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Kent Roach: It may be time for Canadians to start electing police and crime commissioners

Commentary

The Hub is proud to be partnering with the Donner Prize, which will be announced on May 18. We’ll be running excerpts from the shortlisted books all week and you can also listen to Hub Dialogues episodes with all the nominees. Click here to view the shortlist and get caught up on Canada’s best public policy books.

Extract from Canadian Policing: Why and How It Must Change by Kent Roach

Kent Roach a professor at University of Toronto Faculty of Law, was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2002, awarded the Molson Prize for contributions to social sciences and humanities in 2017 and appointed to the Order of Canada in 2017. His numerous books have won dozens of awards. He has served on a number of commissions of inquiry including the Maher Arar, Ipperwash, Air India and Goudge inquiries.

Winnipeg police officer Robert Chrismas has observed that police officers can face “quadruple jeopardy” for alleged acts of misconduct. He has a point. Police involvement in death and serious injury can be subject to independent criminal investigations. It can also be subject to civil and Charter litigation, public complaints, and disciplinary processes. As Ian D. Scott, the former head of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), has written, “there would appear to be massive duplication” in multiple proceedings arising from the same event, but all of these different proceedings “engage different social objectives.” In an attempt to respond to overpolicing, the police are subject to more complex and lengthy forms of accountability than ever before.

At the same time, police are often not found liable, especially in crim­inal prosecutions. The police, better than most other suspects, know when to “lawyer up” and exercise their right to silence. Police unions have talented lawyers on speed dial to help defend officers. Those lawyers can place victims of police violence on trial with self-defence and other claims. They can bring preliminary motions to wear down those who bring civil lawsuits. And when all else fails, they can settle lawsuits on a confidential basis.

When the police are held liable, the public often concludes that they receive light penalties. Courts can exclude evidence because of Charter vio­lations without officers being disciplined or policies being changed. Disci­plinary penalties often involve temporary demotions and/or docking of pay or days off. The often-mild outcomes of all of this hyperaccountability help explain why 73 percent of respondents in a September 2020 poll believed that the police are not held accountable when they abuse their power.

Increasing penalties for police misconduct may not, however, be the answer. The police will, if anything, even more vigorously resist accountabil­ity measures if the penalties are higher. Higher penalties for overly aggressive policing could result in overdeterrence, “depolicing,” or risk-averse policing that could result in more underprotection.

Review of police conduct is required by the rule of law. The police are the only civil servants who routinely carry guns. At the same time, Canada’s legalized system of hyper-accountability seems not to be improving policing. It does not seem to be diminishing repetitive acts of aggressive overpolicing or underprotection examined in the last chapter…. One explanation for repetitive acts of overpolicing and underprotection is that police are too often left to govern themselves without clear or firm political direction. The police defend self-governance on the basis that they are independent from political direction in all operational matters. They rely on legal arguments and their expertise to fend off what they claim is “political interference.”

Effective and proactive governance—not after-the-fact hyperac­countability—is necessary to improve policing….A factor that contributes to the undergovernance of the Canadian police is divided jurisdiction over all forms of policing. The provinces enact policing acts. They set and enforce adequacy standards, whereas local police boards establish police policies and local councils approve police budgets. When the now-retired mayors of both Calgary and Edmonton showed some attraction to policing innovations in 2020, Alberta’s minister of justice sternly warned them that the province could intervene and even take over city policing if reallocation of dwindling revenues led to a breach of provincial adequacy standards. When Toronto City Council tried to influence the poli­cies of the Toronto police in June 2020, it had to ask the province to give them powers to review line budget items in the more than $1 billion a year that it provides to the Toronto police. It also unsuccessfully asked the province to remove the ability of the police to appeal cuts to their budget to the province.

The democratic governance of the police is a fundamental constitutional issue. As Justice Dennis O’Connor has stated when examining the review of RCMP national security activities, Canada could become a police state if the government could order “the police to investigate, arrest or charge—or not to investigate, arrest or charge—any particular person.” At the same time, “com­plete independence,” or self-governance of the police, “would run the risk of creating another type of police state, one in which the police would be answer­able to no one.”The answer to this dilemma is to codify police independence over law enforcement decisions in individual cases and require all directives on policing operations and policies to be made public.

Divided jurisdiction over policing is a hard reality of Canadian federalism and the precarious nature of local government. It presents challenges to uni­fied and active governance of the police. Local governance of the police may be an ideal, but it is complicated by the provincial role in local policing and the federal role in the RCMP’s contract policing. When it comes to policing failures, it is easier for each level of government to point their fingers at each other. Whoever governs the police needs proper education about their role, the police, and community safety issues. They need to listen to those who are policed as well as to the police. They need to be concerned with both the efficacy, including cost-effectiveness, and the propriety of policing.

