Consequences of fear and unchecked state power

2009-08-12

in Bombs and rockets, Law, Politics, Rants, Security

LeBreton Flats

A recent editorial on America’s sex crime laws is a nice demonstration of how the protection of the individual from the unjust application of power by the state is one of the most important kinds of human security. Pursuing criminal charges against teenagers who have sex with other teenagers – and even those who send explicit images of themselves to one another – is a lunatic way for the state to apply the law. Rather than protecting anyone, such a petty act of over-enforcement can seriously wreck the lives of those the law was intended to protect: especially when they end up on life-long public sex offender registries that do not specify what led to their initial arrest. All this becomes even more dangerous as the state gets more and more power to observe the lives of its citizens, shrinking the extent of formally private spheres (such as correspondence) where it would not previously have been watching.

It certainly bears remembering that the state is a beast that walks with a heavy, and sometimes clumsy, step. That’s something that must be borne in mind especially when the population is especially afraid of a nebulous threat, such as sex criminals or terrorists. Failing to appreciate that the application of state power can cause profound harm, as well as protection, to human security is what produces injustices like torture, Guantanamo Bay, the internment of those of Japanese descent during the Second World War, and so forth. When people are afraid, they care little about the rights of those they fear; equally damagingly, they show little appreciation for how harsh new approaches undermine the very systems they are established with the intention of protecting. Set upon the wrong course, the state is a far more dangerous entity than any terrorist organization.

Finally, there is the well-reasoned furour about the RCMP performing its own criminal investigations on officers. In any large organization, most people will act to preserve the interests of the group – even at the expense of committing injustices against outsiders. They will naturally give the benefit of the doubt to their colleagues, and they will also share loyalty with those risking their lives for the same purposes. To have any credibility, investigations into such organizations must be conducted by outsiders with independence and a strong mandate to investigate and expose wrongdoing.

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

. August 12, 2009 at 9:01 am

Sex laws
Unjust and ineffective

Aug 6th 2009 | HARLEM, GEORGIA
From The Economist print edition
America has pioneered the harsh punishment of sex offenders. Does it work?

ONE day in 1996 the lights went off in a classroom in Georgia so that the students could watch a video. Wendy Whitaker, a 17-year-old pupil at the time, was sitting near the back. The boy next to her suggested that, since it was dark, she could perform oral sex on him without anyone noticing. She obliged. And that single teenage fumble wrecked her life.

Her classmate was three weeks shy of his 16th birthday. That made Ms Whitaker a criminal. She was arrested and charged with sodomy, which in Georgia can refer to oral sex. She met her court-appointed lawyer five minutes before the hearing. He told her to plead guilty. She did not really understand what was going on, so she did as she was told.

She was sentenced to five years on probation. Not being the most organised of people, she failed to meet all the conditions, such as checking in regularly with her probation officer. For a series of technical violations, she was incarcerated for more than a year, in the county jail, the state women’s prison and a boot camp. “I was in there with people who killed people. It’s crazy,” she says.

She finished her probation in 2002. But her ordeal continues. Georgia puts sex offenders on a public registry. Ms Whitaker’s name, photograph and address are easily accessible online, along with the information that she was convicted of “sodomy”. The website does not explain what she actually did. But since it describes itself as a list of people who have “been convicted of a criminal offence against a victim who is a minor or any dangerous sexual offence”, it makes it sound as if she did something terrible to a helpless child. She sees people whispering, and parents pulling their children indoors when she walks by.

oleh August 12, 2009 at 9:18 am

“the state is a beast that walks with a heavy, and sometimes clumsy, step.”

Excellent metaphor. The beast is particularly heavy and clumsy in this age of technological advancement. Computers allow the collection, assembly and retention of masses of data. However the exercise of discretion in removing it as obsolete or tangental is not exercised. What is done with all of those tapes of conversations in the hope of catching terrorists.

BuddyRich August 12, 2009 at 3:51 pm

That editorial reminds me of the furor caused when PWGSC suggested a location on Sommerset near Preston for a new parole office.

People can become very irrational when motivated by fear.

Milan August 12, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Megan Butcher wrote some blog posts about that office.

. August 12, 2009 at 4:00 pm

“Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously.”

Justice Brandeis, Olmstead et al. v. United States, 277 US 485 (1928)

Tristan August 13, 2009 at 1:53 am

“To have any credibility, investigations into such organizations [as the RCMP] must be conducted by outsiders with independence and a strong mandate to investigate and expose wrongdoing.”

