Are the local police abusing their power?

Posted 04.05.11

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | There is some force in human nature that drives us to criticize authority. Sometimes with good reason, but often with none at all, we love to lambaste politicians, police, scientists, and experts -- even celebrities and sports stars.

This abuse makes those jobs all the more difficult, even though we admit most are absolutely necessary. Being in the media spotlight and exercising all types of power and influence does not means these authority figures are above the law or outside professional norms -- they must be more vigilant and careful than others. A politician caught driving intoxicated makes the news; when cops rough up uncooperative drunks, the video goes viral. Ottawa's police are still mired in that mess.

An incident last week in Quebec should make us wonder if in Gatineau these same authority-figures haven't breached the limit of professional behaviour and responsibility. The Gatineau police have a long and contentious contract dispute with the city. Frustrations are high since the police have limited pressure tactics. But when police start yielding their professional power to press their negotiations, they are acting unprofessionally.

Gatineau's police appear to be targeting the person of the mayor, Marc Bureau. Nothing illegal here; in fact, it was taken as a joke that the cops would ticket their mayor for jaywalking.

But when are regular citizens ticketed for jaywalking?

The same police force also faced off with the last mayor, Yves Ducharme (indicating the depth of the contract problems), in a very personal way. They drove several patrol cars to his home after midnight, turned on the lights and sirens, locked the doors, and fled. The entire neighbourhood flipped out, and the mayor's wife was reportedly reduced to tears. Her husband was out of town at the time. These are abuses of power.

This same contract dispute has seen patrol cars and other vehicles vandalized, plus some public buildings. Is vandalism no longer a crime when it is undertaken in support of the police?

If, for example, the mayor decided to push back and asked the city property evaluators to re-evaluate the homes of police officers, wouldn't we all be alarmed? Merely having power is no excuse for using it, particularly in an unprofessional or abusive way.

The mayor has not done this, or anything like it, but supporters of the police have. We have heard of no arrests, no disciplinary actions for vandalism or threats.

Individual police officers should pause for a moment. They have virtually blown the great public support they once had. Investigating themselves has proven to be an embarrassment - and I'm not referring to the police investigation of the police shooting of David Leclair in Aylmer last summer.

All this feeds public cynicism toward authority. Why do both sides refuse to tell the public what the contract problems are, in detail? What are the present salaries and the salary demands? Transparency may be awkward, but it will keep the roots of our community health.

Copyright © 2011 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/04.11