Almost every day, it seems, we are learning more about the behaviour of Ottawa cops once they have someone in their clutches.
Deputy Chief Gilles Larochelle has now revealed the existence of two more videos showing the brutalization of prisoners in the police lock-up. These were clearly of relatively recent vintage—the cases, he says, are still before the courts. And no doubt Crown attorneys are prosecuting the victims with their usual robotic zeal.
One can imagine the back-channel conversations:
“Uh, we’re doing our best to put these people away, just like you want. But we help you, you help us, capisci? Are there any more, you know, videos?”
“Wait one. We’ll go check.”
And after a day or so: “We have a problem.”
Well, better Larochelle puts it out there now instead of the public finding out when a defence attorney calls a press conference or a judge tosses more cases.
If ever a situation cried aloud for a workable system of public accountability, this (not to mention the G20 police riot) has to be it. Ottawa police are literally out of control: the very fact that they’d savage prisoners in plain view of a videocam testifies to the impunity that they clearly—and with good reason up to now—believe they possess. And they have their own management, the Crown Attorney’s office, and, at least until recently, blind public support to thank for that.
The new Ontario complaints system goes part of the way, but it’s remote, overly bureaucratic, and leaves too much in the hands of the police themselves. The public needs a process that is impartial, user-friendly and quick. A complaints tribunal should be able to compel witnesses and testimony, and hand down appropriate penalties for infractions.
As we have recently seen, police continue to have a free-for-all. The Toronto police, for example, were quickly able to identify 90 officers who illegally removed their name-tags before smashing into peaceful crowds during the G20. They could also identify protesters from as far away as New York. But somehow the identities of cops who violently beat and broke the bones of a protester while a camera rolled couldn’t be determined, even by the “independent” Ontario Special Investigations Unit. (In fairness to the SIU, however, police officers are not obliged to talk to them, and they didn’t.)
On those rare occasions when officers are found guilty of something, the “penalties” are ludicrous. In the case of the name-tag removers just noted, a one-day suspension was meted out.
Here is another example of special treatment: a cop sucker-punched a recent immigrant, and then, in the traditional manner, he and his buddies lied and accused the victim of an assault on police. The man was facing jail and deportation until a video surfaced. The officer in question was given a 30-day jail term, after a violent assault and perjury, and got himself some special privileges while in custody.
We need a real, effective, accessible process of public accountability. What we do not need is yet more investigations of cops by other cops or ex-cops—the SIU, the RCMP, the OPP, municipal police, all scratching each other’s backs and figuring out how to do damage control.
Until then, “we have a problem”—and, unlike what Deputy Chief Larochelle clearly meant, by “we” I mean all of us.