This is quite depressing. In my eyes, the RCMP are little better than a state-empowered group of thugs. If I do it its called speeding, assault, murder. It is only a difference in quantity of abuse of power that differentiates the RCMP from explicitly sinister organizations.

Tristan August 13, 2009 at 1:58 am

“When people are afraid, they care little about the rights of those they fear; equally damagingly, they show little appreciation for how harsh new approaches undermine the very systems they are established with the intention of protecting. Set upon the wrong course, the state is a far more dangerous entity than any terrorist organization.”

There is a possible serious problem with this analysis – that the “setting upon the wrong course” is somehow independent, or outside the state, and having been externally set upon the wrong course, it’s almost as if the state can’t avoid becoming dangerous. It’s quite possible you didn’t mean to imply this, or it’s only my paranoid reading that sees it. Anyway, we certainly can’t discount politicians or other people in positions of power as having an interest in creating the fear that pushes the state upon this dangerous course. The role of fear in contemporary culture already relatively well understood in pop cultural criticism i.e. “Bowling for Columbine” etc…

oleh August 13, 2009 at 2:16 am

Tristan you wrote” In my eyes, the RCMP are little better than a state-empowered group of thugs. If I do it its called speeding, assault, murder. It is only a difference in quantity of abuse of power that differentiates the RCMP from explicitly sinister organizations.”

Tristan, is this statement simply an attempt at sensationalism or to create discussion by making an outrageous comment or do you truly believe it?

Milan August 13, 2009 at 8:04 am

There is a possible serious problem with this analysis – that the “setting upon the wrong course” is somehow independent, or outside the state, and having been externally set upon the wrong course, it’s almost as if the state can’t avoid becoming dangerous.

I don’t think it’s inevitable that states will become serious abusers of rights, though any government administering a complex society will make mistakes and overlook things.

One important mechanism for preventing false moves is to recognize that we as individuals and a populace do some of our worst thinking while afraid.

. August 13, 2009 at 8:05 am

Camera phones and police brutality
NOVEMBER 21, 2006
in FILMS AND MOVIES, POLITICS, SECURITY

One very considerable advantage of the greater dissemination of video phones is increased ability to effectively document police brutality and other abuses of power. A recent example example involves UCLA police officers gratuitously using tazers on students in a library. While that situation cannot be entirely understood from the YouTube video, it supports testimony given elsewhere that the use of force was excessive and inappropriate. Hopefully, these tazer-happy UCLA police officers will end up in jail. At least one other incident filmed with a camera phone and uploaded to YouTube is being investigated by the FBI.

R.K. August 13, 2009 at 8:09 am

One reason why police forces cover up their own wrongdoing is to prevent this sort of cynicism from developing about them. Of course, it only makes people more cynical when they cease to believe that the internal processes of investigation are credible.

. August 13, 2009 at 10:20 am

Illinois Bans Social Network Use By Sex Offenders

“Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signed into law a bill that bans all registered sex offenders from using social networks. ‘”Obviously, the Internet has been more and more a mechanism for predators to reach out,” said Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), a sponsor of the measure and a governor candidate. “The idea was, if the predator is supposed to be a registered sex offender, they should keep their Internet distance as well as their physical distance.”‘”

. August 13, 2009 at 11:44 am

The Current for August 13, 2009
Today’s summer guest host was David Michael Lamb.

“Nearly five years ago — just before Christmas, 2004 — Delores Young got some horrifying news. Her 29-year-old son, Kevin St. Arnaud had been shot-to-death by an RCMP officer. This after he was chased across a snow-covered soccer field in Vanderhoof, British Columbia.

Nearly a year later, Linda Bush found out that her 22-year-old son Ian had been shot dead inside the local RCMP detachment in Houston, British Columbia. In both cases, the RCMP investigated itself. In both cases, the RCMP found no fault with the officers involved in the shootings. And in both cases, no charges were laid.

Earlier this week, the chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP recommended that in cases involving death, sexual assault or serious injury, the RCMP should not be permitted to investigate its own officers. The Commission looked at 28 cases involving death or serious injury and found that in a quarter of them, the investigator personally knew the officer being investigated. “

Milan August 13, 2009 at 11:48 am

In relation to that CBC show, note that they played Andrea Simms-Karp’s “Lone Picture” at the end.

