My grandfather was a cop or, as they call them in England, a bobby. He was a London bobby between the wars and a cop in London during the Battle of Britain. After the war he was a cop in London’s East End. In those days the East End was a gritty, crime-ridden area. The only weapons England’s cops carried were their guts and a nightstick. So I have a soft spot for good cops.
Good cops make tough decisions under very tough circumstances. By and large they make the right decision, my last speeding ticket notwithstanding. Good cops are not only capable, but they are effective in bringing those capabilities to bear. That often means putting themselves in harms way to enforce the law in the face of individuals who are intent on ignoring or breaking the law.
So why was it that when members of the Six Nations occupied a housing development in Caledonia, the occupation was allowed to drag on for four years with almost nightly images on the national news of police impotence?
In December of 2011 a group occupied the Gitxsan Treaty Society offices in protest over the unilateral endorsement of the Enbridge pipeline by a lone Society member. The Society quickly obtained a court order requiring the occupiers to leave the Society offices. The order gave the RCMP “operational discretion” as to how and when to end the occupation, but not discretion as to whether or not to end it.
By May of 2012 the RCMP had not done anything to end the occupation. The occupation of the Gitxsan offices was clearly illegal. The order clearly contemplated action by the RCMP, yet the RCMP had done nothing to enforce it. The Society went back to court for another order, even though the RCMP had not acted on the first order.
At that hearing Justice Mark McEwen expressed his frustration, bordering on anger, at the situation before him. At one point in the hearing Judge McEwen said “The police give you this huge, ‘Oh, no … it will be horrifying … it will be terrible if they just go in and do their job. Often it isn’t” and questioned how society could count on the police if they don’t do their job.
A similar situation arose just before Christmas in Sarnia. A very small group of Idle No More protestors blockaded a railway spur line serving Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, one of the most important and productive industrial areas in Canada.
On Dec. 21, 2012 CN Rail went to court and obtained an order ending the blockade. The protestors ignored the order. The police refused to act. The court issued a second order. Again the police refused to act, citing the possibility of danger and harm.
What were they afraid of, the possibility that the protestors would hit them with the sticks they were waiving their flags on? Were they afraid of getting hit by a train? I don’t think it was any of those things. If the cops in Sarnia were anything like the cops in Whistler, they would not have hesitated to do their job, do it well and take their lumps if necessary.
The ability and courage of the cops on the line is not the issue. Clearly police higher in the RCMP chain of command believe they have the right to decide whether the law should be enforced, going so far as to think they can ignore court orders with such transparently false excuses as “it’s too dangerous.”
If Idle No More pays Whistler a second visit and decides to blockade Highway 99, we will be able to count on our local detachment. But can we count on the detachment getting the orders they need?
All of which makes me wonder why the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as an institution, often does not reflect the best characteristics of its members.