Friday, November 27, 2015

Some Downtime

We are heading off for an inexpensive week in Cuba. It really pays to travel before high season kicks in. I'll be back at the computer in about a week.

See you then.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fear And Loathing

I remember very vividly when I was a young fellow how much the police seemed to be a part of the community. When I was in high school, I had a weekend job in a restaurant that often saw me walking home about 2 a.m., and more times than not I would see an officer walking the beat; to exchange brief nods of hello was not unknown. Since then, much rhetoric about community policing notwithstanding, it seems that police, ensconced in their cruisers, hidden away by body armour and increasingly presented as a paramilitary presence, that connection with the community seems to be quite frayed and in many instances lost.

Today, it would seem, police in many jurisdictions seem more intent on stilling fear than in inculcating trust. Says Michael Spratt, a Canadian legal expert,
"... there’s no question that Canadian police sometimes look more like post-apocalyptic military mercenaries than protectors of the peace. Our police services have been acquiring more and more military toys — a dangerous trend that’s gotten little in the way of critical analysis in the mainstream media."[16]

Growing numbers of Canadian police agencies have acquired armored vehicles in recent years.[17] In 2010 the Ottawa Police Service bought a Lenco G3 BearCat armored personnel carrier for $340,000, which has "half-inch-thick military steel armoured bodywork, .50 caliber-rated ballistic glass, blast-resistant floors, custom-designed gun ports and... a roof turret."[18]

The G20 protests in Toronto in 2010 showed that the militarization of protest policing is not only occurring in the United States. Police used a sound cannon, or Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) -- a weapon that was developed for use in conflicts in the Middle East, as well as barricades, pre-emptive arrests and riot units.[19]

The Lenco BearCat Armored Personnel Carrier
According to Kevin Walby, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, "the more interesting aspect of the militarization of the police is actually on the strategy side"; police are "increasingly training with military-style tacticians, especially when it comes to situations like crowd control and, increasingly, surveillance."[20]

And yet police seem deeply offended that their motives are increasingly being impugned as more and more stories of their abuse of citizens emerge, and it becomes increasingly evident that those who should be controlling them, police services boards, are rarely showing the backbone to challenge their thuggery.

The authorities will just have to learn to live with public criticism and condemnation. As the following two letters from The Star make clear, it is wholly justified:

No excuse for violent police assault, Letters Nov. 23
Unfortunately this result of interaction between police forces and the public is becoming increasingly prevalent – perhaps a direct result of the justice system’s seemingly complacent attitude towards it. It is further aggravated by a change in attitude amongst the police forces with respect to the image they choose to project.

In my youth a typical police officer was neatly dressed, clean shaven and noticeably respectful of the public they served. I can point to the police force serving my community as an example of the changes made to that image. Their staff, both civilian and constabulary seems to have been infused with an attitude of disdain for the public.

The officer of my youth has been replaced with an outwardly authoritarian figure sporting one of those closely trimmed “macho” beards to augment his display of tattoos. No longer is he dressed down, but openly displays his array of offensive weaponry topped off with body armour portraying an image of intimidation and fear rather than being ready to be of assistance.

Disappearing are the white cruisers with red and blue identification; replaced by black and white vehicles – again with the connotation of intimidation. The supposedly “unmarked” vehicles are dark gray “muscle” cars complete with deeply tinted windows and black rims. All this helps to instill an image of fear of the police in the public’s eye and I believe that is exactly what is intended.

Some serious training in public relations would certainly seem warranted. The phrase “respect must be earned” was never more appropriate.

Don Macmillan, Oakville

The video of this incident was brutal as well as shocking. The police, whose motto is “To serve and protect,” are doing neither. Three officers are seen punching a defenceless man who is face-down on the ground. They continue their assault as the victim pleads with them to stop, to no avail.

In the end, the man is placed in a cruiser for a time, then released without any charges being laid.

This incident is not being investigated by the SIU because there were no “serious” injuries incurred by the victim.

