Tag Archives: RCMP

Whose democracy 
is it, anyway?

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If those who doubted that the national police force is now working for the political office of the reigning government, let those fine, pristine sensibilities fade into the harsh reality of a hard, partisan winter.

The Harper government has retailed two – and only two – presiding ideological platforms over its well-worn terms in office.

The first is that it, and only it, is the peerless steward of economic growth in this country; the second is that it, and only it, is the last defence against the hordes of human demons and other assorted bad guys determined to upend our constitutional democracy.

The first conceit is patently false, as the national government hasn’t raised a well-appointed finger to encourage anything close to durable economic development in eight years.

In fact, it has gone out if its way to play favourites with the western oil patch at the expense of less flashy, though more sustainable industries.

The result has been predictable: an unemployment rate that, while down nationally to 6.6 per cent, remains as high as 20 per cent in rural areas and even urban enclaves not blessed with dirty bitumen. Now that global oil prices are on the run, it is only natural to expect Canada’s presumptive protectors of the public peace to tar everyone who doubts their sincerity with the same black brush they use to colour their annual balance sheets.

This rather obviously brings me to my second concern, which is: What, on earth, does the RCMP think it’s doing by shilling for the federal Conservatives on environmental stewardship?

Shawn McCarthy’s recent piece in the Globe and Mail aptly serves the point. “The RCMP has labelled the ‘anti-petroleum’ movement as a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security, raising fears among environmentalists that they face increased surveillance, and possibly worse, under the Harper government’s new terrorism legislation,” he writes.

“In highly charged language that reflects the government’s hostility toward environmental activists, an RCMP intelligence assessment warns that foreign-funded groups are bent on blocking oil sands expansion and pipeline construction, and that the extremists in the movement are willing to resort to violence.”

The report cites the 2013 cop-car burnings in Rexton, New Brunswick, as evidence of increasing radicalism everywhere without bothering to differentiate between the actions of a very few and the broad, peaceful concerns of the very many.

Reports McCarthy, quoting directly from the report: “‘There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels,’ concludes the report which is stamped ‘protected/Canadian eyes only’ and is dated Jan. 24, 2014. The report was obtained by Greenpeace . . . If violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment.’”

Fine; but how do you conflate peaceable, law-abiding citizens’ legitimate concerns with violent extremism without driving a nail through the democratic principles that lets you issue such verbal nonsense in the first place?

This “waiting-for-terrorists-to-strike-from-the-shadows” mentality has overtaken our public spaces, our private conversations, our personal expectations and perhaps even our conception of ourselves as members of an inclusive plurality.

Do we jump, do we fight, do we run away?

Surely, we don’t listen to anything but the blow horn from Parliament Hill anymore.

Neither, it seems, do the national cops, now more willing than ever to give their political masters the partisan wherewithal to scare enough voters into hating tree-huggers in the name of catching a few ill-minded radicals.

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The curious case of Mike Duffy and the 31 counts

 

The gorilla in the Senate is biding his time

The gorilla in the Senate is biding his time

And then there was one.

Like pins on a bowling alley, they’re toppling: Retired Liberal Senator Mac Harb, Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, and now that most tele-charismatic of them all, Tory Senator Mike Duffy who, last week, learned that the RCMP had charged him with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Only Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin (suspended like her colleagues, Messrs. Brazeau and Duffy) remains under police investigation for alleged fiduciary misdeeds.

But it is on Mr. Duffy that all eyes are focussed. That’s because it is thanks to Mr. Duffy that a government could fall and the edifice of the Conservative Party of Canada could crumble. 

If either of those scenarios play out over the next several months, it would make history; marking the first time a journalist (former or active) in this country played a role anything more substantial than gadfly to established power. And you can just bet he’s itching to scratch that substantial epidermis.

“The court process will allow Canadians to hear all of the facts,” he told reporters outside his home in Kensington, P.E.I., on the weekend. “They will then understand that I have not violated the Criminal Code.”

Looking almost relaxed for a man who has had two heart surgeries since his fat hit the flames several moons ago – when news erupted that he may have run afoul of Senate residency rules, expense protocols and the acceptable limit and circumstances for receiving. . .um. . .“donations” from “friends” to settle his debts to the Upper Chamber – Mr. Duffy promised to say nothing more to the media whilst his case is before the judicial system. 

Still, he intimated, his day in court promises to be a day of reckoning for everyone who ever thought of crossing him. His message to The Centre: “I’m coming for you.”

It’s not an idle threat. 

Legal experts wonder whether federal prosecutors can prove that the $90,000 “gift” to Mr. Duffy, from former Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Nigel Wright to settle his account for improper senatorial spending, does, in fact, amount to receiving a bribe. After all, how can the recipient be charged if the ‘gifter’ gets off Scot free? To date, the RCMP has refused to charge Mr. Wright with any wrongdoing.

In a Canadian Press story, Queen’s University law professor Don Stuart put it this way:

“It seems unclear what the courts have made of the word corruption (in the relevant statute). Normally speaking you don’t have to prove a motive, but in (the Duffy) case you might have to, because of the use of the word corruption. . .They (the prosecution) will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his (Mr. Duffy’s) intention was a corrupt intention.”

But, then, that would amount to blackmail. And, by all accounts so far, that word does not appear in any of the indictments against the suspended senator. 

At this point, a multitude of questions become salient. 

If Mr. Wright, with all the best intentions (though possibly career-ending poor judgement), merely wanted to settle the matter of Mr. Duffy’s expenses privately without further burdening taxpayers, is it possible that certain government operatives, unbeknownst to Mr. Wright, appended a coercive codicil to the deal that required Mr. Duffy to extend, in return for the booty, certain favours to his political masters or, alternatively, instruct him to keep his mouth shut about certain, past wrongdoings of which all were intimately familiar?

Again, would that amount to bribery or blackmail?

Naturally, it’s all speculation. Still. . .

“If the matter goes to full trial and potentially involves the sitting prime minister of the country in connection with matters of the Senate, we will see a mix of politics and law that will be one of the outstanding trials in our history,” Rob Walsh, former law clerk to Parliament, told the Toronto Star’s Tim Harper. “If it comes to that.” 

Anyway you cut it, that’s bad news for the current government. It hardly matters when Mr. Duffy’s trial embarks. The scandal has already tainted the Tory regime and the Senate, where further investigations of other standing members are, we are told, underway.

And then there were none.

 

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A city begins to breathe again

 

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It took some time for the awful realization to dawn on the outside world, but when it did, the tweets, text messages and emails poured in from all over the country and beyond. Good friends and relatives and even a few people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years all wanted to know: How was I holding up?

A darn sight better, I would say, than residents of a triangle of Moncton’s northwest end, apocalyptically dubbed “the red zone”. That’s where Codiac RCMP had a heavily armed Justin Bourque – the alleged killer of three of their fellow officers last week – holed up for 30 hours. Their message for that neighbourhood: Lock your doors, head for the basement, stay away from the windows and, of course, try not to worry.

It was good advice for anyone, a somber yet determined Mayor George LeBlanc, declared. The important thing now was to do what we were told and let the police do the job for which they were trained. But, really, I wondered, can anyone ever be fully trained to handle the scope of tragedy that transpired in the evening hours of June 4?

I covered the cops as a general assignment reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail in the 1980s. In those days, shootings (often fatal) were an almost daily occurrence, but they were usually drug or gang related. Even so, those peace officers knew that when they put on their uniforms in the morning, they were also, to some extent, painting bulls eyes on their backs.

In interviews (or just over a few beers after work) they would tell me that the worst type of call they had to make in the course of their duties was in response to report about a lone gunman. Fortunately, it didn’t happen often. Still, they would say, drug lords are predictable. Their violence was calculated; just business. A crazy with a semi-automatic is a whole different animal.

Under those circumstances, then, when cops tell you to stay put and keep your head down, it makes sense to heed them. And, fortunately, thousands in Moncton did just that last week. But, for some of us who were not near or in the quarantined area, the temptation to answer the question the world was posing was irresistible.

How, indeed, were we holding up?

The city was in lockdown. No schools or government offices were open. Most stores and private businesses were shuttered for the duration. My neighbourhood, which is usually full of old people walking their dogs and young mums pushing their strollers en route to some happy rendezvous, was bizarrely quiet. And, yet, here and there, as we strolled down the leafy streets of the old west end, my wife and I detected small signs of life as usual.

“Oh, look, there’s so-and-so weeding her garden,” one of us would comment.

“Yes, and look, it seems that her neighbour so-and-so is getting ready to mow,” the other would remark.

We felt a little like anthropologists observing the habits and customs of a newly discovered tribe of humans, oblivious to the cargoes of violence just beyond their apprehension. 

