Dr. Dawg

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A violent, out-of-control Montreal police officer has finally been suspended, this time after leading an attack on a man with a bottle of beer in his hand, and choking another man in a stairwell. She then proceeded to illegally confiscate cellphones from people on the scene, managing to trigger one that recorded a hateful rant against “red squares” and “sh* t-eating artists.” It all ended with twenty police vehicles called for backup—your tax dollars at work, chers montréalais—and four arrests.

(You heard it here first, folks: those bogus charges will not stick.)

Already due before the Police Ethics Commission for a spectacular act of brutality against protesting students earlier this year—also caught on video, see above—Const. Stéphanie Trudeau’s vulgar commentary after some obviously false arrests and unprovoked brutality may have finally put an end to her chequered career.

Good grief, it’s about time.

Even SubNews notes that Trudeau is “a police officer with a history of violent altercations” and a “a history of disciplinary problems dating back more than 15 years.” In 2001, Trudeau was suspended for six days after abusing her authority against hospital employees—in 1996. The case wasn’t finally decided until 2003. A subsequent complaint against her was terminated after the complainant left the country.

It’s not every day that a police chief suspends an officer for bad behaviour and then makes what at least sounds like a contrite public apology. But with cellphone video and other forms of citizen counter-surveillance increasingly available, the traditional white-washing of fellow officers that is still the norm in Canada is becoming more problematic. And in this case, the records certainly speak for themselves.

But this benchmark example of a rogue cop run amok raises once again the uncomfortable question of what recourse citizens have against the “serve and protect” folks. In the past, the answer has been little to none, the Robert Dziekański killing by four RCMP officers being a powerful illustration.

Even in the rare instances in which individual police officers have been convicted, the punishments meted out have been frankly derisory. Beat up a man without provocation, then try to frame him and get him deported? Thirty days. Taser a non-resisting person in handcuffs already lying on the ground? A reprimand.

In Ontario, oversight agencies are either unwilling to take their jobs seriously or are so under-resourced as to be practically ineffective. I am less familiar with the Police Ethics Committee in Quebec, but I’ve been following the Montreal police (SPVM) for some time, and it appears to be relatively unchecked in its treatment of citizens.

There have been questionable shooting deaths of members of visible minorities that even former police officers have been unable to stomach. Wearing a niqab in public can get you hassled, assaulted and arrested by Montreal’s finest. (The woman in question got some limited redress after a lengthy, time-consuming process, but there is no indication that the two officers who attacked her were disciplined.) You can even be arrested in Montreal for sitting quietly in a public park.

Then there were several incidents of police overreach during the recent student protests, including (incredibly) the arrest of a woman on a subway for reading 1984.

So, again, what can ordinary citizens do against a system so weighted against them?

One promising avenue of approach, in this era of counter-surveillance and Internet search tools, is public exposure.

In general, people’s privacy should be protected unless and until they have been convicted of a crime or serious civil infraction, in which case society has a right to know. Indeed, I have long been critical of the media practice of naming ordinary individuals who have merely been charged with an offence but not found guilty. Somehow subsequent acquittals never seem to attract the same publicity.

But (for example) a politician caught on camera exhibiting bad behaviour has no equivalent right to anonymity. It has long been held that the public interest outweighs any claim to privacy by public officials. There are, at the very least, questions of accountability involved. A person does not enter public life without knowing that a spotlight has been switched on. That individual’s name (and, by extension, his or her address and telephone number), usually a matter of public record anyway, become in effect the property of the audience.

By the same token, police, who are actors exercising the state monopoly on violence and who wield enormous power over citizens, innocent and guilty alike, should be treated like public figures. They should live in a fishbowl. Their right to privacy should be considerably more restricted than that of ordinary citizens.

Hence I have had no compunction at all in posting contact details and other information about rogue cops. I would do it in this case if I had the information. When a legislator acts abominably, we all know how to reach that person to express our disgust, through entirely legal means such as letters, emails, faxes and even peaceful picketing of their offices or homes. Police officers, including Stéphanie Trudeau, should be subject to exactly the same informal accountability mechanisms.

A further point is that immediate neighbours have a right to know just who is living among them. Police themselves circulate the coordinates of dangerous ex-convicts who have settled into communities—an exceptional practice, to be sure, based upon public safety considerations. But why should uncontrolled, violent police officers like Trudeau—a “danger to the public” according to the police chief himself—be allowed to maintain anonymity in their neighbourhoods?

Supposed protectors of the public who are caught on camera abusing innocent people, and on the people’s dime, too, need to be publicly shamed. It’s pretty well the only recourse we have. And that exposure should clearly and demonstrably include the appalling Const. Trudeau.

UPDATE: A new complaint surfaces, of gratuitous violence and racial slurs. Two similar complaints in Const. Trudeau’s past were dismissed by the Police Ethics Committee.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on October 12, 2012 12:23 PM.

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