Tristan August 13, 2009 at 12:38 pm

As to the RCMP I am expressing a genuine belief. First, no institution that enforces the rule of law yet disciplines its own abuses is structurally legitimate. This would be only a formal problem, however, if there were not so many explicit examples of abuse of power, the most obvious being the murder of a polish citizen at the Vancouver airport. To be extremely technical, it could be classified as manslaughter (since perhaps they did not intend to kill, although they clearly knew their actions could cause death and were unnecessary to do anything but protect private property).

Milan August 13, 2009 at 1:16 pm

The fact that several fatal incidents have taken place isn’t enough to indict the whole RCMP. What independent assessors could investigate most usefully is the institutional culture of the organization: the degree to which blind eyes are turned or cover-ups occur in the event of wrongdoing.

Officers are always going to be presented with mortal threats, and there will always be instances where they respond – whether appropriately or not – with lethal force. What is important is the institutional context in which they are trained, operate, and make decisions. Also, the matter of what happens after such incidents occur, particularly where there is criminal culpability on the part of an officer.

Milan August 13, 2009 at 1:18 pm

That being said, it does seem plausible to me that police forces are generally likely to attract authoritarian personalities and bullies more than other professions (though such people may still be a small minority). They also imbue their members with considerable authority and physical means of causing harm, and they are likely to be reflexively protective of ‘one of their own.’

All this makes abuse of authority an issue that must be taken seriously, with strong and credible protocols and institutions in place.

Tristan August 13, 2009 at 1:50 pm

“The fact that several fatal incidents have taken place isn’t enough to indict the whole RCMP. ”

The fact that an officer commits a crime doesn’t, but the fact such an incident is, wait, what do you call a cover-up when they don’t bother covering anything up? Anyway, the fact that in plain sight the law is not upheld when it applies to officers is enough to indict the whole RCMP. And I did say, if you look, that there is a difference in quantity of abuse of power between the RCMP and the really nasty politically empowered groups of thugs. My point is they do the same kind of thing, not that they are as bad.

Tristan August 13, 2009 at 1:56 pm

“There is a possible serious problem with this analysis – that the “setting upon the wrong course” is somehow independent, or outside the state, and having been externally set upon the wrong course, it’s almost as if the state can’t avoid becoming dangerous.

I don’t think it’s inevitable that states will become serious abusers of rights, though any government administering a complex society will make mistakes and overlook things.”

Maybe I wasn’t clear. My criticism was you seemed to imply that the reasons for the state becoming authoritarian were external to the state, that the state becomes in opposition, and then I said it was almost as if such a response is being considered inevitable. My point is its crazy to exclude the state from possible causes for the incitement of fear. The rise of the 3rd Reich is all about the state inciting fear and hatred and using this public attitude to justify increases in authoritarian power. Germany went from one of the most modern and cosmopolitan democracies on the planet to fascism in less than five years – we are unjustified and ignorant in assuming that we are somehow entirely immune to such a possibility.

Milan August 13, 2009 at 2:56 pm

States obviously can and do use fear to justify and protect themselves, and this can lead to terrible outcomes when taken to the extreme.

What is necessary is to keep risks in perspective, though it takes a brave politician to say that the occasional terrorist attack may be a price worth paying to retain a free and democratic society, with few unreasonable impositions on individual freedom and human security.

Tristan August 13, 2009 at 5:30 pm

This debate is certainly nothing new in Canada: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7_a2wa2dd4

oleh August 14, 2009 at 11:45 am

The death of Robert D. on arrival from Poland at the Vancouver airport was tragic. It clearly occurred by administration of the Taser by one of the RCMP. I am puzzled that Tristan refers to it as the “most obvious example of abuse of power”.

The response to the death illustrates the scrutiny to which the RCMP can be subjected to. Justice Braidwood’s inquiry was lengthy and thorough. The family and the Polish government was represented and had standing, The media covered the event thoroughly. I also attended on a few occasions, including when the officer who fired the Taser testified.

We learned from it that the use of the Taser (initially introduced as a less lethal use of force than a firearm) is not as benign as believed. The result of the inquiry was recommendation to restrict its use, ie a tangible illustration of a check on state power.

The extent of inquiry after this death shows how there are checks on the power of the state and the police in particular

Milan August 14, 2009 at 12:07 pm

The Vancouver Airport situation and other similar ones definitely demonstrate the importance of the police being subject to photography and videotaping.

Particularly in cases where there is only the word of officer(s) and suspects to go with, abuse that isn’t documented in an objective and mechanical way seems especially likely to go unpunished. If there is one group of people that should always be under surveillance while working, it is members of the various security services (police, border, prisons, intelligence, etc).

Tristan August 14, 2009 at 12:48 pm

“The result of the inquiry was recommendation to restrict its use, ie a tangible illustration of a check on state power. ”

I don’t understand what you mean by the inquiry being a “tangible illustration” of a check on power. The officers are fairly clearly guilty of manslaughter, and yet have not been charged. The officers knew that restricting the breathing of someone who had been hit by a tazer could easily suffocate, and yet they did it anyway. When an officer commits a crime in plain sight and is not prosecuted it can’t be called a “cover up”, and you are right to emphasize the media coverage. Rather than a cover up, what’s happened is significantly more ominous – public acceptance of police crimes as de facto justified.

Tristan August 14, 2009 at 12:55 pm

I absolutely agree with Milan about the importance of surveillance of police activity. However, if the reality of a police misconduct is not followed up by prosecution, the existence of the surveillance media as dismissed incriminating evidence only demonstrates explicitly the corrupt system – the population is no longer able to imagine that the police misconduct didn’t happen and that the RCMP’s internal investigation at least may have been correct – as is the case when all we have is testimony.

Milan August 14, 2009 at 1:25 pm

In the airport case, Robert Dziekanski posed no threat to the officers. There was a group of them, with backup closely available. He was unarmed.

It seems like it would have been appropriate to charge the officers involved criminally. At their trials, they would still have had the presumption of innocence and the right to defend their conduct. Refusing to pursue the possibility of criminal guilt does seem self-serving on the part of the RCMP and those who made the decision not to seek a prosecution.

Tristan is right to point out that if charges aren’t even filed in egregious cases with plenty of evidence, the police are basically acting with arbitrary force and little moral authority.

Tristan August 14, 2009 at 1:25 pm

“It took approximately 30 seconds after the last taser deployment to restrain and handcuff Mr. Dziekanski. The officers applid force to Mr. Dziekanski while he was on hte ground in the prone position for at least 45 seconds. The force included Corporal Robinson pushing his knee/shin down in the shoulder/neck area of Mr Dziekanski.”

From the Criminal Justice Branch Clear Statement.

“Breathing Impairment. Extended or repeated TASER device exposures should be avoided where practical.
Although existing studies on conscious human volunteers indicate subjects continue to breathe during
extended TASER device applications, it is conceivable that the muscle contractions may impair a subject’s
ability to breathe. In tests conducted on anesthetized pigs repeated TASER device applications did cause
cessation of breathing during TASER device discharges, ”

From tazer international’s product warning literature.

“26. Every one who is authorize by law to use force is criminally responsible for any excess thereof according to the nature and quality of the act that constitutes the excess”

From the law.

So, in very straightforward terms the taser literature is relevant to the application of the law because it co-constitutes the “nature and quality” of the act. Taking into account the issue with breathing, the officer impeded a man from breathing when his breathing was possibly interrupted. So, either the officer was not properly trained and was unaware of the breathing issue, in which case its criminal negligence causing death, or he wasn’t, in which case it’s manslaughter.

Tristan August 14, 2009 at 1:30 pm

To be clear, it doesn’t particularly matter that the RCMP killed someone, this probably happens all the time. What makes this case significant is precisely that it is on tv, that all this documentation is easily accessible – in other words, the problem is that the miscarriage of justice has not been covered up. If it was covered up, we could go on believing everything was basically just with a few exceptions – but when such an injustice happens in plain sight it trains the public to accept police abuses of power in plain sight. The ease of photographing abuses of power is only a tool in favour of justice so long as the public does not roll over and accept what one might call cover ups in-plain-sight.

oleh August 15, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Charges were considered against the officers by Criminal Justice Branch of British Columbia, which is independent of the RCMP. On December 12, 2008, the Criminal Justice Branch of British Columbia issued a statement, finding that although the RCMP officers’ efforts to restrain Dziekański were a contributing cause of his death, the force they used to subdue and restrain him was reasonable and necessary in all the circumstances; thus there would not be a substantial likelihood of conviction of the officers in connection with the incident and accordingly criminal charges were not approved. This determination was made by special prosecutors who are non-government lawyers.

