Monday, December 16, 2013

An Emerging Police State

For the last several years, I have been increasingly concerned that our governments at both the Federal and Provincial levels have been enabling an environment that is fundamentally hostile to civil society and individual freedoms.

In the wake of 9/11, we found the Canadian Federal Government using an obscure, and previously little used "Security Certificate" tool to detain people without trial, or even the opportunity to challenge the evidence against them.  At first, most people would have noticed relatively few changes except for a particularly obnoxious level of "security inspection" at the airport.

What started to alarm me more was the emergence of a series of "stop and seize" laws.  In BC, a speeding law was passed that enabled police to impound a speeder's car, followed by laws which impose an "administrative penalty" of license suspension and a fine for driving with a blood alcohol level between 0.05 and 0.08.  In Alberta, the province passed very similar laws, and topped it off with a "distracted driving" law that is so broad that you could effectively be charged with "distracted driving" for taking one hand off the steering wheel to shift gears. 

I'm not saying that the intent of those laws is bad.  Far from it.  None of those are subjects which I can argue are entirely bad things to be pursuing.  The problem that I have with all of those laws is that they impose harsh, if not unreasonable, penalties at roadside.  In effect, the police officer that pulls you over has the power not just to detain you, but to act as "judge, jury and executioner".  By the time that you get in front of a justice to plead your case, the penalty has already been partially exacted.  You might be able to argue away the fine in court, but the suspension of your license and the impounded vehicle have already been executed.

Personally, I don't interact with the police very often - once every decade or so at most do I get pulled over.  So, differences in attitudes are perhaps more marked to me than others.  The last time I interacted with a police officer on the street was a midday CheckStop last Christmas.  I spent over forty minutes stuck in a traffic jam created by this CheckStop, and then was subjected to a ten minute lecture from the officer.  To say that it felt like an exercise in intimidation is an understatement.

Previously, I had been pulled over a decade or so before on a minor traffic infraction.  The difference being the officer in that case was reasonably pleasant about it.  He was matter of fact and to the point.  No lectures, no attempt to intimidate.

The difference was marked enough to me to make me take notice.  Not only was the attitude different, even the way the CheckStop was structured was disturbing.  Previously, CheckStops had been a "sampling" exercise - about 60% of the cars passing by would be stopped.  This was _EVERYBODY_ getting stopped.  Along with that, the usual "No, Sir" response to the "have you had anything to drink?" question turned into a lengthy lecture for no apparently good reason.

I didn't think too much of it except that I had hit an officer in a bad mood until this past summer's shooting of a man on a Toronto bus.  In light of Vic Toews' "Spy On Everybody" bill, a series of "tough on crime" bills which emphasize punishment rather than prevention and rehabilitation.  These bills reflect a more serious problem, however.  When the government moves to precipitously to punish everybody in sight, the environment and assumptions under which the police must operate also change.

Suddenly, the terms of engagement have shifted from a duty to protect the public from criminal activity.  Broadly written laws create an environment where just about anybody could be accused of, and found guilty of something.  Heck, in Alberta, as I write this, it is theoretically a crime to suggest that Alberta Public Sector unions should go on strike.  The "distracted driving law" is so broadly written that taking your sunglasses off could result in a fine.  The consequence is that the police are being trained to see everybody as a potential criminal.

This is an unpleasant and ugly situation.  Harper has gone to enormous lengths to attack the fundamental freedoms that Canadians should enjoy, all in the name of supposed "safety".    The consequences for Canadians are ugly - it will cost us billions in prisons, and even more in terms of the psychological trauma that Canada will experience until this program of systematic oppression is dismantled.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Emerging? More like ready and waiting to go: