Thursday, January 21, 2010

Calgary's Secret Service

No, I'm not suggesting that Mayor Bronconnier has managed to put together a detail of sunglasses-clad elite bodyguards whose black suits and earpieces serve as warning to all comers of the veracity with which they will protect their mark (although...that would hardly surprise me...).

What I am talking about is the Calgary Police Service, and it's refusal to identify the members of an alarmingly prolific and growing group of "peace officers" in its employ that are facing criminal allegations of serious assaults on citizens who have apparently foolishly believed they would be safe when being pulled over to the side of the road for a traffic stop.

Now, I am a criminal lawyer, so do not think for a minute that I do not believe these officers to be innocent until proven guilty. And I am not blind to the fact that police officers are sworn to engage in situations of potential violence that other citizens have the luxury to turn and run from.

The question begging, of course, is where an independent Crown prosecutor has determined that there is a reasonable likelihood of convicting a police officer for an assault during the execution of his or her duty (fully accounting for the specific legal protections that exist to insulate police officers from criminal charges when they use force on the job) should they be afforded anonymity by the very same police force that figuratively wets its pants while running to issue press releases and conduct television news conferences to expose the details of entire investigations against accused people that they dislike?

Review the press release of the most recent charge against one of their own:

The entire release is a few lines long and describes the unnamed officer having an "interaction" with a female passenger of a taxi which was investigated and a determination made that a charge of assault was warranted.

Now look at the press release from two days earlier involving a set of drug charges laid against two regular citizens:

This release is Pulitzer-Prize worthy and in addition to naming the individuals charged it lists

1. The location of the accused people's homes (within one city block)
2. The amount of drugs found (to the tenth of a gram)
3. The suggested street value of the drugs
4. Other items found (including weapons as astonishing as a six-inch folding knife)
5. The birthplaces of the accused people
6. The unrelated warrants connected to the accused people
7. Bare assertions that the accused people are "known to police"
8. Generalized statements regarding the immigration status of the accused people
9. Confirmation that the accused people are in custody and awaiting bail hearings.

Putting aside that no Crown prosecutor has pre-screened this latter case to determine that there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction, the anonymous police officer and the anything but anonymous non-cops enjoy the same presumption of innocence. If justice is to be blindly equal I simply cannot reconcile the complete absence of respect for privacy shown to the regular citizen with the undeserved complete privacy afforded to the police officer.

I would love to hear Chief Hanson try to explain firstly why his officers seem to have an incomprehensible inability to conduct traffic stops without escalating that interaction into one of violence and secondly why they get to keep it private when charges are laid.

Since I'm making a wish list here, I would also love to hear Hanson's explanation of how there always ends up being a Herald reporter with a camera outside the back door of the Arrest Processing Unit when a person turns themself in on a serious criminal charge or why S/Sgt. Gord Eriksson seems to be so adept at hitting the airwaves to identify people as serious gangsters and describe the case against them to the press before they can get to see a Justice of the Peace and ask for a publication ban which they are legally entitled to.

I'm not asking for people to unfairly crucify a police officer that ends up on the wrong side of the criminal courtroom...but is it too much to ask that they be treated equally with the rest of us mere mortals?

Public confidence demands a disbanding of Calgary's Secret Service.

Michael Bates
Calgary Criminal Defence Lawyer