Tristan August 15, 2009 at 8:32 pm

I know, I read the Criminal Justice Branch Clear statement which I cited from. Are they really non-government lawyers? Who pays for them then? If the lawyers are not government lawyers, are they being paid for by private individuals? Anyway, who pays for them doesn’t change the fact they quite plainly made the wrong ruling (although its always of interest to know which interests are in force). Again, the main issue here is that everything is in plain sight – everyone knows what happened, and everyone is fine with the officers in question not being prosecuted for using far more than necessary force. Actually, on that issue of what is a “necessary force”,

“the force they used to subdue and restrain him was reasonable and necessary in all the circumstances; ”

Just to point something out – the fact that an amount of force is necessary to subdue someone does not make that force necessary, it makes it conditionally necessary. In order for a conditional necessity to be actually necessity the goal in question has to be necessary. – it has to be necessary for that person to be subdued. It was clearly not necessary for the victim in question to be subdued since no one had bothered to try to speak to him in a language he understood yet, and all he was putting into danger was property. In other words, there was no reason for the situation to be escalated by any of the tactics used by the RCMP in this case.

I’m not going to say this was a situation of wrongful arrest, but if it had been, even the officers yelling at the victim could be quite logically considered to be using unnecessary force, unjustified. Although in practice I doubt a policeman could be prosecuted for unjustified yelling in any situation less dire than a hate crime, the point to be made is force is never jusitifed for the sake of its efficacity, but only when the end posited (subduing the subject) is also justified given the nature and quality of the situation.

oleh August 16, 2009 at 8:16 am

Obviously in hindsight, the use of the Taser was unnecessary. The police officers could have dealt with the situation without administering a Taser. That is one of the elements of this event which is tragic. There are many elements of this tragedy including the lack of someone of authority in the course of many hours speaking to Mr. Dziekanski in his own language.

We have learned lessons from this tragedy and applied changes that make it less likely to occur again.

I believe that how we have dealt with Mr. Dziekanski’s death illustrates that our authorities are under scrutiny at the same time that they are asked to perform a very difficult job.

Tristan August 16, 2009 at 7:30 pm

I think what the incident demonstrates is we give police officers a very wide berth to make the wrong decision with serious implications without the serious possibility of persecution.

Incidentally, if the use of tasers is inhumane, then it is wrong for any police officer to use a taser – whether they are ordered to or not. The fact that state orders you to do something doesn’t on its own justify anything.

Tristan August 16, 2009 at 7:31 pm

What it means for the use of the taser to have been the wrong decision means that it was the wrong decision at the time, not in hindsight. The right thing to do in hindsight could very well be the wrong thing to do at the time, and vice versa – when we evaluate people’s actions it’s only relevant to grasp the situation as it appeared to them at the time.

Milan August 17, 2009 at 12:05 pm

e give police officers a very wide berth to make the wrong decision with serious implications without the serious possibility of persecution.

I think you mean ‘prosecution.’

Tristan August 17, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Sure, although criminal prosecution is not the only kind of discipline that police can be subject to. Confusion about this word seems natural after a bit of cursory internet research, which reveals prosecute and persecute to have common origin in the Latin “Persecutour”, the one who prosecutes/who pursues closely.

R.K. August 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Though to be prosecuted is to be treated with procedural fairness, whereas to be persecuted is to have one’s rights violated.

oleh August 17, 2009 at 3:49 pm

It was not necessary to use a Taser on Mr. Dziekanski. However, we have to be careful not to use this tragedy to ban police use of Tasers in their entirety.

The Taser was introduced to provide police officers a means to bring down a person without killing them. It can be used at a distance without coming in direct contact with a person. It can replace use of a firearm.

Instructions to police when administering a firearm for police are to bring the man down by firing at the chest area as the most likely way to bring the person down. Obviously firing at the chest would have much more serious consequences on the person than a Taser.

The use of the Taser is generally more humane than the use of a firearm.

Police officers have to make decisions in the field that lawyers or academics do not.

Milan August 17, 2009 at 4:18 pm

It’s true that tazers provide a less lethal option, but we still need to consider how they affected any particular situation.

To me, it seems very unlikely that the RCMP would have gunned down an unarmed Mr. Dziekanski in the middle of Vancouver Airport. In his case, the procedure that would have been followed if the officers didn’t have tazers would probably have been much safer.

Just as tazers can sometimes prevent police from using a firearm on someone (reducing the level of harm upon the target), it seems plausible that they will sometimes be used as alternatives to less harmful options. There have certainly been gratuitous examples of use, such as the student in California who was tazered for refusing to show ID to campus security while in a library.

