I’ve been an admirer of Wallace Craig and his writings for some time, and am very pleased to bring you a reprint of his latest column, with his permission. He tells it like it is.
HOLD YOUR POLITICIANS TO PUBLIC ACCOUNT
August 6, 2008
IN his 1970 novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Saul Bellow foretold New York City slithering into criminal and social disorder.
Bellow recognized that under the madness and criminality of a dangerous minority of New York society “there persists, powerfully too, a thick sense of what is normal for human life. Duties are observed. Attachments are preserved. There is work. People show up for jobs. It is extraordinary. They come on the bus to the factory. They open the shop, they sweep, they wrap, they wash, they fix, they tend, they count, they mind computers. Each day, each night … (through) anguish, boredom; such discipline, such strength for regularity, such assumption of responsibility …”
Bellow’s portrayal of instinctive good behaviour by ordinary folk serves as a definition of the bedrock of public interest.
Whenever you are troubled by something done by our government or any politician just think about our constitutional right to “peace, order and good government” and decide whether the action or inaction is in the best interest of the general public.
Wrap them in a straightjacket of accountability and wring out of them every fact and circumstance.
By way of example, consider a recent exchange of e-mails between North Shore resident George Burns and Solicitor General John van Dongen.
On May 9, Burns e-mailed the minister stating his concern over a recent acquittal of a member of the Hells Angels and a Macleans magazine article entitled How B.C. Became A World Crime Superpower. Two months later Burns received a lengthy reply. It is bafflegab.
Van Dongen began by fobbing off the matter of drug trials as a federal responsibility without acknowledging that he is responsible for policing all criminal matters within our province.
In the liberal spirit of explaining and excusing criminals, the minister launched into fall-back rhetoric that crime is often linked to social problems and the need to continue searching for causes of crime (something above and beyond the fact that crime and drug addiction is a chosen pursuit of most criminals).
The issues raised by Burns were ignored as the reply became political double-talk: “Nonetheless, I must take exception to your contention that there is no political will to deal with crime in the province. Where this province has the legislative jurisdiction to act, we have.”
Thirteen “initiatives” were cited including including: 400 more police since 2003; traffic fine revenues returned to municipalities; creation of an integrated gang task force (without mentioning that there has been no consequent reduction in gang crime); and a Strategic Justice Partnerships Division to reduce crime by tackling the causes of crime.
In this rapid fox trot through a collection of boilerplate the minister (or an aide) touched lightly on the revolving door of sentencing, the menace of crystal-meth, civil forfeiture, safer streets, lauded the several-year-old Vancouver drug court (without saying how few addicts it deals with), lauded the still-to-be-born Vancouver community court, described the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit dealing with organized crime (without mentioning the fact that infighting between Mountie and Municipal police members caused federal prosecutors to abort a trial of a major case against the Hell’s Angels).
Van Dongen ended his letter with medicine-show exaggeration: “I firmly believe that our approaches to crime are not ‘band-aid solutions;’ rather they are some of the most innovative and leading means with which to combat crime in the country.”
That unfounded optimism requires government-issue rose-coloured glasses.
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B.C. has no jurisdiction over contracted RCMP
In British Columbia the solicitor general is charged with administering all matters under the Police Act. It is his pre-eminent duty to attack gang crime with a vengeance and be equally active in fighting street disorder, drug trafficking, violent crime and property crime. Anything less threatens our right to be reasonably safe in our homes and in public against violence and property crime.
Today, while there is growing public controversy concerning overdue changes to the Police Act, not a word is being spoken in outrage over the fact that the Act brings only municipal police under the jurisdiction of the solicitor general.
The majority of police officers in British Columbia are in E Division of the RCMP. They perform their duties under 20-year contracts as our British Columbia provincial police. They also do municipal policing under special contracts in many urban centres including our own city and district of North Vancouver.
Under contract but not under provincial jurisdiction, E Division does what it chooses to do with not even a by-your-leave to our solicitor general or mayors and councillors. Working under authority of the federal RCMP Act and an Ottawa command structure, they are virtual untouchables.
Indisputable proof of this is the disgrace of the Dziekanski death and its aftermath as the force blunders along with no intention of inhibiting the use of Tasers.
That disgrace deepened when Commissioner William Elliott submitted to being clinically tasered to demonstrate the weapon is harmless. He certainly didn’t wander around his office for eight hours before being jumped by four officers and driven to the floor for a bit of tasering.
I maintain that all police in British Columbia should be subject to the Police Act, employed by and accountable to elected civilian police boards and under the jurisdiction of a fully independent complaint process that carries with it the power to investigate and discipline.
We are in a time that cries out for leadership of the kind New York City was blessed with in the 1990’s. But all we have is fence-sitter Attorney General Wallace Oppal and bafflegabber Solicitor General John van Dongen.
Making matters worse is the silence of Premier Campbell concerning whether there is a handshake done deal to grant E Division another 20-year contract beyond 2012.
In 1994, Wallace Oppal, then a commissioner, authored Closing the Gap, a voluminous tome on our policing needs. It has much greater relevance today.
Throughout his work as commissioner, Oppal knew that he dealing with an abrogation of the province’s constitutional duty to administer civil and criminal justice; a first order principle from which all else flows.
As a matter of conscience and in the public interest it is the solemn duty of our attorney general to lead public discussion on this issue. If the premier won’t let him speak freely then Oppal should do the honourable thing and resign.
Dziekanski’s death is a wake-up call to get our policing house in order.
Anything less is contrary to the public interest.
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Published by the North Shore News on Wednesday, August 6, 2008.