Tag Archives: civil liberties

Freedom of Speech:Shhh, They’re Listening

Freedom of Speech. It’s a big thing in democratic countries and we hold it like a torch to indicate how different we are from the regimes, the dictatorships and any place that silences writers by putting them in prisons, house arrest or just killing them. The pen is mightier than the sword and it’s been feared by conquerors for a long time. And of course, those who win are those who write the history books.

But North America: Canada and the US, we’re different. We truly have freedom of speech. A person can get on any bandwagon and scream their beliefs and they won’t be stopped. Of course they won’t. Not where the media will see it anyways.

Conquering nations, or just those in power that manage to vanquish the foe, like to show how good and just they were for doing so. This attitude extends down the line to foe being interpreted as famine, poverty, unemployment, deficits–you name it. Any trouble that a government faces becomes the foe or the need to do some PR and impress the voters with how good you are and how right and just your cause is.

So, freedom of speech. Do we really have it? No. It’s selective, even in these democratic countries.

Years ago I was in New York City, staying with a friend. Desert Storm had just happened and the troops were coming home. There were giant yellow ribbons around some buildings as well as on fences and trees. Two interesting incidences about the smothering of anti-war/Desert Storm protests became evident. In NY even the cop cars seem to be banged up and have graffiti. There’s is graffiti and slogans everywhere. When someone spray painted numerous bus stop shelters with an indelible ink on the glass with anti war statements NY made an unprecedented move.

The slogans were removed in 24 hours and if they could not be cleaned from the glass, well the glass was replaced. There was no way that the ticker tape parade was going to be affected by people protesting what they felt was wrong about US troops in other countries. A minor thing, perhaps, and could be chalked up to city maintenance but my friend said nothing like that had caused such wholesale cleansing before.

He also lived near a park (I no longer remember the name of it) known for having demonstrations of different types. The police had set tape around the perimeter, with other obstacles, effectively blocking any access to the park before or during the arrival of the troops. No demonstration in a designated area and in fact no freedom of speech. Muffling of dissenters is what happened in the great democratic nation of the US. Don’t go against the government.

Is Canada any better? No. We like to pretend we’re calmer, more polite, more peaceful but the 2010 Winter Olympics is coming to town. Our fair city of Vancouver has changed some existing bylaws. These bylaws will in effect give the city engineer the right to make up bylaws on the fly. “I don’t like the anti-Olympic sign in your window: I can make a bylaw, invade your home, remove your sign and arrest you.” In fact, that’s part of the bylaw already, giving people only 24-hour’s notice before being invaded or having signs, posters and whatnot confiscated.

Of course, the city councillors say it’s for protecting people. Because we know what nasty papercuts you get from pamphlets and anti-Olympics posters. There has already been a case of a woman being tailed and questioned outside of her classroom because she just happens to know and anti-Olympics protestor. And like she said, this has caused her to be against the Olympics, a reverse of what the Olympics gestapo are probably hoping for: shiny happy people ecstatic that their tax dollars are going to something they can’t afford and having their rights infringed upon.

Who knows, perhaps if they find this blog, I’ll be tossed in the can before the Olympics. I’d rather they just deport me to Greece for a month. It’s hard to be for the Olympics when games start taking precedent over civil liberties. Can we say Beijing? Can we say Germany, 1936. I wonder if Gregor Robertson has been brainwashed or is wholesale for clamping down on people’s rights to protest. Oh and if you happen to be in a zone that’s close to any venue or anything the Olympics committee deems important, know that you won’t be able to get in or out the same way as usual, and you might not get any mail for the three weeks because they are removing paper boxes and mailboxes. That’s one great way to curtail freedom of speech, just remove anything that has words in it.

I’m waiting for our Olympic souvenirs. You know the ones. We’ll get them a week before the opening and they’ll have a spiffy logo on them. They’ll come free of charge but we’ll all be required to wear them throughout the Olympics: our own personal gags with a free gag law attached.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2009/10/09/bc-anti-olympic-sign-law-bccla.html

http://www.torontosun.com/sports/vancouver2010/2009/10/07/11334116.html

http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/Olympics2010/2009/07/21/newspapers-Olympic-bylaw/

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/vancouver/2009-09-17-protest-zones_N.htm

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From Police to Police State

You would think with the eye on the RCMP over the Dziekanski inquiry, that both RCMP and city police would be on better behavior in Greater Vancouver. Note that some municipalities use a local police force while others use the RCMP.

