Sunday, February 21, 2010

Developing our Constitution and Legal System Sector

Recently Pictou County's new top cop, Staff-Sgt. Steve Halliday has been gathering input at public meetings designed to help the District RCMP to identify local issues and determine its prior¬ities for 2010 in terms of what area residents are looking for.

Constitution and Legal System which includes policing is one of the 12 community sectors. Our policing and legal system are areas within this sector with serious difficulties. From a community development standpoint, anything which splits or disunites our community’s unity of purpose is a problem. Whose fault is that? - not relevant. What is relevant is that all of us are at fault who fail to repair fixable problems in our community.(...continued) So kudos to the Staff-Sgt. for taking this first step.

I’d advise Halliday to continually recognize that his force operates within a very draconian and abusive Canadian legal system and that requires senior police management to keep a close eye and careful thought on the optics of what his officers do. Sometimes even positive well intentioned moves can cast a very negative shadow. For example:

On December 29th, in Ottawa a much loved member of his community, police officer Const. 'Eric' Czapnik was on a routine call. Sitting in his police car writing down his notes, he was ambushed and stabbed to death by Kevin Gregson, a deranged and suspended member of the RCMP who had brain cysts surgically removed. This tragedy shocked the whole community which joined the family in mourning his death. The unusual circumstances involving both city police and RCMP attracted wider news coverage. At the subsequent funeral, a uniformed police honor guard would have been seen as a very appropriate gesture of solidarity. However, what actually transpired all captured and broadcast on national TV cast a terrible optic!

A funeral is an event to give family, friends and community an opportunity to show respect and say goodbye to a loved one but here viewers saw thousands of uniformed police marching in a procession that stretched about two kilometers led by 1500 Ottawa police in navy blue uniforms, a block of 1000 military police and RCMP officers in red serge, 50 U.S. and international police and 300 Quebec police. The view was marked with the sound of drumming to keep the beat and boots hitting the pavement in unison and was just overpowering when they all entered the church. A gesture of police solidarity is one thing but such a massive police display put an unintended focus on the event which made very bad optics.

We should want policing to be seen as a desirable and essential cog in the wheels needed to properly run our community rather than as its controlling force. However, there is the risk that our community citizenry and our police may view each other in an adversarial “we/they” light. That attitude divides us and is harmful to community. Bad optics or anything that promotes it should be avoided.

Then there are those who don’t report wrong doing they observe or know about and it is not because they condone the bad act or fear the police. Generally, police are seen as handing out tickets and laying charges without fear or favor and probably that is a good thing. But often things are unreported because our legal system on the other side of the police is seen as draconian and ineffective. We read the court notes and see the same names over and over again. We want to see people we know behave properly and live good lives. We don’t want to see them tangled up in the web of the criminal justice system and eventually winding up in prison.

I know when I read the court notes, I often think our lawyers and judges are accepting responsibility to properly resolve cases where they don’t have the proper tools. The vision that comes to mind is of a carpenter building a new house and using his hammer to break all the boards to the correct length. I may expand a bit on that thought some other time but I think perhaps we'll leave it there for now.
The End - Return to main page

No comments: