Tag Archives: police

Hallowe’en special: there’s nothing scarier than the police

This week I couldn’t seem to go a day without hearing a horror story about police brutality, hubris, abuse of power, intimidation, or sexual violence.

The most pervasive one was, of course, the now-notorious incident in South Carolina, in which a white police officer seizes a seated young black girl from her desk and hurls her across a classroom, because she (apparently) didn’t immediately comply with his order to leave the room. The girl, reportedly grieving the recent death of her mother, was then charged with “disrupting a classroom”; the classmate who filmed the video has, absurdly, also been charged with disrupting a classroom.

This whole violent attack was disgusting, pure and simple. (I say this based purely on the descriptions I’ve read of the assault, because I myself haven’t watched the footage, nor do I intend to. I likewise didn’t watch Eric Garner’s slow suffocation on a New York City sidewalk, or look at the photos of Mike Brown’s body left lying in the hot Ferguson streets for hours after his extrajudicial execution. I read about these things, and that’s disturbing enough for me.)

Speaking out against such abuse can be costly, though, as superstar film director Quentin Tarantino found out this week. At a New York City rally against police brutality organized by a group called Rise Up October, Tarantino said:

“This is not being dealt with in any way at all. That’s why we are out here. If it was being dealt with, then these murdering cops would be in jail or at least be facing charges. When I see murders, I do not stand by. I have to call a murder a murder, and I have to call the murderers the murderers.”

The backlash against Tarantino from police apologists was immediate and intense. The national police union, echoing calls from the NYPD, LAPD, and departments in Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and New Jersey, has called for a boycott of Tarantino and his forthcoming film. Media coverage has largely fallen in line with the police angle, repeatedly falling back on the supposed insensitivity of the timing of the protest, which took place within a week of the on-duty death of an NYPD officer. In an attempt to make the protest appear out-of-bounds radical, the ostensibly left-leaning Guardian quotes the rally’s organizers as saying that police brutality amounts to a “genocidal assault on black and Latino people in this country”.

Lost amidst all this furor is the reality of the situation, which is that police Tarantino’s words are completely accurate: officers in the United States routinely get away with murder, and nothing is being done to deal with this dire crisis. Continue Reading

New government expected to act on Indigenous issues, thanks to tireless activism

CW: rape, violence against women, anti-Indigenous racism, police brutality

For those who still don’t believe that we urgently need a national inquiry into the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women, consider the following:

Earlier this week, it emerged that the British Columbia Minister of Transportation, Todd Stone, and staff working under him, as well as the deputy chief of staff in Premier Christy Clark’s office, had intentionally deleted government emails relating to the so-called “Highway of Tears”, a stretch of Highway 16 notorious for being the site of the disappearance and/or murder of up to 40 women, most of them Aboriginal women, over the past forty years.

The revelation further established the B.C. provincial government as an impediment to resolving the longstanding issue of #MMIW. In the province of Robert Picton and the Highway of Tears, one would think that the government would be more responsive to these concerns, but instead we see bureaucrats and politicians primarily concerned with covering their own asses – and perhaps the asses of law enforcement in the province as well. Just two years back, Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing the RCMP of systemically abusing and raping Aboriginal women in British Columbia, an allegation made on the basis of widespread specific accusations from Indigenous women and girls. The RCMP at the time did not comment on the allegations, and are the law enforcement agency currently tasked with reviewing the B.C. government’s handling of records relating to the Highway of Tears.

Though the timing was coincidental, the parallels with the B.C. situation are clear in a story coming out of Quebec today: eight officers with the Sûreté du Québec were suspended after allegations of sexual assault and abuse against Indigenous women.

In the Quebec case, the probe into the police was led by the provincial Ministry of Public Safety, but conducted by the SQ on its own members – a detail which hasn’t escaped the government’s critics.

These two examples are not isolated incidents. They’re part of a systemic pattern of behaviour. In this country, the lives of Indigenous people, and especially Indigenous women and girls, are considered by many, including many authority figures in government and law enforcement, to be worthless.

This has been a problem for a very long time. Indeed, total disregard for the value of the lives of Indigenous people is the foundational injustice of this colonial nation. The contemporary environment of extreme violence towards Indigenous women is but the latest manifestation in a multi-generational campaign of slow cultural and physical genocide against First Nations peoples.  Continue Reading

The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs wants radical new powers

The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs held their annual confab last week, putting out their typically terrifying wishlist of civil-liberties-violating 1984-esque changes to the Criminal Code that they’d love to see made.

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of these policy proposals, though, how’s about a little bit of context?

Police-reported crime severity index, 1998-2014. Courtesy StatsCan.

What we see here, clear as a bell, is that over the past two decades, crime of all types has dropped significantly – in some cases, massively. This is particularly true of non-violent crimes. While violent crimes have certainly decreased, the rate of non-violent crime has been in freefall since around 2002.

Incidentally, experts are pretty divided as to why this trend, which is a pretty global phenomenon, is happening at all. (One interesting hypothesis is that the presence of lead in gasoline led to the spike in crime rates we witnessed from the sixties through the early nineties, while its removal has led to the subsequent die-down in crime, although this theory also has its critics.)

All of this is neither here nor there, though. The point is that the Chiefs were meeting in the context of an ongoing and massive drop in reported crime of all varieties. What was their response to this situation? A recommendation that police departments be downsized and their funding decreased?

Hardly. Continue Reading

Policing for profit: Why the criminal justice system only makes reforms it can profit on

Starting next Tuesday, drivers in Ontario face stiff new penalties for distracted driving:

As part of the new Bill 31, which was introduced by the Liberal government and will come into effect Sept. 1, drivers can be fined $1,000 (up from $280) and receive three demerit points should they be caught by police.

It’s intended to be so restrictive that motorists put down their phones and end what Staff Sgt. Mitchell called a distracted driving “epidemic” on our roads…

Transportation Minister and Vaughan MPP Steven Del Duca congratulated lawmakers on passing the bill unanimously and said it was about time we recognized the risks inherent to distracted driving.

He added he has two daughters, one eight and one four and he hopes they will be safer as a result.

Del Duca further noted the rules are justified considering distracted driving is now as big a problem in this province as impaired driving.

Del Duca is, if anything, understating the case. Statistics from 2013 showed that there were actually more fatalities from distracted driving than from drunk driving in this province. Multiple studies have shown that the average driver’s reaction time when using a cell phone is significantly slower than if they are drunk or high. (Also, for those who like their evidence anecdotal, Mythbusters “confirmed” it by getting drunk and driving around.)

So clearly, the government has an interest in deterring people from distracted driving. That interest is well backed up by thoroughly documented evidence from multiple reliable sources, including the government’s own statistics. This is a clear example of evidence-based policy-making.

It’s also a policy that will make cops across the province a lot of money. Continue Reading

The RCMP has a history of helping the Conservatives win elections

Last week, as Nigel Wright took the stand in the interminable trial of disgraced former Senator Mike Duffy, there was one glaring contradiction in the process which was impossible to ignore. Duffy stands accused of multiple charges, one of which is accepting a bribe; this charge stems from a $90 000 cheque he received from Wright, then the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, which went towards repaying dubious expense claims. The cheque was given with a lot of conditions – Duffy had to follow the strict messaging program that the Prime Minister’s Office had laid out, had to abandon his insistent claims of innocence in the ongoing expense scandal, had to in fact stop advocating his case and leave things in the capable hands of the Conservative Party of Canada.

It takes two to tango, and one can’t accept a bribe which isn’t offered, which is why it’s so strikingly odd that while Duffy’s on trial in large part for accepting the $90 000 cheque from Wright, the private equity banker and titan of finance stands accused of no crimes at all.

It’s not just bribery charges that Wright dodged. It’s well-documented that the PMO and a handful of influential Conservative senators were actively seeking to manipulate the findings of an independent audit of Senate expenses by Deloitte, and yet none of them – not one – was charged with any wrongdoing. We know that the RCMP was well aware of these efforts because transcripts of their interviews with multiple senior staffers in the PMO during a criminal probe into the whole affair are now a matter of public record, entered into evidence at the Duffy trial.