Of course, just finding a Polish translator (how hard can that be, in an airport?) would have been the best option of all.

. August 17, 2009 at 4:21 pm

UCLA Taser incident
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

On November 14, 2006, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a fourth-year UCLA student, was stunned multiple times with a Taser by campus police, for allegedly refusing to be escorted out of the College Library Instructional Computing Commons (CLICC) lab at Powell Library. The police had been called after Tabatabainejad had refused to provide his BruinCard (student ID) to a UCLA Community Service Officer during a routine check. Part of the incident was recorded on video by a camera phone.

Matt August 17, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Tasers use seems to have gotten to the point where police use it to obtain instant compliance, which is really just lazy policing. I am sure that without tasers available to the police, the Dziekanski incident would have ended peacefully.

Oleh, I disagree that tasers shouldn’t be completely banned if not severely restricted. They are touted by the manufacturer (who aggressively pursues lawsuits against detractors, including suing medical examiners to get causes of death changed) as non-lethal weapons. However, in all likelihood they are responsible for dozens of deaths. This results in a disconnect whereby some police use the taser in situations that don’t really warrant it (ie at the Vancouver airport), thinking that it’s unlikely to kill the person they’re tazing.

I believe that how we have dealt with Mr. Dziekanski’s death illustrates that our authorities are under scrutiny at the same time that they are asked to perform a very difficult job.

Although their job may be difficult, that does not form an excuse to misuse a weapon. The RCMP in the case of Dziekanski were only scrutinized because, by chance, a witness recorded the video on his cell phone. The situation never would have come to light without that chance video and there would have been no Braidwood inquiry, no public outrage, and no scrutiny.

Tristan August 17, 2009 at 6:25 pm

“It was not necessary to use a Taser on Mr. Dziekanski. However, we have to be careful not to use this tragedy to ban police use of Tasers in their entirety.”

I don’t think I advocated anywhere above that the use of Tasers should be banned. I said that in this case it was unnecessary and it caused death, and the law seems fairly clear on the points I’ve already cited. But, I’m no lawyer – perhaps there is case law which strips the statutes of their apparently strong restrictions on police abuse of power. Of course police have to make decisions that are difficult and that people not involved in spontaneous situations of danger to themselves and the public do not. However, we still expect them to make the right decision given what they know at the time. They do after all have the advantage of knowing in advance that they are likely to find themselves in difficult situations which can not always be planned for. Such prudence might not be entirely teachable, so it might be rational to simply lay-off officers who fail to dismiss it. I’m not sure if this was entered into the court record, but I did hear that the police conversation on the way to the airport demonstrated that the decision to use a taser was largely made in advance of arriving or appraising the situation. If this is true, they should probably be fired. But the fact that tasers are mis-used is only an argument to ban tasers if one has no confidence in the RCMP to exercise good institutional judgement.

Thus, the way the case was handled, and not the incident itself, is an argument for banning taser use altogether.

Tristan August 17, 2009 at 6:29 pm

“Of course, just finding a Polish translator (how hard can that be, in an airport?) would have been the best option of all.”

The real failure of the officers was not finding out whether anyone had spoken to him, instead proceeding with no context of the situation. This failure to liaise is the reason they should be fired (this kind of prudential failure is just not acceptable from state actors who need to have good on the fly judgement), whereas the death caused by unnecessary use of force is the reason they should be charged.

Tristan August 17, 2009 at 6:35 pm

“I am sure that without tasers available to the police, the Dziekanski incident would have ended peacefully.”

I’m sure that if they had shot him in the chest, they would be in jail.

Matt August 17, 2009 at 7:11 pm

I’m sure that if they had shot him in the chest, they would be in jail.

I’m not sure if you’re saying:
A) That had they not had tasers they would have simply shot him with their guns
B) If their policing failure was more clear cut (ie they shot him, rather than zapping him) that they would be in jail.

I disagree with A (it’s impossible to know, but I suspect they wouldn’t have), but agree with B.

Another weird facet of the whole thing is what a terrible cop Monty Robinson, the most senior officer present at the time, is/was. Since the airport incident he’s been charged with drunkenly killing a motorcyclist and temporarily fleeing the scene. As well, his former supervising officer in Merrit, BC, Al Clarke, had recommend against his promotion due to conduct issues.

