The problem with police accountability is it doesn’t exist


Police in Canada are not accountable to the public.  This isn’t a novel observation, by any means, but it is an urgent one.

The bad apples have spoiled the bunch, and even when rotten cops are discovered, they’re not only kept in the barrel, but the other apples will insist the rotten stay among them.

Take the case of Const. Nermin Mesic of the Ottawa Police Service.  Our good constable is actually not so good.  He’s also a landlord.  At one point he had a tenant behind on rent, so he did the natural thing for an upstanding member of public service and protection, he threatened the man’s life.

The tenant made a recording of the tirade Mesic went on, threatening the man, his wife, and his children while he drove the tenant around after the police officer forced him into his car.

“I don’t care.  I don’t care.  Sell your kid.  I don’t give a shit.  Make your wife do something,” Mesic said, according to the Ottawa Citizen.  “I guarantee you I’m going to spill blood.… People for money, they kill right?” 

Not exactly officer of the year stuff.  But, you might think, we know this because of disciplinary process! Things must have been fixed!

Ah, dear reader, how naïve of you. 

You see, our dear constable has indeed been disciplined, to the grand total of a one-year demotion in rank and a six-month probationary period.  This after four and a half years suspended — with pay — and pleading guilty to uttering threats, for which he was given an absolute discharge.

There is, of course, more.  This is not Mesic’s first foray into thuggery.  In 2009, the Citizen says, he was convicted of discreditable conduct and insubordination for “slapping a youth twice across the face during questioning, kicking him, grabbing his throat and forcing him to the ground.” 

And yet, he remains a cop on the beat.  Thanks, in part, to letters from other cops, members of the community, and prosecutors supporting the poor officer.  “Throughout his career has acted in a professional matter,” Terence Kelly a retired deputy chief who oversaw the hearings.

A cop with a history of brutality acts brutally.  A former cop lets him off the hook and back on the force.  His fellow officers write in support.  So too do prosecutors.  Law and order coming together to protect one of their own, show us all whose side they’re really on.

It doesn’t matter what the police officer has done, or how many times.  He is a member of the brotherhood of police and must be protected.  In doing so, police everywhere discredit themselves.  They are not here to protect and serve you and I, they are out to protect and serve each other. 

We are but sheep to be beaten down by our shepherds.

If this were some kind of outlier case, I might be too far out on a limb.  But, of course, this is not an outlier.  This is the norm through police forces throughout our country.  Bad behaviour is punished as gently as possible, if it’s to be punished at all.

In Saskatchewan, the RCMP was called to help with a wellness check.  An Indigenous man suffering from depression had harmed himself.  The Mountie, naturally, threatened the men inside, punched their window multiple times.  Then came back with an axe to hack open the door, which the men opened rather than let the cop Jack Torrance his way in.  He was reassigned elsewhere, CTV reports.

In Montreal, within walking distance of where I’m writing this, a Black man waiting outside the bank for his girlfriend to take out some money one night had police U-turn to question him.  They said the lights above his licence plate weren’t working.  When the man got out of the car with his video camera to see the lights, which were working, police put him up against the SUV, put him in cuffs and threw him in the back of the squad car, according to CBC.  Then they lied on their police report about the whole encounter.

At the end of August their punishment for racially profiling, lying, using unnecessary force, and unnecessarily detaining someone was announced.  Thirteen days suspension!

In Toronto this week, an officer was pictured with a fun bit of thin blue line apparel, in the form of a patch with a Punisher logo — the superhero vigilante who kills his way to personal justice — with a truncated version of the slogan “I may walk among the sheep, but make no mistake, I am the sheepdog.”  After it was spotted by a Toronto Star reporter, the force said the cop was ordered to take the patch off his uniform.  The force would not say what the officer’s name was, or what further punishment he might — or might not! — face.

These are all officers who are still walking around our streets armed.  They see themselves not as guardians of public trust safety, but as an occupying force there to keep in line a restive population.

They are acting above and beyond the law in letter and in spirt.  This cannot go on.  None of these officers should still be on the force, and yet they walk among us, fully armed.  Something must be done, but nothing is.

Our prime minister kneels at a protest, and then does nothing.  Worse, he keeps a former police chief who over saw mass, illegal arrests in his cabinet. 

If police forces refuse to be reformed, they must be dismantled.  Empty gestures will no longer cut it. 

Photo Credit: CTV News

More from Robert Hiltz.     @robert_hiltz

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