Ottawa's new police chief on the delicate work of handling big protests
I think one thread you need to consider is the fact that when military or para-military (i.e. police) personnel are faced with an 'active service' situation, failure is common. That is, while the individuals are trained, they may struggle to perform well while under fire as it were. Training and real life are two very different things and many do fine in training but poorly in the pinch. We forget the stress and how disconcerting riots and protests and violence actually is for those on the front line. Often command and control breaks down, senior leadership is at sixes and sevens as to what to do and, let's say, sub-optimal outcomes result.
We see this all the time. Note the complete breakdown of the rural RCMP detachments in Nova Scotia when faced faced with Portapique killer. Note the breakdown of the Washington Capitol police during Mr. Trump's riot.
Most police never have to face the kinds of crisis faced by the OPS or the rural RCMP in Nova Scotia. The 'system' may have a solution or provide the necessary training, but the individuals on the spot will either do well or fail. They fail less often than we have a right to expect. The majority of police never draw their guns in a thirty year career. When at Year 25 they suddenly are faced with a life or death situation they may struggle to come up with the optimal solution. I have great empathy for the police in these cases.
All said, the new OPS chief strikes me as bang on with regard to communications with protesters and the criminal element. Doesn't always work but often does and never hurts.
That last topic really struck me. Police have to deal with the tip of the mental health iceberg (small numbers of people perhaps but with very serious health issues).
Do we need a Royal Commission on Mental Health? It seems like as a society we keep trying to sweep the issue under the carpet and content ourselves with tidying up around the edges. Maybe we assume it’s intractable but I bet a look around the world would show that we’re not implementing the resources and best practices really needed to really move the needle.
And perhaps the pendulum has swung too far in terms of patient autonomy when instead some humane and evidence-based but mandatory treatment is the best course of action? Housing too of course is critical.
Overall this is a quite excellent examination of a difficult issue and I'm grateful you wrote it. That said, I would have preferred a little less caginess when it came to the 'Thin Blue Line' stuff. When you say you asked about "recent cases" (terminology that usually denotes criminal acts) what precisely was the question? And when the seemingly quite decent and reasonable Chief Stubbs states that he's "speaking to" the unions and "just taking a path," what does any of that mean? Let me place all my cards on the table: I think it's deplorable for civilians in particular to browbeat cops for the way they choose to honor fallen comrades. The argument seems to run like this: somewhere once upon a time some bad people used the 'Thin Blue Line' symbol for bad purposes. Is that not also true of every single symbol in the long annals of human culture? Have the cross and and the crescent and star never been misused? Instead of trying to regulate cops' expressions of grief and solidarity, what if us non-cops actually made an effort to understand and empathize?
Great piece, Paul. The new chief sounds like a thoughtful, multi-dimensional guy who gets it.
An informative piece touching on many serious issues. Unfortunately, there's never enough time to go more deeply into some of them. One thing that sticks out for me is that ill-equipped police forces (and I don't mean tactical gear) are being asked to deal with people who are on the street because mental health resources are stretched and under-funded. All this while police budgets appear to be constantly expanding (some of it to deal with just that issue, but mostly for other purposes), and the new chief is right up front in asking for more money. Perhaps better deployment of existing resources instead of simply more resources? At any rate, good, thought-provoking topic and worthy of some follow up (lots of meat there for another book?).
Thoughtful piece as well as thoughtful comments. Twitter is the past, these platforms are the future.
‘The Wet’suwet’en file’ is a lot more complicated than most of the reports on it.
And far different than the ‘RCMP MOVED IN’ play-by-play and subsequent condemnation from PPG members and curated Ministerial tut tutting about police arresting media-adjacent types, indigenous peoples and their supporters.
The blockade at Houston goes back years. The strain on the traditional house system of government and the lack of accountability on the BC treaty process made progress difficult. Add a circus and the wheels fall off. The hands-off approach of the GoC (and yes, they have minders assigned in the file, but not negotiators),the lingering anti-oilsands types and the GoC’s general reluctance to dirty its hands for anything hydrocarbon related are just added features. Meanwhile, the harm to the community simmers and the Asia-based energy conglomerates backing the project are left to wonder what they were thinking when they gave the green light to the largest private sector investment in Canada’s history. Next time a few pieces of heavy equipment get torched and contractors assaulted, spare thought for the poor person who has to call the C-suite types and calm the shattered nerves. ‘This is a rule of law country’ runs thin when Federal Ministers condemn the police and shelter the protesters.
Little wonder we went from 18 proposed LNG projects to 1 underway.
It’s not a police matter. But we’ve made it one.
If police are growing more reluctant to arrest protestors, that's a good thing. But can they be consistent? Can they treat all groups of protestors in an equitable way? It hardly seems a coincidence that police found it so much more difficult to handle a bunch of white men in trucks. These are people they relate to. So far, RCMP treatment of Indigenous land defenders has generally been deplorable.
The last line brings it home. Cops are people too.
So nice to hear calm, rational leadership. We need more of it.
"Talking" to crowds or individuals is a learned skill. As a nurse I've seen it done well, and also poorly. I hope there are trained people on the force to advise and participate in these actions, in the way there are trained hostage negociators. Otherwise it's just another great, but hopeless idea.
Thank you Paul. Another great one.