Milan August 17, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Same with the campus cop in the California taser incident. See comments above about police forces attracting bullies.

Tristan August 18, 2009 at 2:22 am

Matt,

You are right, I meant “B”.

. August 18, 2009 at 11:23 am

Police use of Tasers on increase

The number of times Tasers were used by police in England and Wales has risen, Home Office figures show.

The stun guns were used 250 times in the first quarter of 2009, up from 187 in the previous three months.

They were discharged 62 times between January and March, compared with 35 in the last three months of 2008.

In Northern Ireland, Tasers were used 51 times between January 2008 and April 2009 and were discharged on eight separate occasions.

Tristan August 20, 2009 at 7:44 pm

More evidence that the U.S. democracy isn’t really:

“Tom Ridge, the first head of the 9/11-inspired Department of Homeland Security…was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was “blindsided” by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election…”

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/washington-whispers/2009/08/19/tom-ridge-on-national-security-after-911.html

oleh August 21, 2009 at 9:17 am

Thank you for this interesting discussion. Much of it focussed on the death of Mr.Dziekanski by Taser as recorded on video and the subsequent inquiry of it. This relates to Milan’s original article which also referred to how technology has changed and extended powers of the state. At the same time, technology has increased the powers of individuals to oversee the state. Cell phone photos and internet to report on state excesses are examples of such oversight. Techonology allows for insreases of state authority as well as more oversight of that authority. Our rules of governance have a difficult time keeping up with the technology.

We live in interesting times.

. August 25, 2009 at 8:29 am

Monday, August 24, 2009 03:18 PM

Who watches CSIS?

Andrew Steele

The amazing thing is that, despite this lengthy discussion, the new intelligence agency, CSIS, has virtually no oversight outside of Cabinet.

There is need for the Federal Court to authorize some domestic activities, including deporting non-citizens currently in the country who are deemed threats. But as Nathalie Des Rosiers from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association notes, this judicial review relies completely on information provided to the judges by CSIS, with limited or no opportunity for the accused to defend themselves.

While controversial, this process has been subject to numerous Supreme Court challenges and at least has the benefit of a robust legal framework and an open debate.

More troubling is the lack of oversight by Parliament.

. September 23, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Head of RCMP’s taser probe warns of ‘unwinnable’ image woes

IAN BAILEY

VANCOUVER — From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Last updated on Wednesday, Sep. 23, 2009 03:29AM EDT

The optics of police investigating themselves in such cases as the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski presents an “unwinnable” image problem, the officer in charge of the investigation into the Dziekanski case says.

RCMP Superintendent Wayne Rideout yesterday told the Braidwood inquiry into Mr. Dziekanski’s death in October, 2007, that police conduct “very competent and thorough” investigations through the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team he formerly led.

But the image issue is daunting and could only be resolved by reforms that might involve some B.C. version of the Special Investigations Unit employed in Ontario, an agency that operates independent of police to investigate cases of serious injury or death involving police and civilians.

“My preference would be homicide investigators conduct homicides, and that a separate body conducts investigations of police incidents because I think that prevents people like the IHIT team from finding themselves in these unwinnable perception problems,” Supt. Rideout told the inquiry.

. October 6, 2009 at 11:05 am

Poland’s government wants the Braidwood inquiry to make “significant findings of misconduct” against the four Mounties who tasered Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in a 2007 confrontation that led to his death.

Mr. Rosenbloom was far more blunt than Poland’s top diplomat.

“We are inviting a finding from this commission that absolutely no force was called for in these circumstances. It’s our position that Mr. Dziekanski had been unnecessarily subjected to tasering; the officers showed a callous disregard for his medical condition as he lay dying on the floor and their indifference was neither in conformity with police standards nor basic humanity,” he said.

“We ask that there are significant findings of misconduct in respect to the action of the four officers.”

He added: “There was blatant police wrongdoing at the scene, compounded by the officers untruthful reporting of the incident, both in their police statements and here at the inquiry. Additionally there were misjudgments of senior officers and an unwillingness by the RCMP at the highest level to acknowledge error.”

. October 15, 2009 at 11:04 am

Biohazard
Why U.S. bioterror research is more dangerous than bioterrorism
BY LYNN C. KLOTZ, EDWARD J. SYLVESTER | OCTOBER 13, 2009

We certainly don’t mean to suggest that the biological weapons threat isn’t very real. The potential for future biowarfare is as awful as has been conjured. Achieving true security against such malevolent development and the parallel natural threats must be a major goal of every country, not just its policymakers but also its scientists and citizens.

