Tag Archives: abuse of power

Who Watches the Watchmen: Police Investigating Themselves

Canada’s police have been going through the ringer lately and rightfully so. We have both civic police and the RCMP. In some cities and jurisdictions the RCMP are the only police force where there is no other policing body. They are spawned from Canada’s oldest police unit, the NorthWest Mounted Police (NWMP). They began with the fur trade, the frontier and the Gold Rush. There are romantic images of Mounties on their horses, dressed in the traditional red serge uniform with the brown stetson hat. They were considered noble and strong, and the Mounties “always get their man” was a tagline for years.

Now, a cumulation of mismanagement, inferior training, bad judgment calls and arrogance have come back to smack the force in the face. Their reputation has deteriorated so much in recent years that they are becoming a laughing stock. It didn’t help that they sold the copyright to their image to Disney. Yes, perhaps Mickey Mouse could do better in red serge.

What has lead to this now lamentable record and public scorn? There are several very public cases, the most notorious, that of Robert Dziekanski who was tasered to death at the Vancouver airport by four RCMP officers. Dziekanski’s biggest fault: he didn’t speak English and was confused from hours of being lost in the airport with inept handling from airport staff. And he picked up a desk stapler. The ensuing inquiry that wrapped up recently showed a farce of statements by the supposedly well-trained Mounties who should be able to resolve many situations with communication and not escalated violence.

Besides statements that contradicted the video footage (and without it Dziekanski would be dead and we would never have come close to the truth) the big, strong and supposedly fit officers feared for their lives and that of their fellow officers, because Dziekanski picked up a desk stapler. As I’ve said before, if these guys get scared so easily then they have no right being a police officer. And this statement, them fearing for their lives, is a crucial phrase that probably every RCMP officer ever investigated for a death at their hand has uttered.

Other notable cases were that of Kevin St. Arnaud, shot dead after being chased through a field and surrendering. The officer, a rookie, said St. Arnaud looked threatening and was overtop of him where he fell, when he fired. Witnesses (including 24-year veteran officer) and forensic evidence indicated the officer was standing and five meters away when he fired, and that St. Arnaud had raised his hands in surrender. The outcome: the officer was not found to have committed any wrongdoing.

The other case was Ian Bush, shot in the back of the head while in police detention. Again, it took place in northern BC and a rooky copy said it was self-defense because he was being choked. Yet Bush was shot in the back of the head, not the side or front. Forensic evidence and character witnesses didn’t match up to what happened. Yet again, the officer feared for his life.

These are just three cases that took place in BC, and rookie cops were involved in two of them But in all three a man died and the officers feared for their lives in questionable circumstances. And in all three, charges were not laid, though the Dziekanski case could still see charges brought against the officers because of its high publicity if nothing else. And in all three cases the police investigated their own.

There have been outcries of biased investigation, which the RCMP adamantly deny. Of course they would but the evidence stacks against them. Questionable outcomes, officers never found in the wrong and a system that perpetuates itself in negligence and inefficient training have knocked the RCMP down to little better than some criminals. Still, this is not the majority of officers, but bad and very notorious publicity hurts their image as a whole.

Some areas in Alberta use retired police officers to investigate deaths involving officers but even so, there is still the possibility of the police protecting their own and staying loyal to an ethic that has been passed down through the years. Having different officers from other regions investigate an event has the same problem. Sometimes junior officers have investigated senior officers, where inexperience will lend itself to abuse or misjudgment.

The recently completed report on RCMP self-investigation recommends “that serious cases involving sexual assault, death or serious injury cases should, in some cases, be turned over to outside investigators to ensure independence.” Absolutely. And though the RCMP are balking at some of these recommendations, there shouldn’t be a problem if an investigative body was set up. These situations are still relatively rare and no matter where a death or sexual assault happened in the province investigators could fly there within two hours.

It will be extremely rare where there could be two cases at once. The RCMP should welcome a nopartial investigation. As well, as I’ve said before they need to look at themselves and their training all over again. New drivers in BC have to display an “N” for a year or two and have certain restrictions. Perhaps rookies in the RCMP should have the same and not be allowed out on their own or maybe even carry a gun until they know how to handle themselves. (Ireland actually runs with no police officers carrying guns.) And some retraining in nonagressive means needs to be carried out. A friend who was once a police officer said that officers are not given much training in martial arts or even negotiation, which means they’ll often go for weapons before negotiation.

I hope the RCMP will see this as a way to buff up their now very tarnished image (especially in BC) and accept the recommendations gracefully. I hope they’ll look at retraining and extended training in peaceful negotiations and in disarming someone without escalating violence. And I hope they will be able to live up to the former image of being Canada’s finest and noble security force.

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US Border Security Escapades

Over the years I have gone over the Canadian-US border a lot. With friends in Seattle I’d drive down sometimes several times a month. In most cases, there have been the usual spate of questions by the border guards and away I’d go. Since 9/11 I’ve only been stopped once, which was pretty much the random draw of the lane. Some guards have been big on asking numerous questions, which often contain, where are you going, where are you staying, how long will you be gone, how long have you known your friends, where did you meet them, open your trunk, whose car is this, where do you work, etc. Fairly standard. The following three tales relate some of the more…involved interactions with US border security (who are definitely more tight-assed than the Canadian side).

