Arrogant authority

Par Beryl Wajsman le 27 novembre 2014

For the law to be respected, it must first be made respectable." ~ Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Two stories in the past week brought to light once again the problem of the arrogance of security authority. They are not strictly the types of stories that I have commented upon in the past. Those concerned mistreatment of visible minorities  and the compromise of the basic tenets of due process and the rule of law. No, these stories - in certain aspects - could be termed almost routine, yet they still manifest the maladies that threaten our liberties and our lives . Worse yet, they hinder our progress to be truly just.

The first was the initial police reaction to the death of five year old Nicolas Thorne-Belance. The boy was driving with his father. Their car was hit by a UPAC investigator who was tailing a party  of interest in the ongoing investigation into political fundraising and the construction industry. The police car was travelling at 122 km in a 50km zone. The Crown prosecutor decided not to charge the police officer . The reason? That the young boy’s father had turned on a green light rather than a flashing green light.

No consideration that the SQ officer had no flashers or sirens on. No consideration that the officer was not chasing a suspect who had committed a violent criminal act that perhaps could have justified the speeding. No consideration that the officer was traveling in an area where many – like Nicolas’ father – were driving children to school.

This is the problem with permanent police units that are given extra-judicial powers. There is a mentality that creeps in that the officers and commanders in the units are somehow above the law. That they are “Princes of the City.” Worse still, the exercise of this type of security authority instills in our society the attitude of guilt by insinuation. No longer does presumption of innocence predominate, but rather character assassination by salissage. Merely to be someone of interest, somehow validates extraordinary measures and excessive tactics. This is wrong and nothing – no end – can justify these means.

Justice William Douglas once wrote that “It is the means not the ends that determine the justice of a system of law and determine a society’s place at the table of civilized nations. Better to let nine guilty men go free than convict one innocent.”  This story may not have a completely disgraceful end. Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée has just ordered an independent inquiry into the incident. To her credit she said that “As a minister and a mother I am very sensitive to the plight of victims.” All security authority should learn from that statement.

The second incident that was troubling was the admission – after many years of denial – from the Montreal Police that they indeed had a ticket quota system. This is something that even the Police Brotherhood had complained about for years. Yet senior police officials and elected office holders continually denied. What has finally come to light is that not only does a quota system exist for mundane matters like parking, but for everything from speeding to talking on cellphones. Specific numbers are assigned to specific offences.

The system means that each officer is responsible for an average of 18 tickets a day. And worse still, what has come to light is that in certain stations officers are told not to respond to calls but to go out on ticket patrols if they are far behind on their quotas and the end of the month is approaching. Depending on the size of the station, unit quotas can range from 450 to 1500 a month. It has been alleged that promotions are dependent on this as much as on real police work. The police union has asked for an abolition of quotas as has been done in 22 American states. We couldn’t agree more and it should be done expeditiously. Public Security Minister Lise Thériault says she has been apprised of the problem but is still studying it. We would suggest that she act as quickly as her colleague Minister Vallée.

Police officers cannot be used as  revenue collectors. And the highway code and other regulations for public safety must not be manipulated as an adjunct to RevQue rules. Those who command our police officers must stop taking the attitude of an infamous American District Attorney who once quipped “Everyone is guilty of something. We just haven`t caught them yet.” Justice Louis Brandeis’ words on this attitude were apt for their time and for us in Quebec today. “For the law to be respected, “ he wrote, “it must first be made respectable.”

Amen!

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