Dave Eby, the executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, held a weekend workshop in Prince George two weeks ago. It was part of his tour of northern and interior towns to educate people on their rights, how to exercise them effectively when dealing with the RCMP, and to get feedback on RCMP practices in the area.
The general findings on the meeting were not that different that any other part of the country. First Nations complaints about RCMP conduct are “constantly being brushed off”. The RCMP has consistently displayed a more “confrontational attitude” in recent years, and is in serious need of a shake-up.
During the educational part of the seminar, Eby led participants through the "three levels of interaction" with police.
First, there is police conversation. This is where you have the right to remain silent and do not have to give the police constable your name. Most people don't realize this. The constable you are interacting with is certainly not going to inform you of it. During this first level of interaction, if you do not like the questions being asked, or simply don't want to answer them, you politely ask him or her "Am I free to go?"
If the answer is yes, thank them and move along.
If the answer is "no", you are now being detained, and have entered the second level of interaction. The police constable MUST TELL YOU why he or she is holding you against your will. During this level of interaction it is still your right to remain silent. If you don't want to talk, keep quiet.
Two things should be noted at this level of interaction: 1) you will likely be delayed for some time, and 2) it is possible that a reasonable interaction with the constable could end your detention much more quickly. This is entirely up to the individual, naturally, and common sense should be your guide.
Should this not resolve your situation, you will be placed under arrest. This is the third level of interaction, and is the least pleasant. In making the arrest, the police “are only allowed to use as much force as necessary to arrest you or ensure that the situation is safe.”
Generally, your idea of reasonable and theirs will differ. That doesn't mean that excessive force was used, however. If you feel that excessive force was used, you will have to file a complaint or a lawsuit.
With the videotaping of Robert Dziekanski's death at the hands of four RCMP officers still in the news, the question of whether citizens are allowed to videotape police actions came up.
The short answer is Yes, as long as your actions do not impede or interfere with their arrest or the situation in general. "The police can seize such evidence, but if you can demonstrate that you will be saving this evidence and that they can get it from you through a warrant, your lawyer can compel them to return it to you."
In concluding his presentation, Eby made it clear that talking about citizens rights and police accountability is NOT "anti-police". It is about building the citizens' confidence in police, support for the police in doing their jobs properly and with respect for the people they are sworn to serve and protect.
Given some of the high-profile RCMP (and other police force) blunders in recent years, I would hope the RCMP and every other police force in the country would embrace citizen training sessions like this, as well as civilian oversight of the police complaints process.
Video of a Vancouver City Police constable pushing a woman with cerabral palsy to the ground is a perfect example of men with badges getting far too full of their own sense of self-importance.
RCMP Corporal Benjamin Monty Robinson is another. After he led his fellow officers in killing Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver International Airport, he killed Orion Hutchison with his vehicle, fled the scene, went home, drank some scotch and eventually returned to the scene.
That the only charge he faces in Hutchison's death is obstructing justice is absurd, and does nothing to improve the RCMP's reputation. It does exactly the opposite. Especially given that Robinson's punishment so far, if you can call it that, is that he has been suspended, WITH PAY.
Kill a man, get a paid holiday. Nice...
Only by holding men like these fully and completely accountable for their actions can confidence be restored. Hiding them behind the Blue Line only tells Canadians there are two sets of laws in Canada... one for those with badges, and one for the rest of us.
Yes, Police Accountability is an idea whose time has come.