Reflections of a Retired Police Incident Commander

Charter Trumps Everything – Reflections of a Retired Police Incident Commander


Dear Association Members,

The following article has been received by the Association and is reproduced hereunder for your information.

The author, Superintendant James Hardy, a Member of the Order of Merit (M.O.M.) explores the current situation being faced by police officers when dealing with the ongoing railway blockades.

The article follows.

James Forrest
Director of Communications
RCMP Veterans’ Association 


Open Letter sent to Media Outlets

I am a retired police officer with almost 40 years of service.   I served with both the RCMP and in my last years with the Calgary Police Service.  Like most individuals that are interested in policing, I joined for a sense of duty and love for my country.   Canada is the best country in the world, and I truly believed its principles were worth defending.   The officers of the RCMP, the Provincial Police and municipal forces are highly dedicated and are prepared to place themselves in harm’s way for the society which we serve.  I am told that there are more dangerous jobs in the country, which I acknowledge, however outside the professional career of soldering, there is no other job where another human being may attempt to hurt you.   When you dial 911 today across this country, and you are having the worst day of your life, in most cases, you will have a highly motivated police officer attend that is prepared to give up their life for you. I know as I was the Team Commandeer for Cpl. Jim Galloway’s death and I was the Primary Investigator at Mayerthorpe at the outset of the four members that gave their lives for Canada.  As an Incident Commander, I had to send officers into dangerous situations to prevent grievous bodily harm to individuals.  Sometimes by my direction, officers were hurt, saving the lives of community members.  Not once in my career did I have officers refuse to place themselves in harm’s way.I am very concerned at this point for the narrative that appears to be playing out against our officers in the media and communities across Canada, for not acting on the rail blockades. We have officers being called cowards and demands for sanctions against them. The question is why the police are not acting clearing blockades when it appears clearly that Federal and Provincial statutes are being broken?  The answers lie with the plethora of case law surrounding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and demonstrations.  We are a country that values human rights, and it is the police responsibility to uphold those principles.

As an Incident Commander for public demonstration events, I needed hours of study and discussions with lawyers to attempt to determine my actions and that of my officers.  Failure to apply the Charter correctly places officers open to legal jeopardy.  In most cases, when operating as an Incident Commander I had a lawyer in the room with me, providing real-time advice.  The Criminal Code has some application; however, in most cases, we now need a federal court order, with an enforcement clause to clear protestors.  This is not an easy process, and it must be proved that enforcement outweighs the right to demonstrate.  

The courts are clear that the police need to facilitate protests and tolerate some civil disobedience.  In the past years, there have been several inquiries into the actions of police when force has been used.  In almost every case, the police have been scrutinized and criticized.  I understand the need to negotiate, and in most cases, our officers get it right.  However, there is always a small percentage of bullies in society that will not negotiate and will require reasonable force to be removed. There is an underlying myth in Canada that we can negotiate our way out of any situation, and all individuals will play nicely.  The lines for action have all become gray, and you will be criticized when negotiations don’t work.  Incident Commander’s actions that are determined in minutes or even seconds will be dissected for years.  I have spoken to some incident Commanders that are now involved in the blockades in Canada.  I can tell you there is real trepidation that when they have to act forcibly, that they will not be supported in their actions.   The Quebec police cleared a blockade last night, enforcing an injunction.  They immediately entered into negotiations, which are expected of them even though the injunction was in place.  No arrests were made.  I would argue that given prevailing court decisions, it would be difficult to prosecute the actions of the protestors.  

The police officers in Canada are dedicated but, in many cases, demoralized.  Recruiting is becoming difficult.  Despite the community involvement that a majority of our officers participate in, it is never enough.  We are spilt between social work and law enforcement.  Our people are dedicated and will be there when you need them, but in my opinion, our officers are having an increasingly difficult time figuring out what the rules are.  We are an extension of Canadian society.  Canadian society will have to determine what the police role is.   I suspect that this will have to be resolved sooner than later, as I expect we will experience unprecedented protests this summer.

To the officers of the CPS and the RCMP, my sincere thanks for your dedication and your sacrifices.  Andrea and I sleep well, knowing you are out there and standing watch.  

Be safe

James Hardy Supt (Rtd) M.O.M

James Hardy

 
 
 
 
 

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