These officers are emulating some of their American counterparts who have been seen on video shooting a fleeing, unarmed man in the back, and choking another unarmed man, to name a couple of similar instances of police brutality.

If three citizens assaulted someone in this manner, they would be charged and jailed. Because this involves police officers, it will probably be “swept under the rug.”

Already the police are preparing for this process by refusing to release the names of those officers who were involved.

Warren Dalton, Scarborough

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

And Speaking Of Perspective

...along with xenophobia, bigotry and demagoguery, the folks at Fox News would seem to be quite ignorant about their country's own history.

Here is a timely festive reminder of that history for those soon to be celebrating American Thanksgiving:
Thanksgiving is a refugee’s narrative. The first Thanksgiving (or at least, the event we now remember as Thanksgiving) was celebrated in 1621 at the Plymouth Plantation colony in modern-day Massachusetts. It was attended by both native inhabitants and newcomers—the latter having fled England, by way of the Low Countries, due to religious persecution.

Syrian refugees today are fleeing warfare and the political oppression of both a secular dictatorship and an extremist theocracy. But in attempting to find safe haven in the United States—a country that owes a great deal of its success to immigrants, from all over the world—they are now being met with persecution in another form.
What is that special persecution? This clip from Fox says it all:

Although the above commentators might be viewed as egregious examples of a failed U.S. education system, they are at least providing reassurance to their special audience, who no doubt take great solace knowing that such giants are on the job and protecting Americans' interests.

My favourite line from the clip?
“It is always interesting to listen to a condescending British person tell you about colonialism,” co-host Dana Perino said. “The British were so much better at colonialism than the Pilgrims.”

Putting Things Into Perspective

The bigoted backlash against Muslims in light of the recent ISIS attacks is given short shrift by This Hour Has 22 Minutes:

Should the time come when we no longer have a sense of humour, we will know that the terrorists have won.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Critical Thinking - Yes. Fear Mongering - No.

Last week I wrote a post critical of Rex Murphy's CBC opinion about how the Syrian refugee situation should be handled by Justin Trudeau. At first blush, his view that more time should be taken in admitting 25,000 to Canada seemed reasonable. However, digging beneath the surface of those comments, one could see that Rex was really trying to inject fear and suspicion of them into the equation. I ended the post by saying that the timelines for bringing the refugees to Canada are a fit topic for debate, but Rex's subtly subversive cant is not.

Always an advocate of critical thinking, I offer as a contrast some comments by the Star's Martin Regg Cohn, who, while questioning those very same timelines that Rex seemed to, does so in a forthright and responsible way, without resorting to the demagoguery that Murphy did. Whereas Murphy plays the fear card in urging a slowdown, Cohn argues that the evacuation of 25,000 refugees is quite doable, but having them all come here by the end of this year will put huge strains on the infrastructure needed to accomodate them:
Thanks to the prime minister’s gambit, the Ontario government is scrambling to find every square metre of provincially owned property that it can place at the disposal of refugees arriving in the December cold. That means a couple of recently decommissioned hospitals in the GTA, schools with space to spare and other safe havens that Infrastructure Ontario can ferret out from its portfolio of barren buildings across Ontario, according to a senior provincial source.
Cohn attributes political motivations to the rush:
Meeting the December deadline is about electoral credibility, not practicality.

Bluntly speaking, it’s an easy deliverable for a newly elected government trying to show its mastery of events during its first 100 days in power. The question isn’t whether it’s workable, but wise.
The above perspective certain offers a positive contribution to the debate, but Cohn also sharply distinguishes himself from xenophobes and fear mongers like Murphy with the following:
Much has been said about the need to delay resettlement in light of heightened security fears after the Paris terrorist attacks. The impulse is understandable but unfounded. To be clear, Canada is drawing upon a pool of the Middle East’s most vulnerable refugees — mostly women and children — who have been languishing in UN-vetted camps for years, not secretly infiltrating Europe’s porous borders.

