Friday, January 21, 2011

Looks like Canada, Smells like Canada

The next chapter in the G20 summit riot issues is the case of a Police officer wrongfully informing a citizen, while attempting to cajole him to empty his backpack for searching, that he was "no longer in Canada" and that he had no civil rights. The incident has led to a formal complaint, so the officer has had no comment; the matter is in the hands of the Ontario Independent Police Review Director, who have issued no statement. The only comment offered by an official is that Sgt. Mark Charlebois, alleged to be the officer with the badge number that is clearly visible on the officer's shirt (the camera zooms in), is he would be crying from all the comments about him, if he was sensitive. I am not sure if he is serious, or mocking the stereotypical image of protesters as "bleeding hearts".

The problem in the video comes from the misinformation. Doubtless the police were told that the site of the G20 summit was "private property" or no longer public domain, and so was subject to a different set of rules to ensure safety. The citizen appears uncertain about whether he has the right to refuse a search, stay where he is (voices on the tape discuss how they are not within 5 meters of the cordoned zone) or is obliged to leave the area. As private citizens, I find this unacceptable on many levels.

We Canadians have a level of trust we have placed in the police that we expect to uphold and rely on, otherwise a lot of systems fall apart. If we cannot believe the word of an officer, we are in for a problem. Worse, you can see as the group moves away, the officers follow them down the block, even though his only "suspicious" action was to decline a search (Although he is wearing large dark glasses and a bulky hat). If we are not allowed to remove ourselves from situations in which we are being ordered to submit to a search, there is a whole new dictionary of words to describe our country. In addition, Police are only allowed to detain a person to question them if the questioning is deliberately leading to an investigation, it is decidedly NOT to be used to control a crowd or to establish a "powerful police presence".

These laws are, of course, ignored with the Public Works Protection Act. People or groups can be detained even if they offer to leave the designated area and people have no right to remain silent. Any reticent or disagreement can be arrested for this. Since the officers failed to arrest the man for failure to comply, however, it is likely that they were aware that the situation was not occurring within the safety cordon.

But on the other hand, it is our duty to be informed of our rights, and to insist upon those rights. This is an issue that has been prevalent in my professional life as of late. If I agree, under any pretenses, I accept all responsibility for my actions. There are very few rights which can not be waived away under any circumstance, and the police are aware of this. If the man had simply been convinced to had over his bag, his complaint later would have been meaningless, since any action would be considered compliance and assumes consent. There is no record of how many people gave in, handing over their bags to be searched without even questioning. Not saying this validates the actions of the officers because, to be honest, despite my intention to provide a balanced view of the whole incident, I find myself more and more siding with the individual. Sure many of us just think, "Give him your damn bag, idiot." and that would be the easy way out, but without the periodic assurance that we can refuse a search, rights break down.

This incident should prove to be informative in the coming months.

No comments: