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Corruption, racism, brutality stain Canada's police badges from coast to coast!

Sunday, January 25, 2004

People in Canada are steadily loosing their faith in our so-called "officers of the peace". More and more shocking evidence of police stealing cash and drugs, doling out rough justice and protecting each other behind the storied Blue Wall of Silence, continues to flood in from one coast to the other.

Cops in Toronto, for example, weren't too keen to speak publicly about the allegations of corruption, brutality and conspiracy swirling lately around Canada's largest urban police force.

But those who know them insist officers are "forging on" unrepentant, despite shocking Serpico-style sagas, to say nothing of recent controversies plaguing police forces from Vancouver to St. John's. 

"I don't think people out on the street are saying, 'Well, because cops have been charged, we're falling apart,' " said Gary Clewley, who represents the Toronto Police Association; one of the strongest and most loyal defenders of "police misconduct". 

"They're made of stronger stuff than that." Gary Clewley stated, almost boastingly.

Six members of the city's now-disbanded "drug squad" were charged after a immense corruption probe and growing accusations of forged notes and police records, false testimony and missing evidence.

Court documents released last week showcased a massive catalog of stunning allegations: beatings, perjury, bribery,  as well as stolen drugs, guns, cash and jewellery - not to mention allegations that officers closed ranks and threatened witnesses with death or injury in order to protect their own.

Then came the release of a recording of a profanity-laced and racist conversation about baiting "Indians" with cases of beer by Ontario provincial police officers at a native standoff at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995. One officer is clearly heard referring to a native man as "a fat f#ck indian".

The infamous clash with police, which ended in the shooting death of native protester Dudley George, is nearly a decade old, yet the tape has only now been released to the public, for obvious reasons.

"It's hard to know whether this is simply a normal level of problems which just seem to have come together in a spike or whether there is in fact something more profound and disturbing about policing in Canada," said Robert Gordon, director of criminology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.

The police are very proficient at hiding their tracks, and these stories are usually just 'tip of the iceberg' situations.

"Is there any more of it than there was in the past, (or has) it just simply never surfaced? I don't know the answer", said Gordon.

Critics have been clamouring for an inquiry into the Toronto force to determine just how deep the rot runs.

The constant pressure to bust the "bad guys", combined with "steady contact with criminal elements and the lack of scrutiny that comes with undercover police work", is the usual excuse the police use. Gordon is himself a former police officer.

"It's normative for those kinds of teams to operate on the margins of legality," Gordon said.

"It's not something that you can accept or praise, but it is a certain reality: these guys are often working with extremely nasty people, who will pull out a number of stops in order to frustrate their activities", is also an often used "justification" you hear all the time.

In Vancouver, six police officers are in the midst of a disciplinary hearing after pleading guilty to taking a trio of men to Stanley Park and assaulting them because they suspected they were selling drugs to adults.

It's the so-called starlight tour tactic, which involves driving drunkards and petty criminals to an isolated area, often on the outskirts of town, doling out a little rough justice and leaving them to fend for themselves. This practice is routine in every police agency in Canada, and the public seems to think they won't be next.

The B.C. Police Complaints Commissioner called last week for a public inquiry into the case of Frank Paul, who froze to death in 1998 after police callously dumped him in an alley in sub-zero temperatures.

In Saskatoon, a similar inquiry still has not concluded into the death of Neil Stonechild, whose frozen body was found in 1990, five days after a friend said he saw the bleeding, handcuffed 17-year-old in the back of a police cruiser.

Stonechild's file was reopened in 2000 when, after being pressured by family and media, an RCMP task force began probing allegations that Saskatoon police had abandoned several aboriginal men on the city's outskirts in freezing weather.

Meanwhile, police officers in central and western Canada aren't the only ones enduring public scrutiny: the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has been accused of incompetence, poor judgment and inexperience at an ongoing inquiry into three separate wrongful murder convictions.

The problem, Gordon said, boils down to a "lack of discipline, supervision and deterrence, combined with sergeants and other senior supervisors who have little interest in correcting the problem", or in the fundamental human rights of individuals.

Infesting the macho meathead culture of police precincts around the world with a new set of values, an "ethic of nobility," might also help drive out the "us-versus-them" attitude, Gordon claimed.

"If you can go around and pick people up and drive them to Stanley Park and do this, that and the other to them, they're not being watched," Gordon said.

"Rather than just shrugging it off, they need to actually engage the issue internally and figure out how they're going to get control of their guys."

This is certainly not going to happen under the current public climate that the police "can do no wrong" or that "government is our parent".

What we need is to understand the best policing is done by neighbours, and we all have a fundamental right to defend ourselves, and not rely on hired thugs to defend us.

 Robert Polton
Additional source: Canadian Press
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