The bigger uncertainty isn’t security but capacity — the exigencies of timing, the shortages of accommodation and the harshness of the Canadian climate in late December.
Responsible journalism versus cleverly-disguised prejudice. Sometimes they are not the easiest to distinguish.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Star Readers Respond To Toronto Police Thuggery

Whether justice will ever be achieved in the terrible death of Rodrigo Gonsalez or the vicious beating of Santokh Bola remains an open question. However, given some compelling video evidence, there seems little doubt in the minds of Toronto Star readers that something is seriously amiss within the Toronto Police Force. Here are some of their views:
Man sues Toronto police for $5M over violent arrest, Nov. 19

I recently had the opportunity to watch a number of officers violently and repeatedly assault Santokh Bola, an unarmed man who was posing no risk to the public, or the officers in question.

Toronto Police Service spokesman Mark Pugash later admitted that the individual in question was wrongfully arrested, and that he was discharged from custody without charges. It later became apparent that the young man, who was begging for his parents throughout the assault, was intellectually disabled.

The officers made no attempt to question the individual, ascertain his identity, level of awareness of the situation or threat to the officers and community. The TPS’s recent behaviour in relation to the disabled, mentally ill and other vulnerable individuals is shocking and disgusting.

These officers are disgusting, and a culture that legitimizes police brutality while further marginalizing the minority community and mentally ill is disgusting. Police officers do not have a right to assault citizens. Their job is to protect these vulnerable people from attack, not be their aggressors.

As a physician and care-giver for vulnerable people, especially intellectually disabled individuals, I find the conduct of the officers in question to be shameful. Police officers are not above the law. Please stop behaving as if you are.

Dr. Colin Blair Meyer-Macaulay, Pediatrics, B.C. Children’s Hospital, University of British Columbia

Mark Pugash says that “the context of the arrest is important.” Indeed it is. I was assuming that Mr. Pugash was referring to the fact that Santokh Bola, the man who was assaulted by the police, is (surprise surprise) a person of colour.

But no, as usual Mr. Pugash was busy making excuses for police violence, this time with the oh-so-familiar “his description matched that of a suspect.” From this, we are left to infer that police violence is A-OK if the victim is a suspect.

You know, Mr. Pugash, we have a name for a state where the police are empowered to make summary judgment and mete out punishment on the fly: a police state. I’m pretty sure that Canada isn’t one.

Scott Welch, Richmond Hill

To serve and protect? Why do we need so many mouthpieces cleaning up afterwards?

Recently a Brantford boy, come big-city-lawyer, filed a $5 million brutality suit against Toronto police. For innocent Santokh Bola, citizen video played like a Brown-shirt massacre. Wordsmiths usually clear officers criminally so why waste our taxes on SIU investigations? Money settles civil suits silently.

But silence deafens Brantford. Anyone recall the name of the cop who patrolled our kids and killed multiple times since 2006? Finally reopened last January, SIU investigations linger silently. How much must they feign blindness, those we trust to watch our watchers?

Richard Chmura, Brantford

What the heck is going on with our police? The video does not lie. Three cops beat the crap out of someone — pounded in the poor guy’s head, kicked him, then punched him some more. And, from what I can see, he was not even resisting arrest.

This is what one expects from “mall cops,” not from those who are specially trained, and paid very well, to enforce our laws. “To serve and protect” we’re told.

The police say that one has to consider the “context” of the situation before jumping to conclusions. Seriously? In what context is it OK for the police to beat someone up? I thought they were trained to subdue someone, not beat them up. This was not the G20 after all.

The fact that they arrested, and beat up the wrong guy, is to them, a minor detail. And they just got their budget increase, for what, higher insurance premiums?

Jeff Green, Toronto

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chrystia Freeland Challenges Bill Maher's Islamophobia

While Bill Maher likes to present his views as reasonable and moderate, he clearly fails to recognize the inflammatory nature of his remarks. Chrystia Freeland tries to point out they are are counter-productive, serving only to demonize Muslims, alienating them even further from the West.

For an in-depth look at how turning against the Muslim world is to play into the hands of ISIS, take a look at Michael Ignatieff's essay on the issue of Syria and the refugees.