Friday, January 29, 2010



Red meat* law and order Conservatives love the police. They believe they represent the very thin blue line that separates all of the true and honest of any society – namely, them - from the chaos created by the bad guy. Bad guys, they believe, are either born that way or coddled into being that way by liberals. That is their view of the relationship between society and the law.

They also believe that bad guys abound in society and everyone is at risk all of the time. Therefore they stand for unfettered police and state prosecution powers (unless it affects them, such as what happened to Conrad Black, who screamed blue murder when U.S. authorities threw the book at him for his crimes).

As far as punishment is concerned, red meat Conservatives have little time for the principle of rehabilitation but plenty of time for deterrence. The mercifully retired ex-cop Calgary MP Art Hangar was typical of that crowd. He once went to Singapore to see first hand the wondrous positive effects of flogging in its penal system. Another time he took the time to go to Texas and argue that Governor George W. Bush should put to death a former Alberta resident and Canadian citizen who was on death row there after being convicted of murder. He did this at the same time as the government of Canada was petitioning that his life be spared. Of course Bush made sure that the guy was executed.

Conservatives also believe that whatever cops want they should get. Thus, they give police all of the bells and whistles they ask for – shotguns, assault rifles, machine guns, hollow point bullets, robots, cannon-armed helicopters, pepper spray, tasers, and cell phones to complement the milder tools of their trade such as automatic pistols, handcuffs, billy clubs, and fast cars equipped with the latest of computer technology. Oh, yes, Conservatives also make sure there are generous budgets to buy all of the stuff. Because after all, it’s a jungle out there and these brave men and women are the thin blue line that protects us from all of that savagery.

Stephen Harper is a red meat Conservative who seems to have a dark view of human nature. He also appears to believe all of the stuff about the mean streets of Canada. And whether he believes it or not, he knows that it is good politics to be perceived to believe it. For years now, Canadian society has been bamboozled by local television news and the tabloid print media into believing that it really is a jungle out there, and that crime and mayhem are rampant, with large numbers of innocent people victimized daily by rapists, robbers, murderers, arsonists, drug-dealers and other low-lifes. Conservatives like Harper love to hear that stuff and they play it politically for all it’s worth.

Arming police to the teeth with the latest and most effective of fire power in what is largely a very peaceful society is bad enough. However, Harper’s most recent tactic of moving to abolish meaningful public oversight of oppressive police actions and behavior goes too far. That is just what he's done with his most recent bonehead move of appointing Toronto wills and estates lawyer Ian McPhail to head the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP. McPhail’s credentials for the job are that he is an estates lawyer and a Conservative Party apparatchik. Some people might call him a political hack. He admits that he has no experience or background for the job, policing, criminal law, or federal oversight agencies. Read:

Harper has appointed McPhail to preside over an administration of 90 public servants whose job it is to investigate public complaints against members of the RCMP for incidents such as excessive use of force, officers exceeding authority, and other deviant or criminal behaviour as it affects the public. They investigate incidents of the unnecessary use of tasers for example, or assaults that cause bodily harm.

The job of policing the police is a tough one that requires tough people because the thin blue line culture in Canada has allowed police institutions to establish their own stonewall culture as a defence against public scrutiny. For years now the RCMP complaints commission has been hamstrung in carrying out its duties by an RCMP administration that believes that it is none of the public’s damn business what their men do on the street, because it’s a jungle out there, and they protect people from the bad guys, and . . . yada, yada, yada. All of which Conservatives swallow hook, line and sinker, with Harper chief among them.

McPhail defends his appointment saying that having no police background is unimportant because he is merely a chairman, and that his main qualification is to understand how an administrative agency works. He prides himself in being ‘collegial.’ That kind of feeble weak-kneed statement is music to the ears of the stonewallers. It telegraphs to the RCMP they need not worry about their excesses because the commission is now led by some namby-pamby without the gonads to get tough with errant cops.

McPhail is replacing political independent Paul Kennedy as commission chair. Kennedy had 35 years of experience in federal security agencies before he took the job in 2005. His job performance was characterized by dogged diligence and tough reports while he tried to get to the bottom of what he was charged to investigate.

Harper has now come to the rescue of the thin blue line.
His decision reflects an approach that if left unchecked leads to a police state. Dictators like tough cops. It keeps the people in line. Franco, Stalin, and Hitler in Germany liked their cops tough and unimpeded.

It can be good politics to be sure. But it is not very good for the country.

*Dictionary definition of “throw red meat”
throw red meatv. to appease, satisfy, rally, or excite one’s (political) supporters.


Nathaniel said...

It's an wonderful post to know some interesting facts about Policing the police. Police officers have several responsibilities where they have to be abide by rules and regulations. Some person will do mistake and all others will be blamed for the mistake done by one person. There are several police courses where they will give detailed coaching of the consequences.

MgS said...

Like other aspects of today's "conservatives", their approach is about coercive control over the public - control that is achieved by creating a climate of fear.

Not only fear of the uncontrollable bogeyman of criminal behaviour, but also the more insidious fear of allowing the public safety agencies to operate with less public oversight.

Make no mistake, this latest appointment by PMSH is designed to serve but a singular purpose - to shut down any meaningful scrutiny of the RCMP.

Darryl Raymaker said...

Thanks Nate for your comments. I served as Chairman of the Calgary Police Commission for three years and can tell you that the good cops - and the vast majority fell into that category - were not afraid of effective oversight of what they did.

MgS - you are once again dead on. It is very true that today's conservative movement is more than ever about keeping the public in line by scaring the hell out of people and letting bad cops run rampant over them.

Part of the problem is that its ideology precludes them from thinking about issues or even educating themselves about them. Conservatives believe in the 'thin blue line' culture right or wrong and therefore in their minds cops are always right and the public is better protected.

But the ideology limits the public's freedom. More importantly, police come to play a larger part in all of our lives and that leads to a police state. Many Conservatives of course - one suspects Harper is one of those - don't think that is a bad thing.

Jahnavi said...

MgS - you are once again dead on. It is very true that today's conservative movement is more than ever about keeping the public in line by scaring the hell out of people and letting bad cops run rampant over them.
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