July 22, 2011
Chris Selley, National Post
On Tuesday, a judge ordered the release of police video that, according to Roxanne Carr, shows her being roughed up and left naked in a cell by Ottawa police officers. The ruling came over strong protests from both police and the Crown, and with the support of both Ms. Carr and local media outlets, who argued, correctly, that the public needs to see what happened in the lockup — not least because the charges against Ms. Carr have inexplicably been dropped (likely because of what’s on the tape, the judge concluded). It’s especially important to see the video because the local police have gained a reputation for doing to people exactly the sort of thing Ms. Carr alleges was done to her. Indeed, one of the officers she accuses has been charged with sexually assaulting another woman while she was in police custody in 2008.
Unfortunately, in what an Ottawa Citizen editorial called a “weird twist,” the DVD in question has gone missing from the court file. Shucks, don’t you just hate it when that happens? There are other copies, of course, but it’s not like the Crown or the police would just release theirs without a fight. Sure, we pay all their salaries, and for the cellblock and the camera. And Ms. Carr wants the tape released. And there’s no conceivable reason for either party not to release the tape except that it would embarrass or implicate themselves.
But who knows how trustworthy those copies might be? In court, police lawyers argued the missing DVD raised questions as to the video’s “integrity.” Well, sure. A nefarious defence attorney might have somehow gained access to the copies and CGI-ed in a police officer dropping a grand piano on Ms. Carr’s head, for example, or chasing her around the cellblock with a flamethrower. You can do amazing things with a laptop these days.
To be fair, this isn’t necessarily a sad-sack coverup. The video might have been innocently mislaid. Maybe they’ll find it behind a radiator somewhere, its “integrity” hopefully intact. But if you read about, say, the Russian or Indonesian justice system misplacing a video that could implicate a favoured member of society in the mistreatment of a less favoured member, and then the prosecution and the police refused to provide their copies, would you assume everything was on the level? I’d think not.
In the aftermath of the G20, we all know the extraordinary lengths to which police forces and officers will go to spare their fellows even the lenient punishments they usually face for doing wrong. And the recent scandal over police helping Crown prosecutors vet jury members confirms the two are very interested in preserving each other’s reputations. Knowing what we know about the Ottawa police and its recent record, this thing smells to high heaven.
But assume whatever chain of events you want. What’s missing from this story is a sense of panic, of utter mortification. Everyone involved in the chain of custody, and everyone involved in the case (other than the defence and Ms. Carr) should be frantic with worry. None should sleep until an answer is discovered. The judge should be apoplectic. Jobs should be on the line. Canada’s justice system isn’t the same as Russia’s or Indonesia’s. That’s why it’s so awful when it looks the same.
The nonchalance is baffling. As much as people still call police, and rightfully trust them, in a crisis, there is a growing sense among law-and-order types that police really aren’t on their side — that they’re just another self-interested public-sector union, albeit more heavily armed. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who’s as cartoonish a cop-lover as you’ll find, has discovered that cutting police complements, salaries and perquisites might be a pretty easy sell.
If we aren’t in a full-blown crisis of confidence in Canadian policing and justice, we’re heading towards one, and nobody seems intent on stopping it. Police forces should count on politicians not even trying to stop it until it’s far too late, then concluding it’s not worth it and throwing the cops under the bus. Releasing the cellblock video might help the Ottawa police claw back a bit of respect.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Friday, July 22, 2011
July 22, 2011