September 30, 2002
Ottawa Deputy Chief Larry Hill,
474 Elgin St.,
P.O. Box 9634, Stn. T,
Dear Deputy Chief Hill,
At the request of the Executive of the Civil Liberties Association of the National Capital Region, I am writing to thank you and the rest of the Ottawa Police Force for the excellent way in which you handled the G8 demonstrations. Having attended some of the meetings organized by you and what came to be known as the Witness Group, I am aware that there was a genuine improvement in understanding by the police force. In other words, the meetings were not a waste of time but involved, as Inspector Richard Murphy acknowledged, some genuine communication affecting a change in attitude. I think that change can be described as one of less hostility and more comprehension, with the result that a greater effort was made on your force's part to protect legitimate dissent in addition to your important and necessary function of preventing injury to persons and damage to property.
The meetings also helped to enlighten intending demonstrators -- for example, about the ease with which police can misinterpret the intentions of a demonstrating group, and about such details as costs to owners of trying to remove spray painting.
I believe that the approach of your force was the right one, and that by keeping the methods of dealing with potential violence out of sight (dogs, riot troops), you avoided a menacing appearance that can sometimes provoke demonstrators.
Without wanting to detract from what I intend as a highly complimentary letter, I would like to mention a report of one form of police action that might warrant some policy examination. Briefly summarized, and without naming the individuals involved, it amounts to this. A crowd gathered at the Gilmour Street House including three individuals who made derisory remarks. These individuals were later spotted by police violating a traffic law by crossing on foot when a light signalled that pedestrians were not to cross. Even though (according to their account) no cars were near, police gave each of them a ticket along with derisory comments which included the invitation that one of them go back to Montreal. The tickets were close to $100 each.
The lesson police sought to impart was, in words reported by one of the protestors, "don't mess with Ottawa police." On the other hand, the action involved selective enforcement of the law in a way not determined by a judgement about the functions of the law in question. Police tend, rightly, not to enforce pedestrian offences when the harms that the law is designed to prevent don't come into play. But here discretionary judgement was being used, not to make the particular law function in what is normally considered a proper way, but to give effect to an extraneous consideration that the individuals concerned should be punished for something quite different than the traffic violation. The individuals concerned may well see this as a discretionary judgement motivated by revenge, and this is not good for an overall sense of respect for law and law enforcers. When I expressed to the individuals the view that the police, in using insulting language, were only giving what they got from the individuals concerned, I got the response from one that "Yes, but police should be held to a higher standard." Although he was hardly in a good position to make the point, I still would like to think that he had a point, and that it would be a good thing for police to act in ways that do show them to have exemplary standards. The respect they earn from the public will come from a perception not just of their physical power, but of the excellence of their character.
I can recall other cases, from many years ago, where a lot of resentment was created by the perception that police were selectively enforcing the law against an individual, allegedly because of some grudge. This form of perception lessens public cooperation, ultimately making policing and the working of the laws more difficult, something that all of us have reason to deplore.
Given the fears that all of us had in anticipation of violence, this is a very minor consideration. We may later want to raise other issues, such as use of pepper spray to remove squatters, once the courts have pronounced on matters. Until then, I want to renew my own, and my Association's expression of confidence and appreciation for the careful and conscientious way the Ottawa police responded to the challenges of the G8 demonstrations.
Civil Liberties Association, National Capital Region
cc. Ottwa Police Chief Vince Bevan