Wright also stands accused in some quarters of taking a fall for the PMO team. His highly equivocal testimony seemed to shield not only Stephen Harper, but also the PM’s current Chief of Staff, Ray Novak, who was cc’d on an email which revealed Wright was behind the payment and who was in on a conference call wherein the payment was discussed. Novak, Wright insisted, was in and out of the room during the call, and Wright himself never saw fit to discuss the payment details with the PM, though it seems they discussed literally every other aspect of the case. (As for the email, the CPC says that Novak simply never read it.)

That testimony was flatly contradicted this week by former PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin, who insists that he was in the room with Novak when Wright revealed his role in the payment. Perrin, stunned at the impropriety of this, turned to Novak for a reaction, and saw only a blank face.

The testimony of these two high-ranking insiders has reopened long-standing questions about the decision to not charge any of the Prime Minister’s staff. This past week, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called on the RCMP to reopen the investigation into the PM’s senior staffers, particularly Nigel Wright.

The National Observer has a fantastic interview up with Lori Shenher, an experienced investigator who has taken on multiple large-scale cases of financial fraud and led the investigation of the Robert Pickton case, who questions why in the hell the RCMP never charged any of these folks in the first place (SG is Sandy Garossino, the article’s author and a former Crown prosecutor): Continue Reading

CityNews stoops to victim-blaming in coverage of Toronto #BlackLivesMatter protest

Yesterday afternoon and evening, a few hundred protesters organized under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter stopped traffic on an on-ramp to the Allen Expressway at Eglinton Avenue.

The protest started just metres away from the spot where Andrew Loku, a local man originally from South Sudan, was gunned down by Toronto police just a few weeks ago, shot within a minute of police arriving on the scene at his home. Ever since Loku’s death, activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have been ramping up the pressure on both the police and the city government.

On Thursday, the activist group Black Lives Matter-Toronto occupied a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board. They demanded the mayor and the police chief apologize for Loku’s shooting. “Every single day, black bodies in this city face violence,” said the group’s co-founder, Rodney Diverlus. “Whether it’s carding, whether it’s surveillance, whether it’s physical violence, and whether it’s death. This is life and death for us.” […]

The female officer was the first up the stairs, a thin double set that goes out and back with a landing in the middle. The male wasn’t far behind. “I went in and stood at the door because I heard a commotion,” said [Leslie] Colvin[, a building resident]. “And I heard ‘Drop the hammer! Drop the hammer! Drop the hammer!’ three times. And then ‘Bap! Bap! Bap!’ — two or three shots.”

[Susan] Schofield[, another resident,] was also standing in the stairwell. “I heard them yell at Andrew to drop the hammer,” she said. “Andrew didn’t have a chance to do anything. It was that quick.”

Loku was allegedly threatening his upstairs neighbours with a hammer. In the aftermath of his death, there’s been a lot of speculation about his mental health and emotional stability, none of which is in any way relevant.

A case in point is CityNews’s coverage of last night’s road blockade: Continue Reading

ICYMI – Unist’ot’en Camp appeals for help amid increased harassment from RCMP and Chevron

Even for folks who follow these issues closely, it’s hard to keep track of all the nightmarishly ill-conceived energy mega-projects that cartoonishly diabolical corporations are proposing or constructing in Canada right now. And to be fair, when you’ve read one apocalyptically gloomy worst-case if-it-breaks-we’re-all-fucked scenario, you’ve read them all.

But the devil is (usually) in the details, and that’s quite true in this case. Oil and natural gas companies are multi-billion-dollar enterprises, and they’re not exactly well known for their compassion or naivety. It should be no surprise that they have detailed and nuanced plans to get their politically toxic pipeline projects built, whatever the costs may be.

It also shouldn’t have been surprising to me that the pipeline that’s closest to being built is one that I personally hadn’t heard of up until a few days ago, but I was surprised nonetheless.

