When Police Lie

The single most important tool police have in their arsenal isn’t a gun, it isn’t baton, it isn’t even their badge. It is public confidence.

It is this confidence that ensures the public they can have faith in some of the most important and powerful public servants they meet in their day to day lives, and more importantly, it is vested in hands that will prioritize the rule of law over violence.

This, however, breaks down when police lie.

This week, as far as I can tell, the Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has been caught in two lies. First, in claiming the policy had legal authority to detain people within 5 meters of the perimeter fence at the G20, second, when they put confiscated weapons on display that had been found on “protesters.”

Worse still, was his defense.

Asked Tuesday if there actually was a five-metre rule given the ministry’s clarification, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair smiled and said, “No, but I was trying to keep the criminals out.”

The police have more than a tough job. Consider the idiocy they had to deal with during the G20. Take, for example, Anti-Capitalist Convergence spokesperson Mathieu Francoeur’s claim that vandalism and violent protests were “not violence” but “a means of expression and doesn’t compare to the economic and state violence we’re subjected to.” Yes, it drives me crazy too. Of all the ills in the world to choose from, violence against a state that provides welfare, free health-care and subsidized education just never seems to make my top 10 list…

But the best weapon against this idiocy is honest and upfront police force. Admittedly, this contributes to what makes their job hard, but citizens expect the police to follow the law and behave ethically. That, more than a gun, a badge, or a uniform, this code of conduct is what separates them from everyone else – from the criminals, and even, ordinary citizens. We expect, and we need them to model behaviour.

Mistakes I can understand. Poor decisions under stress I can understand. But deliberately misleading the public I cannot understand, nor do I think there are many who will condone it. Is lying now an appropriate strategy for dealing with the public? If a police force – and more importantly, its chief – is willing to mislead us about weapons captured and the nature of the law during the G20, what will they lie about at other times?  Perhaps when I get pulled over? Or when my 21 year cousin accidentally bumps into an officer who is having a bad day? Do I believe the Toronto police force is on a slippery slope? No. But I don’t want them on the slope at all.

Today, it feels we are a long, long way away from the era of the trusted and honest Mountie (side note about the RCMP, it has the dubious distinction of having a whole wikipedia page dedicated to some of scandals) and the erosion of this trust may be one of the biggest causalities of the G20 Summit.

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21 thoughts on “When Police Lie

  1. paulhart

    If it'd just been the five metre thing, that might've just about passed (though the spokesperson's view of the public being misinformed as being “unfortunate” showed how little regard they have for the people they claim to serve). However, the weapons things was so obvious it hurt! The semi-backpedal of “not those but everything else” is a little weak in the situation.Obvious question at every future presser: “Why should we believe you when you've shown yourself to be untrustworthy in the past?” Game over.

    Reply
  2. Sean

    “Now, I'm willing to admit the policeman has a difficult job, a very hard job. But it's the essence of our society that the policeman's job should be hard. He's there to protect the free citizen, not to chase criminals—that's an incidental part of his job. The free citizen is always more of a nuisance to the policeman than the criminal. He knows what to do about the criminal.” – Orsen WellesFrom Welles Sketchbook:Pt1:

    Pt2:

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  3. Aaron McGowan

    This is kind of absurd in my opinion.I completely understand and agree that the Toronto Police and other security forces may have had it a little tough for the G20 Summit … but like come on? One lie and a second one for the attempt to ease the public's mind about the first?

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  6. brentonwalters

    There's a video of a slightly obnoxious young man demanding the police explain to him how they can violate his rights to be in a public space and not be searched unless he is detained or arrested. The police dismiss him as if Charter Rights aren't their concern, and tell him that he can sort it out later with a lawyer, implying that they can break the law if they feel like it and the only recourse we have is to pursue legal action afterward. Search or seizure8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.Detention or imprisonment9. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

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  7. Luke

    I also want to know if any Agent Provocateurs were used, who they were and what role they played if any in the vandalism. We know the Police have used them in the past, they need to come clean about that role at the G20 too.

    Reply
  8. Fred from BC

    Were you this concerned when Chief Blair was out there every day repeating the lie that the long gun registry “saves lives”? He will say whatever his boss (David Miller) tells him to say…

    Reply
  9. David Eaves

    Fred – I agree that since Chief Blair has lied here, he may be misleading the public on other fronts – including on the gun registry. So we need to carefully evaluate everything he says – and it would be nice to have some data to back up his claim. However, it would be a logical fallacy to conclude that because he lied on this, he lies about everything (again some data that disproves or supports his claim would be nice). I also very much doubt the chief says whatever the mayor tells him to.

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  10. Greg J. Smith

    “They also tried to disrupt a repatriation ceremony that was taking place behind headquarters when one of our officers was returning. We had to deploy our public order officers to keep them from charging up the alley to disrupt that repatriation, and they attacked our officers. Unfortunately, the media who was present missed it.” –Chief Bill Blair, Tuesday June 29Blair also lied with this statement that activists disrupted the repatriation that took place last Friday. My girlfriend and I were AT the repatriation from start to finish (and about 20 min beforehand) and it went off seamlessly. She shot this video and took these pictures.

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  11. Pingback: Police at G20, and After | Brian Frank

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  14. B Parris

    Bravo, well put. I agree that public trust and confidence has suffered and this will have long term consequences for the City. Note that Harper gets off scot-free in this debate. He must be laughing all the way to the bank with this fall-out. He doesn't seem to have any of this stick to him. I wonder …..Brenda Parris

    Reply
  15. B Parris

    Bravo, well put. I agree that public trust and confidence has suffered and this will have long term consequences for the City. Note that Harper gets off scot-free in this debate. He must be laughing all the way to the bank with this fall-out. He doesn't seem to have any of this stick to him. I wonder …..Brenda Parris

    Reply

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