49 Comments
Dec 20, 2023Liked by Line Editor

I take your point Andrew but ... at what point do we lose public confidence in the whole legal system and slip into anarchy (for want of a better term). Having been threatened with physical violence and being told by the police that 'we can't do anything as no one heard it' was understandable BUT when there are videos of the threats being made and police officers standing around then a line has been crossed. At the least, the perpetrator should have been cuffed and led away even if no charges were laid - a message would have been sent 'if you can't settle down then we'll give you a time out as this is not appropriate behaviour'.

I believe that society is based on generally agreed principles of fair play, respect for one another, respect for rules and the over riding 'treat others as you would want to be treated' rule. If we lose that system and it becomes 'I can say whatever I want and threaten anyone I want with imunity' then we errode the society and encourage people to take the law into their own hands or we slip into tribalism where we look after our families/group and to heck with you. THAT is not my vision of Canada and it is certainly not the Canada I grew up in nor the Canada that I want my grandchildren to live in.

Defusing situations is fine, maintaining the peace is fine but only to a point. At some point we need to stand up and take action against the folks who burned churches 'in protest', who spread anti-semitism 'in protest', who block highways or railways 'in protest' wo block construction projects 'in protest' and so on. When do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one?

Expand full comment

The laid back approach by the Ottawa Police Service backfired right from the beginning of the Freedom Convoy. By abdicating a critical police function, overseeing the orderly movement of motor vehicles, the truckers got the upper hand. Intransigence followed and then serious overreaction and legal overreach by the federal government, which was used as much as a punitive “we’ll fix you” as an efficient way to end the protest.

I’m waiting for a punitive reaction to the protests and anti-semitism that is running out of control in parts of Canada. Perhaps arresting a thug hiding behind a mask uttering threats in a shopping mall could send a message? The silence from politicians while these stunts are occurring is appalling and if there is no leadership at the top, what are police officers supposed to do?

Expand full comment

Thanks for a wonderful article which is right on in terms of the police doing whatever they please. “Assholes” in my view are anybody that threatens the police’s position of authority and job security. (A trait shared with certain ( the majority of?) civil servants whose main function is to invent rules of behavior that enhance their status and job security). When I lived in Toronto several moons the Star would refer to the police FIdo rule (F@@k It, Drive On) when dealing with black on black street violence. Somehow the police interpretation of Canada’s motto “Peace Order and Good Government” has become “Population Control through Givernment”.

Canada’s inexorable disarmament of the population is another step in the control exercise eg the latest freezing all handgun transfers with eventual confiscation from widows and widowers is another example. Not so much the threat that these tools will be used against the police but that the availability of these tools helps the unanointed citizens (AKA “assholes”) protect their lives and property themselves in a timely manner thereby threatening the job security of the police.

Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus. And one day the police will remember they are there to protect you and enforce the law. And the government will draw its power from the consent of the governed instead of delegated authority from the Governor General.

Expand full comment

How many “uneventful” protests will it take before the “protestors” cross the line into actual physical harm, having been conditioned by police action allowing them freedom to say and do as they choose many times in the past?

Expand full comment

I can appreciate the tactical decision to use a light touch to avoid escalating the situation. I’m sure if that guy was even approached by a couple of cops, things would have blown up, leading to a use of force investigation and the officer being publicly crucified for daring to lay hands on a member of a disadvantaged community. Cops know they will be thrown under the bus by management in that situation.

However, as we have seen with recent public order incidents from the indigenous protests where property and statues were damaged, the Ottawa street occupation and the Team Hamas protests, the light touch is escalating things as well by enabling anti-social behaviour.

What I fear the most is that if liberals won’t enforce the law, then the people will elect authoritarians who will.

Expand full comment

The point you make about the “assholes” interfering with what police think is their job is critically important and absolutely accurate. It applies not only on the street but all the way up to the top of their chains of command. I worked with police, especially RCMP, many times at the highest levels on major operations in Canada. It is their way or the highway. If you push back you are defined as an asshole. (First time I heard this description was in your article but it is clearly applicable.) I am at a loss how to successfully counter it though, without making their lives as police any harder than they already are.

Expand full comment
Dec 20, 2023Liked by Andrew Potter

I think people need to realize that the police are not your friends.

Expand full comment

Personally, I think this is just a subset of people, and not even just people in government, to be averse to doing the “right thing”.

And the problem is not so much laziness, it’s that there is no more “right”.

If you thought morality was just a hang-up of uptight religious folks, no, morality is the basis for the law. Once upon a time, most people didn’t need the law to tell them to not do something criminal, because they knew right from wrong. The law was there for people who didn’t, or wouldn’t. This is what happens to society when you jettison morality.

Here endeth the lesson.

Expand full comment

This is deeply cynical and subversive and it’s brilliant.

I have very little faith and confidence in the police forces across Canada, having watched their repeated impotence in the face of growing violent radicalism. I think Canadian police are behaving like police do in a regime state, where they are arrogant pr1cks who protect and legitimize extremists and the corrupt.

The bottom line is the optics fcuking suck. People want an end to the reign of terror.