Incident one really wasn’t a big issue. A friend and I were going down to the US on a sunny Sunday. We noticed that day that there were a lot of Asians and Arabic people. And sure enough we were pulled over and searched at random. However, when we had to go inside and present our ID and answer questions, we noticed the predominance of the aforementioned peoples. I told my friend at that point that it was obvious we were picked just so that US customs could not be charged with racism in their searches. I’d say the ratio was one white person/car to ten people of darker skin types. Interesting when you consider that the border crossings probably have the ratio the other way around with at least ten white people to one person of color going over. This was before we heard much of the phrase “racial profiling.”

Incident number two involved the fast lane border passes. I forget what they were called but they all ended with September 11, and several years later they brought back the passes but call them Nexus now. Because I was going down every weekend I applied for and received the pass. It took months to receive. The first day of using it, which speeds up going through the border when you have nothing to declare, was a Sunday. I picked up my friend and we started on our way down. Now I had an apple in the car that I had been intending to eat and forgot about.

We we arrived at the booth, in honesty I said, I have an apple I forgot to eat (which was most likely a Washington apple anyways). Well, the border guard, you know the type, the ex-arm sergeant who’s bitter that he didn’t get promoted who believes everyone is still a bug that has to be brought into line and brainwashed to OBEY ORDERS tells me to pull over. I got out of the car and said, “Here is the offending apple.”

But, oh no, that was not good enough. We had to go upstairs. I can’t remember whether they searched the car but most likely. We had to stand with all the other boys and girls and wait to get a filled out reprimand form for disobeying the rules of the pass, where I tried to reiterate that I had only forgotten to eat the apple and I had let them know, which was not heard and I was told, another infringement and we will take away your pass. It was my first day of using it, I had been honest about what I had, it was a mistake, but still I was treated like I was one degree short of a mass murderer. 

Shortly after, 9/11 happened and the passes were made null and void. However, they didn’t refund our money for the unused portions. I should say that with the pass, if you bought anything at all, even a pack of gum, you were expected to fill out a claim form to be deposited when you went through the border. The problem with these forms was that the provincial government would then send you a bill for any taxes on the amount spent. Normally, when you buy something and go through the border you have a tax/duty free exemption of a certain amount depending on how long you’ve been gone. This was somehow waived if you used the passes and had to pay more. Which did garner me another search when I bought a bottle of wine and chose to go through the regular lineup rather than pay extra taxes (which defeated the purpose of buying over the border).

Incident number 3 involved going down for the Christmas holidays. It was the morning of Christmas eve and I was planning to stay at my friends in Tacoma, driving down in my Honda Civic. However, we had had a freak snowstorm the night before, with about two-three feet of snow, and I couldn’t get my car out of the parking spot.

I chose to take the bus rather than remain in Canada for the holidays. Over the years I have had streaks of color in my hair: turquoise, blue, purple, red. I’m not sure what color it was then but probably purple. We’re not talking punkified cuts here but long hair with a streak or two. I had a winter coat that was made up of squares of purple, yellow and green. I wore quite a few rings.

When we arrived at the border, we all had to disembark and go through customs. At the counter this hulking black guy started asking questions that went something like this: Where are you going? To my friends for Christmas. What are you going to do there? Eat and sleep and visit. How much money are you bringing down? About $30. That’s not very much. What if you need something. It’s Christmas eve; I’m not planning to shop. The stores will be closed. What if you get stranded or the bus breaks down? I’ll call my friends. What if you can’t reach them? I have three credit cards right here. You could have them maxed out. What are you going to do if you’re stuck? (At this point I was getting angry. I almost said, I’ll stand on the street corner and sell my rings.) My cards aren’t maxed out. I could call my friends or use my bank card. How do I know that you have any money in your account? (I almost said, but bit my tongue, are you asking me all these questions because of the color of my hair? ) Look, I was going to drive down but my car got stuck in all the snow. (Suddenly a look that suggests I’ve just moved one level above bug out to steal US jobs on Christmas eve.) Oh, you have a car? Yes, I couldn’t drive because of the freak snow storm. (And luckily for me.) Here’s a bank receipt from yesterday showing that I have money in my account. Oh, you have money in your account. Okay you’re free to go. Have a nice Christmas. Yeah, right. (What this guy was really trying for was to make me cry so that he could go, why are you crying? Oh, don’t worry, little lady, you can go now.)

I will never ever ever take a bus over the border again. They automatically think you’re an unemployed lowlife. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the woman I sat beside on the way back. She was American living and working in Canada. She said, It doesn’t matter which customs I go through. Watch, I’ll be the last back on the bus. She had to bring bill receipts showing she had an address in Canada because the official letter/piece of paper wasn’t enough. And sure enough they ran her through the ringer before she was allowed back on the bus.

If you’re ever needing good examples of anal retention and people pushing power, the border is a great place place to hang out.

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