However, the United States has attacked that essential goal by the wrong means, leaving the country less secure than it was $50 billion-plus ago. Americans are at greater risk from thieves targeting all those high-containment laboratories — such as politically disaffected or mentally unbalanced lab workers — and from the accidents that inevitably plague such facilities, than they are from an actual attack.

. December 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm

RCMP officer roundly criticized for handling of Dziekanski incident

Paul Kennedy said the actions of the four Mounties who tasered and tackled a Polish immigrant ‘demonstrated no meaningful attempt to de-escalate the situation.’

Tristan December 9, 2009 at 12:27 am

After hearing Paul Kennedy interviewed on CBC radio, his report seems to corroborate my understanding of the event.

CBC’s summery points:

” * While they were in the lawful execution of their duties as police officers, the four officers failed to adopt a measured, co-ordinated and appropriate response to Dziekanski’s reported behaviour.
* The senior on-scene RCMP member failed to take charge of the RCMP’s response.
* No meaningful attempt was made to de-escalate the situation.
* No warning, visual or otherwise, was given to Dziekanski prior to him being hit by the conducted energy weapon (CEW).
* Use of the CEW against Dziekanski was premature and inappropriate.
* The CEW was used multiple times on Dziekanski without any significant effort made to determine the need for further use.
* The RCMP members present should have more actively provided first-aid and monitored Dziekanki’s condition.
* The four RCMP members inappropriately met alone after the death of Dziekanski prior to giving their statements.
* The versions of events given to investigators by the four RCMP officers involved in Dziekanski’s death are not deemed credible.
* The senior on-scene RCMP member should not have been present at the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) briefing held at the Richmond Detachment on Oct. 14, 2007.
* No bias or partiality toward the involved RCMP members was present in the IHIT investigation of the death of Dziekanski, but the video shot by a member of the public should have been shown to the members before taking statements from them.
* The RCMP should have released certain information to the media which would have served to clarify information pertaining to the death of Dziekanski and corrected erroneous information previously provided without compromising the IHIT investigation.”

Tristan December 9, 2009 at 12:36 am

The key finding is

“Use of the CEW against Dziekanski was premature and inappropriate.”

So, in Kennedy’s view, the use of the taser’s force was not necessary, so it cannot be justified by necessity. So, according to Kennedy, they exerted unnecessary force, which caused death. I wonder how we’d feel if Dziekanski was Canadian and he’d been killed by Polish police who acted inappropriately?

The most depressing thing about Kennedy’s report, however, is that he suggests that the officers did have training to deal with this situation in an appropriate manner, but instead they panicked and used the taser escalation because it was simpler and faster. The officers themselves produced the situation which required them to act with decisive force.

I have not been able to get my hands on the report itself yet – but one thing notably absent – that the death was likely caused by the officers sitting on top of Dziekanski after he’d been subjected to the taser – something which their own training, and the literature they had from taser international, had taught them could cause death.

. June 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm

“B.C. to appoint special prosecutor to review officers’ testimony”

“British Columbia will appoint a special prosecutor to review discrepancies in testimony at the Braidwood inquiry, the Province has just announced.

In a statement, Attorney-General and Solicitor-General Mike de Jong pointed to the report’s findings that “a number of discrepancies between what RCMP officers told investigators in 2008 and what came out at the inquiry” as the rationale for the appointment of a special prosecutor. ”

“I concluded that [RCMP Constable Kwesi Millington] was not justified in deploying the weapon, and that neither that constable nor the corporal honestly perceived that Mr. Dziekanski was intending to attack any of the officers.”

“I concluded that the other two constables, during their testimony before me, offered patently unbelievable after-the-fact rationalizations of their police notes and their statements to [Integrated Homicicde Investigation Team] investigators.”

“We strongly believe that the findings of the Braidwood Commission should have a follow-up. We therefore expect that the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch will reassess its decision from 12 December 2008 and reopen the criminal investigation or the Special Prosecutor will be appointed by the Attorney General” read the statement.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/inquiry-into-robert-dziekanskis-death-to-issue-findings/article1608582/

. July 16, 2010 at 2:45 am

“the arrest of peaceful demonstrators is a side issue.”

http://www.sindark.com/2010/06/28/black-blocheads/#comment-92586

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