayward colleagues. But, in recent years, lay members of the public have been increasingly involved in professional discipline. Even at that, there may well be a case for ending professional self-discipline as it is practiced. But, since the police, unlike these other professionals, are uniquely empowered to intrude on citizens against their will, there is simply no excuse -- whatever happens elsewhere -- to let the police continue investigating themselves.
At the moment, Ontario's Special Investigations Unit is one of the few non-police agencies that does initial investigations, but its mandate is criminal -- not disciplinary. Since juries seem generally reluctant to convict in these situations, discipline is often the more hopeful route. In this regard, the Quebec and Manitoba complaints systems, for example, are closer to the mark.
Yet, even if independent investigation were universally adopted, further reform would still be needed. A persisting problem is the complaints-driven nature of the system. Many of those with grievances against the police simply will not file complaints. Many of them will be afraid that they will not be believed. Others will fear efforts by the police to "get even." Thus, there must also be some way of proceeding without complaints.
For years, the Canadian Civil Liberties Union has advocated filling this gap by adding an independent audit system. To supplement the complaints machinery, an agency, independent of the police, the government, and aggrieved people should have on-going access to police records, facilities and personnel. This audit agency would conduct self-initiated probes to uncover police policies and practices that should be drawn to public attention. The agency would not make decisions; it would simply disclose and propose. But, under the impact of the publicity generated by audit reports, the decision-makers -- cabinet ministers, police boards and police chiefs -- would face completely new pressures.
In this way, the addition of an audit system would help offset the propensity of the decision-makers to avoid confrontation with the police. While the avoidance of unpleasantness may well be part of human nature, this tendency is compounded when the police are involved. Conflict with police entails a significant risk of at least social disapproval. As public protectors, the police enjoy considerable popularity. Thus, the civilian masters of the police often shrink into the woodwork when asked to assert their authority.
Since the audit agency would not have to coexist with the police in the same way as the decision-makers do, it would have less incentive to overlook police impropriety. Indeed, having only this one job would create a positive incentive to unearth whatever misdeeds there were. Since the subsequent discovery of any dirt would reflect badly on the audit agency, the pressure to be thorough would be unremitting. But, once the audit reports became public, the decision-makers would be under the gun to rectify what had
If an audit system had been in place earlier, some of the above horror stories might well have turned out differently. Since those prone to misbehave often have a history of misconduct, the agency might well have found enough on them to warrant weeding them out earlier. Moreover, the experience of external scrutiny could have toughened police management's entire posture toward officer misconduct so that fewer officers would have been likely to commit such infractions.
Audits can also help to change bad policies. In both Edmonton and Kitchener-Waterloo, undercover officers recently went into public parks and positioned themselves to appear available for homosexual encounters. When physical advances were made, the officers identified themselves and made arrests. The ensuing publicity devastated the lives of those arrested.
Didn't the police have anything better to do? If the idea was to discourage a nuisance in public parks, couldn't conspicuous patrols also have worked -- and with much less damage? To ask such questions is to raise the issue of what determines police tactics and priorities. Moreover, what other policies, currently unknown, are guiding police behaviour? A good audit will expose these matters so that there can be a full public debate before such damage is done.
This is not to suggest that an audit system would create a Utopia in police-citizen relations. It is simply to suggest that audits would make it harder -- not impossible -- to conceal what the public should learn. Canada has already established such a system for national securityThe Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) conducts such audits of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
SIRC may well have its faults, but few would doubt that it's better to have SRIC than not to have it. (In the 1980s, for example, a critical SIRC audit triggered the dissolution of CSIS's dubious anti-subversion unit.)
Yet, even with an audit system, there would remain serious weaknesses in the machinery of civilian control. Cabinet ministers and police oversight boards often lack the necessary power to supervise. In Ontario, for example, police services boards are explicitly prohibited from directing the police "with respect to specific operational decisions." Even if not every jurisdiction has such a provision, it nevertheless expresses the prevailing Canadian practice.
Consider, for example, what former prime minister Trudeau said during the controversy over RCMP wrongdoing"The particular minister of the day should not have a right to know what the police are doing constantly in their investigative practices, what they are looking at, ... what they are looking for, and the way in which they are doing it."
The idea is to prevent the politicization of the police -- an undoubtedly laudable purpose. But, without some control over police activity, how can the civilian masters exercise responsibility for them? The answer, in much of this country, has been to distinguish operations and policiesMinisters and police services boards issue general policy directives but tend to keep out of specific operations.
In practice, however, this distinction often disintegrates. A few years ago, for example, the attorney general of British Columbia refused to interfere in the RCMP handling of the aboriginal occupation at Gustafsen Lake. Suppose, instead of behaving with the restraint attributed to them, the RCMP had decided to end the protest by launching a full-scale raid with overwhelming firepower? And suppose the attorney general believed that such action would have been needlessly dangerous in the circumstances? Does the Canadian tradition mean that the minister would have been obliged to look the other way while the police perpetrated unacceptable mayhem?
In Ontario, this doctrine of non-interference went even further. Shortly after the inception of the aboriginal occupation at Ipperwash, the OPP abandoned its traditional restraint and forcibly entered the park. In the ensuing melee, an unarmed aboriginal protester was shot dead. Upon being pummelled by opposition questions in the Ontario legislature, the attorney general said, "there was no political interference ... I can only say that any political interference in the operations of the OPP would be highly inappropriate." And Mike Harris, Ontario Premier, insisted, "We knew nothing of any OPP build up. It was not our business."
Not their business? How in the world is the government supposed to answer for the police if it cannot be involved in -- or even know about -- an operation of this magnitude? Suppose our country initiated hostilities by committing some 200 soldiers against a comparable contingent from a foreign nation? No one would suggest that only the military should make such a decision. On the contrary, we would insist that the decision be made exclusively by the government. Why, then, should there be less political involvement if we are sending 200 police officers to battle our own citizens? Imagine Janet Reno, U.S. Attorney General, disclaiming responsibility for the seizure of Elian Gonzalez, saying it was none of her "business"!
Thus, the distinction between policies and operations is too tenuous. Our society must accept more direct involvement by the civilian masters in the day-to-day operations of the police. What, then, about the risk of politicizing the police? In large part, I believe this could be handled through the proposed audit system.
Let the civilian masters exert more control but make their decisions subject to independent audit. In such circumstances, wise chiefs of police would ask their civilian masters to give them their instructions in writing. In that way, those instructions would be susceptible to a subsequent audit. The audits would make public the interactions that create suspicion, thus pressuring all parties to explain their behaviour. This process would make it increasingly difficult for a politician to use the police for partisan purposes.
Remedial machinery must adapt to the realities of the human condition. I urge these reforms, not because the police are more evil than the rest of us, but because they are no less human.
Do you want to do something about this?
Before the election and get this issue talked about?
[COMMENTS BY DON B. - ]
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