Now, granted there have been a helluva lot of gang shootings to date, with at least 18 dead so far, so probably the police are a little jumpy. And we already know based on testimony by the four very fit RCMP officers who taser Robert Dziekanski to death that they’ll take raised hands or a desk stapler as a threat of deadly force and use it in kind. Oh and that they didn’t panic. These guys might have looked better if they said they had panicked but that they were cool and calculating about taking down an unarmed man and tasering him four more times while he writhed in pain is even more scary.

So, just maybe everyone wants to use caution more. Police once upon a time used to be trained in ways to take a person down using just their hands. And if the criminal was carrying a dangerous weapon, well disarm them. Shoot to kill was the last resort. However, that’s now changed and shoot to kill, ask questions later is the order of the day.

In March a homeless man was approached by police for stealing from a car. Later it turns out he wasn’t the thief but he supposedly advanced on them wielding an X-acto knife. Now it could be the police havexacto1 misnamed it but many X-acto knives are tiny, with a wedge-shaped blade of about an inch. They are very sharp and potentially lethal at close range. You’d have to get very close and personal to inflict damage. This image of a range of X-acto blades was taken from www.dickblick.com with the most common being the triangular shape.

So the police shot the guy in the stomach and killed him. Sure it was two women police officers and maybe they were scared. But they could have backed up, I think. And why couldn’t they shoot the guy in the arm or the leg, thereby giving him a lot of pain and disabling him from advancing? There was no need to shoot him in the stomach. Were they bad aims. Or was the X-acto blade much larger and being hurled at them?

On April 5th the police shot a guy in a Ford F350 truck who was allegedly stealing it. It seems that when they tried to block the truck the guy gunned it at the police car. The police shot at him, one shot, and wounded him. The car thief is expected to recover. In this case most people agree the police had a right to shoot. I doubt they had time to react with more than that with the truck coming at them. And it’s pretty hard to shoot to disable when someone is sitting in a vehicle with tinted glass. They could have tried to shoot out the tires but at that point it was probably not obvious what the guy had planned. I should note here that in Vancouver, up until recently it’s extremely rare that a police officer would shoot anyone. Once a year is more often than normal.

So we’ve had two shootings in four months. Not to mention the three off-duty cops that beat up and robbed a delivery driver. Sure, they’re the exception and yahoos from three different cities. But what this all points to is that there is a perceived image that the police forces (municipal and RCMP) are out of control. Police departments need to take a proactive stance and see if their training is adequate. As well, training needs to start with immobilizing a threat in the safest way possible to everyone. That means trying to take down a person with minimal physical violence, moving from  hands to taser to guns only when lives are threatened. That means not a perceived threat as the RCMP somehow saw in an office stapler. A deadly threat means being shot at or run down.

These departments also need to look at who they’re hiring. Bigoted, snobby and racist police will be more likely to prejudice a situation with their perspectives. What suitability tests are run on these candidates to ensure they stay calm, level-headed, use reasoning to assess a situation and don’t let prejudices get in their way. (I won’t do more than mention the many women of the downtown East side who disappeared over the years withouth the police doing anything because the women were drug addicts and prostitutes.) They need to have some basic psychology and counselling courses and learn how to verbally diffuse a situation as well.

I’m not saying all police are bad and they have a tough job. Some are probably nervous with all the shootings. But I do think a reassessment of training procedures is in order. We’d like to know that the next time we lift up a piece of paper or even give a cop the finger that we won’t be shot for it. Otherwise, we’ll probably all tow the line as we move into a police state of mind.

An addendum to yesterday’s post: With all three incidences mentioned above, the police have confiscated video or film taken at the scene. At the shooting of the homeless man, the police went through the guy’s phone and he said they erased the footage of the shooting. We all know what happened with the footage from the Dziekanski tasering. With this last one, they manhandled and threatened to arrest a newspaper photographer if he didn’t relinguish his camera. There is a disturbing trend towards the erosion of our civil liberties and the police taking, tampering or trying to hide evidence of questionable investigations. Even if they haven’t tampered they are giving the impression by confiscating materials in such a way. And if we don’t have freedom of the press, we don’t have checks and balances. Again, retraining seems to be needed here.

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