On the other hand, we knew that we, too, belonged to that community of vigilant putterers who seemed determined to, as the British foreign ministry commanded at the outbreak of World War II, “keep calm and carry on.”

As we stopped to chat, our conversations seemed almost defiantly cheerful. 

Yes, the current predicament was horrible. Yes, our hearts went out to the poor families of the fallen officers. 

But, also, yes this was an exceedingly rare event in a city that boasts a stellar record of orderliness and bonhomie. Yes, the RCMP will prevail. And, yes, we will pull together and get through this, just as we have other travails in our municipal history.

In fact, the good news for the general state of our shared civilization is that most communities in this country do surmount their tragedies.

That, of course, is the subtext of the question: How were we holding up? 

Last week, we were managing. Now, with faith and an unbridled sense of community, it starts to get better.

 

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Douse the fire that rages beneath

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Nothing ignites media coverage and inflames public opinion quite like images of burning cop cars. The realization that authority’s symbols can go up in smoke, just like anything else, with the strike of a match is horrifying to many; strangely satisfying to some.

But though news and opinion will inevitably focus on who started the conflagration (both literal and figurative) on a rural stretch of New Brunswick highway last week – a bonfire that claimed five police cruisers and resulted in the arrest of 40 native people protesting shale gas development in the province – the rooted issues are harder to untangle in an era when disenfranchisement is the normative language of public engagement.

Adam Huras’s excellent first-hand account, in the Telegraph-Journal, of the Thursday-morning raid of the protesters’ encampment near Rexton suggests that the RCMP may have overdosed on bowls of Wheaties the night before.

“On Thursday morning, at either end of the protest encampment were only a handful of RCMP officers learning up against a few cars,” he wrote for Friday’s edition.

“‘It was a slow night, you didn’t miss much,’ said one officer. ‘It’s quiet,’ added another.

And then it wasn’t. In an instant, two police cars flashing red and blue lights, closed off the road. ‘Move!’ yelled an officer. ‘And don’t you text anyone, not one person. Don’t touch your phone.’ I was being walked back to my car when the order was given to move in.”

At which point, he reported, the stuff really hit the fan: “Roughly two dozen unmarked cars, a large police van and a bus converged on the area at 7:15 a.m. – the vehicles flying down both the on and off ramps of Route 11. Jumping from them were police in full camouflage brandishing guns. About 20 Mounties entered the protest area and 20 more stood at the barricade. Wave after wave of reinforcements arrived.”

Then came the fires, set by angry protestors.

It’s tempting to think that the violence on both sides is exclusively about natural gas. The Elsipogtog First Nation, like many other groups in New Brunswick, is genuinely  concerned about the effects of hydraulic fracturing on supplies of drinking water. In this, they’ve chosen to believe fellow opponents from other parts of North America who have longer experience with the industry.

But gas merely fuels the fire that lies beneath.

An inchoate rage burns across the land. For Canada’s First Nations, it finds expression in the Idle No More movement. For others in towns and cities just about everywhere in the western world, it generates an irresistible desire to “occupy” something – a public park, a government quadrangle, the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in downtown London.

The suspicion that governments no longer represent the interests of average people, but only those of powerful lobbies and corporate interests has evolved into a conviction. The evidence, many believe, is everywhere.

What, they point out, was the financial meltdown of 2008 and subsequent Great Recession except an implosion of greed and avarice perpetrated by the few at the expense of the many?

What, they ask, is behind widening gaps in income and economic opportunity except the wholesale abrogation of democratic principles of equal and fair representation before the juggernaut of privilege?

Why can’t legislators in Washington keep their nation open long enough to do the people’s business? Why can’t lawmakers in Ottawa respect their own environmental regulations?

Shale gas protest, though specific in its own  right, in New Brunswick is also a species of this unease with, and mistrust of, public institutions.

The only way to address it is to talk candidly and openly with one another.

No long ago, Premier David Alward and First Nations leaders in the province made a good start. In fact, according to The Canadian Press on October 6, they arranged to “continue talks Monday in an effort to resolve a growing dispute over shale gas exploration. Alward and three of his cabinet ministers met Sunday with Elsipogtog council members and other opponents of the shale gas industry at a hotel in Moncton, N.B., in an effort to end a protest that has closed a highway in eastern New Brunswick for a week.”

If last Thursday’s events are any indication, the need for dialogue has never been more urgent.

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