« La loi nous oblige à faire ce qui est dit et non ce qui est juste. »
– Hugo Grotius
What’s going on with our police forces in Canada? From Vancouver, to Ottawa; from the underprivileged to the affluent; from our city parks to our city squares, it seems that some of our men and women in blue (or, up until recently, pyjamas and camo pants) are taking an austere interpretation of the expression « the strong arm of the law ».
At first, one may say : « Are these not just examples of a few rotten apples spoiling the pie? »
But this holiday weekend, another instance of officious policing was exposed, this time in Laval, Québec. The sleepy suburb to our north is no stranger to controversy involving their agents of the law, although now, it has been taken from the streets to the métro. I do not believe the STM had this in mind when they extended the orange line to Montmorency, for even they admit that they have never heard of someone being arrested for not holding the handrail on the escalator.
Yes, my compatriotes.
You read correctly.
If you have not already heard and expressed your outrage or support, Laval police handcuffed and fined Bela Kosoian, a 38-year-old law student and mother of two, $420 for not gripping the disease-factory also known as the handrail whilst riding the escalator. This being in the province where pedestrians take traffic signals as mere suggestions and gangs on certain two-wheeled vehicles hold turf wars in our streets.
Let us first deal with the legal aspects of this case. According to Règlement R-036 de la Société de Transport de Montréal, Section III, sous-section I, paragraphe 4e :
- Dans ou sur un immeuble ou du matériel roulant, il est interdit à toute personne de désobéir à une directive ou un pictogramme, affiché par la Société.
- In a building or moving vehicle, it is forbidden for all persons to disobey a directive or a pictogram posted by the Société.
Technically, it IS illegal not to hold the handrail. Those drawings of the father and son gleefully riding the escalator are not there just to look pretty.
Nonetheless, the fact that someone has ended up in handcuffs for non-compliance, raises a bigger question: How should police interact with the community they are mandated to both serve and protect? Clearly, these recent examples do not provide the answer.
photo by Digital Kangaroo Photography
Maybe I am too traditional and old-fashioned, but was life not better when police officers were members of the community; much like a teacher, a coach, a doctor, or a clergyman? They would come to school, talk with the kids, and acquaint them with different topics on safety. They would participate in festivals and parades. They would be on horseback and pose for pictures with tourists. They would help little old ladies cross the street or get cats down from trees. They would command respect and yet they would still figure into part of the neighbourhood fabric. In essence, they would be community leaders; serving the citizens of their respective districts and protecting them from crime. This is what community policing is all about.
A lesson may be enviously learnt from Toronto. The Toronto Police Service has many programmes invovled in getting their members to increase collaboration with local communities. These include:
ProAction – Cops & Kids: establishing a positive relationship between cops and kids at risk
Youth In Policing Initiative (YIPI): summer work experience for youth at risk in the police service
Community Consultative Volunteers, Community Mobilization Workshops, Various community volunteer programmes, Newcomer Outreach, …
and this is not including the police officers that are at the schools, at the charity events, and dancing up a storm at the Pride Parade. This level of community partnership provides numerous benefits:
- Officers develop an intricate knowledge of the area in which they are working.
- Members of the community feel comfortable in approaching said officers.
- There is increased cooperation between the police and other community leaders.
- Puts a « human face » on the police forece.
- Shatters the us vs. them image between the police and community residents that is becoming much too prevalent in urban centres across Canada.
This is not to say that Montréal area police services are not trying. It does nevertheless appear that they are not actively attempting to create connections with the citizens of this region. These actions are required not only for the safety of our communities but also the safety of the men and women who risk their lives each and every day to keep us free from harm.
Ulitmately, I fear the day will soon be upon us where we will say Ms. Kosoian was lucky that the police officer who stopped her did not Taser her into submission.
MONTRÉAL – Émile Thomas
TORONTO – Digital Kangaroo Photography