I mean, most activisty types have heard of Line 9, or Northern Gateway, and Keystone XL made quite a name for itself as well. But if you’ve heard of the Pacific Trail Pipeline, well, congratulations, I guess. You either live in Kitimat or you’re contending for your town’s Activist of the Year award. For the less-well-informed, here’s a backgrounder from Vice: Continue Reading

Sandra Bland’s death painfully demonstrates why we can’t address police brutality with more cameras

[Content warning: police brutality, suicide/murder, racism]

The tragic and unnecessary death of Sandra Bland in police custody in Waller County, Texas, last week has sparked a firestorm of debate in the United States and internationally. Every aspect of this case is horrific, from the belligerence and brutality of the cop who stopped and arrested Bland for an apparent “failure to signal” right up to the suspicious circumstances in which Bland was found dead in her jail cell, hanging from the ceiling with a garbage bag tied around her throat.

Defenders of the police (yes, they’re still going) argue that the arresting officer acted well within his rights, and contend that Bland’s death is what it seemed to be – a suicide. (They also, disgustingly and in typical fashion, attempt to smear Bland’s character and imply that she in some way had this coming.)

To activists from the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and to lots of everyday folks, however, that story smells pretty strongly of bullshit. And indeed, legal experts

One striking aspect of this “debate”, which is frustrating for anybody who’s been opposed to the increased presence of cameras in the public sphere, is how strongly people on all sides lean on the evidence of video surveillance. Continue Reading

ICYMI – CSIS agents infiltrated Vancouver mosques, and way overplayed their parts

My very first post here at The Alfalfafield, way back in April(!), detailed the ongoing trial of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, two accused terrorists in British Columbia. I’ve been following the story closely ever since, and with the sudden insertion of CSIS into the drama in the last week, it seems about time for an update.

In case you’re too lazy to click through and read my summary of the events leading up to the trial (henceforth acronymized as ICYTLTCTARMSOTELUTTT), here’s a quick run-down: Nuttall and Korody, two impoverished recovering heroin addicts, were the subject of a 240-Mountie “investigation” which culminated in an “attempt” to bomb the B.C. legislative buildings in Victoria on Canada Day 2013. I use scare quotes for “attempt” because the plot never had any chance of succeeding, as the pressure-cooker “bombs” the couple planted had previously been rendered inoperative by the Mounties controlling the operation.

The pair were recently found guilty, but their sentencing has been delayed while the trial judge considers the question of whether they were entrapped by the RCMP. To a totally-not-impartial outside observer like myself, this seems like a foregone conclusion: the two recent converts to Islam had the most half-baked of plans, proposing wild schemes like hijacking nuclear submarines or building and launching missiles at the Parliament Buildings, or, failing that, Seattle, which they mistakenly believed was ten times closer to them than it actually was. The actual scheme they eventually carried out was pushed on them by undercover cops who alternately bullied and flattered the pair, cajoling them to consider more practical and easily achievable goals, including specifically urging the use of the explosive C-4 inside pressure cookers at the BC Leg on Canada Day. The RCMP even paid for the couple to have a weekend getaway at a Kelowna hotel, where undercover cops gave them detailed instructions on how to use C-4, instructions it’s hard to see them getting elsewhere. In short, this is a plot that could never have existed absence the active involvement of over two hundred cops. Continue Reading

Bill C-51, Jenni Byrne, and the “reality-based community”

Reading the Globe’s best attempt at a profile of Jenni Byrne today, I was struck by how resolutely on-message the woman is.

Byrne, for those who don’t know – and she’s done her best to make sure that most people don’t – is the Karl Rove to Stephen Harper’s George “Dubya” Bush, the secret strategist behind the throne, the master of messaging and spinning and damage controlling.

In stark contrast to Rove, however, Byrne’s name is unfamiliar to all but the most die-hard politicos. She declined repeated requests for an interview with the Globe (although she did dispatch people loyal to her to provide quotes for the story and to rebut specific criticisms on her behalf). Her Twitter feed is a mix of anodyne hockey-related posts and retweets of government propaganda.

Rove, by contrast, was quite public about his influence, and become a fixture on Fox News. On Election Night in 2012, he very publicly (and somewhat suspiciously, given the history) tried to cast doubt on Fox’s projection that Obama had won Ohio and the presidency. He even went on Colbert.

Karl Ham Rove and Stephen Colbert talking some serious policy

But their methods are strikingly similar. Continue Reading

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