We need more assholes grinding cops like this video did.

Expand full comment

Think broken windows syndrome. Thanks to police inaction, we now know it's possible to block a railroad, shut down a city, ignore court orders, and intimidate Jews and members of the general public if one is part of a large enough crowd, preferably masked and possibly armed. Authorities need to act not only to enforce the law in a specific instance, but to ensure that the law is respected in future, without fear or favour.

I understand that couple of undermanned officers may legitimately have feared that an arrest could have sparked a riot in a large mall filled with "civilians". But just as US authorities made January 6th arrests after the fact, I hope ours make arrests now, using available video footage.

The masks make the threats and intimidation tactics even greater and encourage those making coded genocidal threats believe they can act with impunity. ("From the river to the sea" = "Jews will not replace us.") I would not like be a Jew in Canada right now, knowing that police are either unwilling or unable to protect me and my family from harassment and lord knows what else, even for something as simple as stepping outside to visit Santa at the mall.

Expand full comment
Dec 20, 2023·edited Dec 20, 2023

To the extent that to 'police' something literally means to control it so that things proceed in an orderly fashion, this article isn't wrong. But it's incomplete. A dictator who intimidates a population through thuggish use of military force is maintaining order, but we would not regard this as a legitimate example of policing as we understand the term. Words have connotative as well as denotative meanings, and for us, police officers are public servants whose specific task is law enforcement. To the extent that we also expect the police to function as managers of social order in crisis situations, we are not "assholes" for insisting that they do so in conformity with the law whose representatives they are, and from which they derive their authority.

The irony is that police can only succeed in performing the tasks assigned them in societies that are basically law abiding and self-policing to begin with. A society in which every citizen instantly breaks the law the moment his neighbours' backs are turned cannot be policed. We expect our neighbours to be trustworthy, and for the police to protect us against the minority of anti-social individuals who don't merit that trust. Only in this kind of environment do police officers have a fighting chance; and since in Canada this is essentially the kind of society we have, the country is policeable. A society in which every person's hand is turned against the police and everyone else isn't.

Perhaps this, in microcosm, is essentially what was being demonstrated at the Eaton Centre. An unruly mob can't be policed, and the best the police can do when faced with mob behaviour is acknowledge its immunity to rational appeal, while doing their best to contain and slowly de-escalate. The police are also right to distinguish between genuine, illegal attempts to do harm and 'threats' that are simply bluster on the part of people who, however much they may be inflamed by the passion of the moment, do not intend for their words to be taken literally ("I'll knock your head off, you moron!"). Expressions of hostility are rarely polite, but only in the most exceptional of cases should they also be deemed illegal.

The police, in turn, would be smart to recognize the extent to which their ability to discharge their responsibilities depends on a largely law abiding citizenry, and not be so undiplomatic as to dismiss as "assholes" those who complain when they believe laws are being broken. People who respect the law and get upset when it is disregarded are a police officer's natural allies; and why make life harder for yourself by offending allies?

Expand full comment

Or, to put it another way, the police have become a self-serving entity beholden only to themselves. They avoid any encounters which involve putting themselves at risk and are increasingly averse to any heavy lifting. In short, they are no longer effective at what most people consider to be their job - enforcing the law and being seen to be enforcing the law. In many ways, they have become the assholes.

Expand full comment

This is why there is a “Blue Line”. Officers are too often protected from doing wrong because it considered that it was an ‘asshole’ who made the complaint. Being under the British model where police are not under direct civilian control, again unlike US TV where the cops are always being told what to do by some out of control mayor, it is the cops that decide what needs enforcing. Neither works well when under stress, but police independence is probably better than having local ego driven mayors having their own ‘army’.

Expand full comment
Dec 20, 2023·edited Dec 27, 2023

Having worked with them and watched how they are required to handle all of society’s problems, I would not want to do their jobs day in and day out. It has become an unbearable job for many which is why you see high rates of PTSD and early retirement from the police.

Expand full comment

I think there is also an illusion of power and control at play. The cops are ultimately out numbered. If they grab the one guy mouthing off, that has a non zero risk of all hell breaking loose and short of the cops drawing guns and shooting people, they are going to be outnumbered and a lot of people, cops included, are going to be hurt. There are tradeoffs here for sure. As you point out, it sends the wrong message to not intervene. But intervening has a risk of far worse outcomes. And like you point out, when its people we dont agree with we get quite upset. But if its our ingroup doing the protesting and breaking the law (eg vandalizing 'bad people' statues etc), we see it differently and justified.

Expand full comment

Seeing the thuggish protest tactics that have been all the rage of late - and not just for the so-called "pro-Palestinian" cause - reminds me of a quote from a famous Canadian, one whom our current PM might know.

"It's a well-known technique of revolutionary groups who attempt to destroy society by unjustified violence to goad the authorities into inflexible attitudes. The revolutionaries then employ this evidence of alleged authoritarianism as justification for the need to use violence in their renewed attacks on the social structure." - Pierre Trudeau, October 16th, 1970.

Expand full comment