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.
Canadian? Hope you’ll also consider opting out of receiving the yellow pages. Facebook group and instructions on how to save some trees here.