HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Cotler's State Of Insecurity
Pubdate: Thu, 20 Oct 2005
Source: NOW Magazine (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 NOW Communications Inc.
Author: Alan Young
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Boosting Spying And Giving Cops Power To Break The Law, Justice Minister 
Strikes Blows Against Freedom

Civil rights the Federal Minister of Justice, Irwin Cotler, was well known 
as a human rights champion before entering public life. But there seems to 
be little room for champions of freedom in a government obsessed with 
security. Most of Cotler's law reform initiatives in his tenure as the 
chief law officer of this country relate to the expansion of state power. 
These include proposals to expand the DNA data bank, facilitate the seizure 
of assets presumed to be proceeds of crime and bolster police powers of 
surveillance over the Internet.

The minister had one opportunity to strike a blow for freedom with the 
proposal to decriminalize marijuana, but the promise to liberate millions 
of Canadian pot-smokers from the clutches of the criminal law became too 
controversial for a government preoccupied with building a Great Wall of 
surveillance to keep tabs on subversives, terrorists and home-grown criminals.

When the proposal to decriminalize marijuana still seemed to be alive and 
well earlier this year, the minister was asked whether his three daughters 
smoked pot. He responded by saying that the policy at his home was "Don't 
ask, don't tell." "Just say no" has been replaced by "Just say nothing."

Saying nothing is not a sound policy for the protection of freedom and 
human rights, but it is a wonderful tool for tyranny. As our federal 
government prepares to grant police greater powers of surveillance, it has 
also exercised the right to remain silent with respect to its controversial 
law reform initiative in 2002 to authorize designated police officers to 
break the law in pursuit of the public good.

The government made a legislative commitment to conduct an official review 
of this law after the first three years of operation. Last week, the 
Canadian Bar Association announced that it plans to question Minister 
Cotler as to why the compulsory review has not yet taken place.

Under the 2002 amendment, police officers can receive official designation 
to commit crimes other than homicide, sexual assault and obstruct justice 
in the course of their official duties. This designation to steal, kidnap 
or commit arson is not even granted by a judge but, rather, by cabinet 
ministers and senior police officials.

We have always suspected the police will break the law here and there, 
believing that the end justifies the means. In fact, in the late 1970s the 
McDonald Commission was appointed to inquire into allegations of rampant 
RCMP wrongdoings in its quest to fight radical Quebec separatism. The 
commission warned that concerns for national security did not justify 
police illegality, and it unequivocally affirmed that police have only 
limited powers that are specifically granted by law.

Nonetheless, Canadian police have continued to operate on the premise that 
they can break the law if absolutely necessary to discharge their 
investigative duties. More often than not, police illegalities continue to 
occur in the context of drug law enforcement. In 1991, the RCMP transported 
a ton of hash into a commercial warehouse in Mississauga. This was the 
start of a "reverse sting" operation in which the cops would pose as 
big-time traffickers looking for distributors with deep pockets. I wonder 
how many muggings and assaults were not being properly investigated while 
the police were moving this giant load of resinous contraband.

Eventually, the RCMP arranged to sell 50 kilos of hash for $270,000 to John 
Campbell and his associates, who, when they showed up with the money, were 
arrested. Campbell was sentenced to nine years in prison for conspiring to 
traffic hashish supplied by the cops. Police reliance on prankster 
ingenuity came to an end in 1999 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 
that reverse sting operations are not authorized by law. This ruling became 
the catalyst for the enactment of section 25.3 of the Criminal Code, the 
provision to authorize a wide assortment of official illegalities. When 
this proposal was first introduced in 2000, there was strong opposition, 
but the bill was eventually passed in the wake of 9/11.

The requirement of a compulsory three-year review placated opponents at the 
time. It is appalling for a government to forge ahead blindly with 
proposals to keep expanding state powers when it cannot even find the time 
to discharge its legal obligation to review the controversial section 25.3.

The scant information currently available on the operation of the 
legislation does not suggest that our police are exploiting this new 
authority like a military junta. The police powers have only been invoked a 
handful of times, and the offences committed have been rather tame: 
possession of stolen property, possession of forged passports and uttering 
counterfeit documents.

Nonetheless, the committee review is a critical political safeguard. Just 
as a gun yearns to be fired, power yearns to be exercised, and without 
constant public oversight we may end up blurring the line between cops and 
robbers beyond recognition or redemption.
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