28 June 2010

What is Democracy Without the Rule of Law?

It is a very simple principle, one that dates back to the earliest document that began the entire experiment in rule by the people in the 13th century, the Magna Carta. The basic premise upon which our country is based is that no one is above the law of the land. We all, each and every one of us, those with power and privilege and those without, are all subject to the same supreme law of the land: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is most especially true of those who are empowered with the ability to detain and arrest, and to carry and use weapons that can inflict considerable injury and death. Those who are charged to protect life and property must not be allowed to abuse the trust that we have vested in them to behave with exemplary adherence to the law of the land.

This weekend, seemingly charged with the heady power of secretly passed new regulations of arrest, and the apparent freedom inherent in a lack of scrutiny and oversight, some individual police officers and commanders overstepped their powers. Some perpetrated untoward and unprovoked violence against journalists and private citizens seeking to exercise their Charter rights to voice their opposition to political policy enacted by their, and other, governments. These violations that may be tantamount to illegal action must be investigated by an independent tribunal, and those who may be guilty of such violations must be held accountable under the law.

It must be said, and I will happily acknowledge, those officers who exhibited considerable restraint when being deliberately taunted by some protesters who sought only to provoke a confrontation. There is no condoning such provocation, even in the name of free speech. If one's objective is to be heard on issues like poverty, homelessness, water rights, aboriginal rights, oppression of women, or a hundred other important causes, it makes absolutely no sense to distract from those important messages. Equally, kudos for the officers who arrested would-be members of the so-called Black Bloc early Sunday morning to prevent additional violence and mayhem akin to the shameful display of Saturday (and where were the jackbooted hoards with their shields and riot batons during the car burnings and window smashing?).

However, Bill Blair's insistence that his troops were enabling free expression and lawful dissent seems considerably disingenuous in the face of Saturday night's abuse of demonstrators and journalists in front of the Novotel Hotel, Sunday's mass arrests of innocent bystanders, and the unlawful detention of hundreds for four hours in the pouring rain. This last hurrah seems like a collective "Fuck You, Civilians" - a parting shot by the Integrated Security Unit's less-than-finest. A truly sad display of collective arrogance among those who are licensed to perpetrate violence at their leisure.

And so, a Call for Accountability. Click on the link, join the group, and invite your friends. It is important that there is a precedent set; that no person, even empowered by secret laws and regulations, can violate the law. If individual police officers know that they can be held to account for their collective action as a mob of thugs, they may think twice about such actions the next time. And, with a taste of the power of a police state, you can be sure there will be a next time.

Unless, of course, we all act to hold them answerable according to the Law.

Update (28 June 2010): Steve Paikin, host of TVO's The Agenda, is one of the most credible, honest, and upfront journalists I have had the pleasure to work with. Here he is with his first-hand, eyewitness account of police excess and unprovoked violence on Saturday night.

And, for those who do not believe that Toronto Police could possibly be behind the torching of the cars and the smashing of windows as agents provocateurs, here is video proof of a someone dressed in Black Bloc garb, being protected behind police lines, with threatening actions towards citizen videographers by plainclothes, undercover agents.

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