Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Police Chiefs and Premiers

I have to confess that my nose is presently feeling quite abraded and raw, not surprising given its strenuous workout in today’s smell tests, beginning with the spectacle of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair displaying a cache of ‘weapons’ seized from protesters that turned out to be less than claimed. First, an astute CBC reporter asked about the cross bow that was given prominence. Hadn’t that, in fact, been seized from a car before the summit began and determined to have nothing to do with the G20? Well yes, the good chief sheepishly admitted that it shouldn’t have been there, as reported in The Globe and Mail:

A car search last Friday netted a cross bow and chain saw but they were not determined to be G20 related, and no charges were laid. When this was pointed out, Chief Blair acknowledged the items should not have been displayed but said “everything else” was seized from summit protesters.

However, police also included objects taken from a Whitby, Ont., man who was heading to a role playing fantasy game in Centennial Park Saturday morning. As was reported by the Globe on Saturday, Brian Barrett, 25, was stopped at Union Station for wearing chain mail and carrying a bag with an archery bow, shield and graphite swords. His jousting gear was seized by police, but was on display Tuesday, even though he was not charged and police told a Globe reporter it was a case of bad timing.

The critical thinker, of course, would have even more reason after this display to question the veracity of what he or she was being told. But then things got worse. Blair announced that there was no five-metre rule in place allowing police to search bags and demand identification from interlopers who had violated the police’s ‘comfort zone.’ His justification for this alleged lie: “I was trying to keep the criminals out.”

I say alleged lie, because this came only after an announcement from the Ministry of Community Safety made an announcement that “all the cabinet did was update the law that governs entry to such things as court houses to include specific areas inside the G20 fences — not outside.

A ministry spokeswoman says the change was about property, not police powers, and did not include any mention of a zone five metres outside the G20 security perimeter. “

However — and my nose was really starting to hurt by this point — we remember Dalton McGuinty’s statement of support for the police on Friday after word got out about the secret order-in-council suspending some of our Charter Rights:

Premier Dalton McGuinty denies it was an abuse of power for his government to secretly approve sweeping new powers for police.

“I just think it’s in keeping with the values and standards of Ontarians,” McGuinty told the Toronto Star on Friday amid a battery of complaints from opposition parties, city councillors, civil libertarians and regular Torontonians that the new rules were kept secret and, some say, may go too far.

The rules allow police to arrest and potentially jail anyone refusing to produce identification or be searched within 5 metres of the G20 security zone.

“Most Ontarians understand that there’s something extraordinary happening inside our province,” the Premier said. “We’ve tried to limit the intrusiveness to a specific secure zone as much as we can by working together with our police.”

Despite the fact that it was front page news on several of Ontario’s dailies, Premier McGuinty did nothing to disabuse the public about this seemingly inaccurate information, which leads me to conclude a number of limited possibilities:

He is so inept a Premier that, despite the alleged regulation having been passed secretly by his Cabinet, he knew none of the details;

Chief Blair was lying about these special powers, promulgated throughout the media and eliciting mass confusion and outrage. Were this so, wouldn’t it be incumbent upon McGuinty to immediately terminate the Chief, having gone far beyond anything General Stanley McCrystal did to warrant firing?

He was colluding with the police to continue to perpetrate this ‘falsehood,’ a possibility that would justify our asking how committed the Premier is to Charter Rights and basic democracy;

The regulation was as everyone understood it, but because of the widespread revulsion it inspired, the Liberal Government, realizing the potential political consequences to be so very costly, disavowed any relationship to the odious regulation, therefore requiring Bill Blair to ‘fall on his sword’ over this issue.

The fact that the position of Chief of Police is, de facto, a political one, would likely have convinced Blair that his future would be far better served by obeying his political masters than hewing to the path of integrity.

Further evidence of government and police lying to the public emerges as the McGuinty Government is now stating that no one was arrested under any extended laws, but only regular criminal laws. The critical thinking public will, of course, want to know why 31-year-old Dave Vasey was arrested when he ventured within the allegedly non-existent boundary, refusing to either show his i.d. or allow his bag to be searched, believing he was only enjoying his basic rights of citizenship. Told he would then have to leave, he refused, after which he was arrested under this ‘non-existent’ rule. What then, was the offense for which he was arrested?

These and other questions must be forcefully asked and re-asked in the days to come. To do anything less would be criminal.

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