Perhaps the time has come to follow the recent English practice of having local voters elect police and crime commissioners who can devote all of their energies to such matters. Committees of local council may also be in a better position than police boards to make decisions about how the police should work with other public agencies responsible for health, family services, hous­ing, and education. Because they fund the local police, local councils may be in a better position than boards to ensure that the police provide value for money. As will be seen in the next chapter, police budgets have grown more quickly over the last thirty years than other public expenditures.

Howard Anglin: Canada’s new passport is too boring to be angry about

Commentary

Maybe I was inoculated by low expectations, but I expected to be more annoyed by the Trudeau government’s new passport design. Instead, I was just nonplussed. My first reaction was that it’s too boring to be angry about. Of course it’s bad, but honestly I was expecting worse. I was almost relieved when it turned out to be just offensively inoffensive, rather than actively offensive.

The other reason the launch left me more deflated than infuriated is the nagging feeling that Canada now has a passport that suits the country we have become. 

Start with the cover. The coat of arms that has graced Canadian passports for decades is still there,But only because this government couldn’t manage to align its redesign of our national symbols, so the newly unveiled “snowflake” crown came too late to be included in the passport. but it’s shunted into a lower corner and framed by a stylised modern maple leaf that appears either to be emerging from or hiding behind it. In the opposite corner, the words “Canada,” “Passport,” and “Passeport” are stacked uncomfortably in that ungainly way typical of right-justified text.

It’s a cover that hedges its bets. A bit of old, a bit of new; no choices, no commitments. It is a passport for a country that is vaguely embarrassed by who we were, doesn’t know who we are, and can’t decide who we want to be, designed by a government so afraid of giving offense that it ends up with nothing to say.

Inside is no better. Gone are the finely-drawn images of Canadian history, natural and man-made vistas, and great Canadians. Gone are Confederation, the Vimy Memorial, the Korean War, and the Grey and Stanley Cups. Gone are Halifax Harbour, Citadel of Quebec, and the Peace Tower. Gone too are Samuel de Champlain, Billy Bishop, Terry Fox, and Nellie McClung.

I expected some of these changes, but I did think the Liberals would keep at least a few of the old images while adding a few of their own. Canada has no shortage of worthy places—Gros Morne National Park, Algonquin Park, Moraine Lake, Chesterman Beach—persons—Alice Munro, Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, Chief Crowfoot, Gabrielle Roy—or artists—Bill Reid, William Kurelek, Benjamin Chee Chee, Emily Carr, Jean Paul Lemieux—on which to base new pages.

A rotation through national icons would have been understandable and reasonable, even if it meant a little more of Pearson’s and Trudeau’s vision of Canada and a little less of Borden’s or Harper’s. Instead, the new passport art gives the distinct impression of having been workshopped by committee into banality. The government’s instructions to the design team might as well have been: blander is always possible.

If the minister really wanted to be daring, she could have commissioned an active artist to design a new passport. We actually used to do that sort of thing when we were a younger, more ambitious country, brimming with self-confidence. Canadians of a certain age will remember the centennial coins designed by Alex Colville in 1967, which circulated well into the 1980s, their stark animal designs adding numismatic variety to dresser-top change jars.

But that would require vision, which is not something this government—if I’m being honest, this country—has much of anymore. We are parched for confidence. Instead of vision, we get visuals, and on that front the new passport delivers … at least if you hold it under ultraviolet light (remember to bring your passport to the next rave, I guess?). I wonder if a generation raised on flashy technology in a country that no longer teaches history recognises the difference.

I’ve seen it reported that the new passport shows “more nature and less history,” but this isn’t quite true. There is no actual nature in the new design. There is nowhere that is recognisably part of Canada or even recognisably real. There are only stylised images of generic seasonal imagery. Any hint of an identifiable place, substantive history, or meaningful symbolism has been scrubbed from the pages by multiple rounds of gimlet-eyed bureaucratic scrutiny.

We are left with simplified scenes of the northern lights, a pumpkin patch, bears in a forest, children in the snow, a canoe on a lake: pictures that could be anywhere, but are in fact nowhere, populated by figures that could be anyone, and are thus no one. It’s all colourful superficies and carefully curated insignificance.

Yann Martel hit a nerve a few years ago when he described Canada as “the greatest hotel on earth.” He meant it as a compliment to a country that “welcomes people from everywhere,” but a man who earns his living peddling words should have chosen his better. An hotel is not a home. At best it’s a place to make a few memories; at worst it’s a refuge for the sort of transactional relationships that prefer anonymity.

The new passport looks like it was designed for such a sterile country. It’s a passport of convenience for a country of convenience, an electronic key to Hotel Canada.

Ok, now I’m angry.