Canada’s Colliding

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.

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8 Responses to Canada’s Colliding

  1. HereWeGoAJen says:

    Interesting. I wouldn’t have quite known what to do there either.

  2. Needles says:

    Dear dear Mrs. Spit, this is why I love reading you. You take small parts of life and really think about them and reveal the truth of them, how big they are, how much they matter.

  3. a says:

    Ah, Mrs. Spit…here in the US, looking scruffy and walking around with a couple friends is enough probable cause to initiate a search. The problem is a delicate balance between allowing police to be proactive and preventing them from being power-hungry harassers of innocent people. When you solve that problem, let me know.

  4. MissingMolly says:

    I know the feeling of wishing I had taken a different action than the one I did. It’s to your credit, though, that you feel so much responsibility and concern to your fellow human beings. So many people would have passed by apathetically and not given it any thought.

    I think situations like the one you described have happened since The Law existed, but perhaps in the past, they’ve been a little more discreet. This treading on individual rights occurs much more openly these days, and with the consent of the citizenry. People seem willing to trade a few freedoms for the promise of increased safety, but in some ways, that promise is a lie.

    Abuse of power in any level of government will happen and must not go unchecked. And it’s true that some people are targeted by authorities simply based on the way they look. The alternate view of this particular situation, though, is that perhaps the cops knew those people, had prior experience with them. It’s possible that one of them had been arrested in the past for drugs, and the cop saw it as his responsibility to keep on eye on the guy. Hard to know what was really going on without more information.

    In any case, you’ve been very thoughtful about it, and that will guide your actions in any future scenario. There’s a lot of strength of character there, Mrs. Spit.

  5. Natalie says:

    That is so sad. I agree. I don’t know what I would have done in that situation – probably the same as you, because my tendency is to think about things and not react. But it would certainly make me feel very uncomfortable to witness. That is certainly not how I view my Canada, either.

  6. debby says:

    As a person who has met cops who are power mongers and bullies, I have to say, this disturbs me. Just because someone wears a uniform does not make him right. It does not make him a hero. But there are so many people who think it does. It makes me shudder.

  7. Maureen says:

    I just finished the Hunger Games (stay with me). I didn’t particularly like them (they weren’t bad books, I just don’t get the hype nor would I recommend them to someone else). The next book on my “list” was ‘Beautiful Souls’ by Eyal Press I’m not done, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it (enjoying it meaning I’m glad I’m reading it and it is really making me think). It is a very interesting non-fiction counterpoint to the Hunger Games. Beautiful Souls looks at people who go against THEIR society’s rules to do the morally correct thing. One of the points I’m really thinking about is the fact that while other societies (not even that distant, but still definably different) respect the challengers, but in their own society, even if people would have agreed with their actions if it was a different current society, are against the “rule breaker”. The people in the book are not all good or all bad, but a mix. And it is making me think. So I would recommend it.

    The older I’m getting, the more I think apathy is one of the worst evils…

  8. Erica says:

    Ouch. I expect I would have crossed the street, too.

    During my second year in Chicago (I was still intimidated by the big city), I was in the “12 Items or Less” line in a grocery store & saw a police officer who was prominently packing his gun giving a woman and her son a very hard time for having 14 items instead of twelve. He was intentionally and cruelly antagonizing the teenage boy, trying to start something, and I was just screwing up my courage to say something when the mother, fury in her eyes, had the checkout clerk *un-check* all the items that had just been bagged, one by one, making the cop wait much longer than he would have if he’d left them alone. Then she and her son went to stand in a regular line. I wanted to cheer. I still wish I’d been braver, though.

    I think your thoughts about the responsibilities of citizenship are hugely important. Silence shouldn’t mean assent, but it often does. It’s easy (maybe especially here in the States) to talk about police and government in terms of “them,” but they are answerable to us, the citizenry. I think if more people in my country (including me) were better at owning that, we’d be better off.

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