It was one of those moments where your Canada, the one you interact with on a daily basis, your version of the country you live in collides with another version of Canada, where things aren’t the same.
It was simple enough. I was walking back from dinner last night and there were 3 city police officers standing outside of a McDonald’s. 3 police officers doesn’t mean anything to me. It doesn’t cause me to run in fear, worry or want to run. It’s just 3 cops, on a corner, drinking their milkshakes.
I was standing, waiting for the light to change when I watched a few guys walk up to the McDonald’s. They weren’t (or at least didn’t appear to be) intoxicated or in any sort of altered state. They were a bit rough looking, their clothes were not new or or in particularly good repair. They were scruffy, if I had to use an adjective.
One of the cops stepped into their path and asked if they had any drugs on them. Now, I don’t know about you, but this seems to be a monumentally dumb question. Did the cop think they were going to admit it if they did? Did he imagine a sort of scenario where the guys said “why yes, I have crystal meth in this pocket and pot in my jeans?”
That must have been what caught my attention. I missed a split second, and the next I saw, the cop was searching the guy’s jacket pockets. The guy didn’t seem to be in any way distressed by this. He wasn’t arguing or struggling or fighting. He just stood there while the cop searched.
My light changed and I started walking. I walked away a bit bewildered by what I saw. I have no idea if it was legal or not. I wish, in hindsight that I had stayed on that corner and watched. Not in any sort of aggressive way, but in a way that made it clear a citizen was watching them. Someone saw what the police were doing and they were watching. Someone looked at this and thought “this isn’t quite right.” I wish I had gotten a note of the officer’s badge number.
I don’t know if it was legal. I don’t know if it constituted harrasment or illegal search and seizure. I know I didn’t like it. I know it made me feel uncomfortable.
Canada – this country that I love – is a democracy. Our courts act as a check on our parliment. Our parliment passes laws to govern the police. Our citizens elect politicans to pass laws. No one has absolute power. Canada, and her citizens have a responsibility – governance occurs with the consent of the governed.
I am uncomfortable with what I saw last night. I am uncomfortable that I live in a world where people are searched based on their appearance and not on fact and evidence. I am uncomfortable in a world where what you look like dictates how the police treat you. I am uncomforable because I know the police would never ask me if I was carrying drugs and I know if they had asked to search me, I would have asked why. I know that I could have raised a hue and cry, I could have asked if they planned to arrest me, and I know because of the way that I present, the situation would simply never have occurred.
I am uncomfortable by what I saw and more than that, I am uncomfortable with my failure. I had a duty – not merely to the guy being searched, but to the police, to my country and to my fellow citizens. I had a duty to at least watch and see what was happening – to not merely accept the benefits of being governed, but to do my duty as a citizen.
I find myself sorry. I failed – both the guy on the corner but my fellow citizens as well.