Thursday, June 10, 2010

Come on over to the Commons

Hey, this is just a quick note to tell y'all about a new site that I'm a part of called the Commons.  We just launched last week, and we have a rather impressive collection of contributors - including journalist Kate Chappell, ThePolitic/The Mark/HuffPo/Politico contributor Richard Albert, and Scott H. Payne of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, True/Slant and The Washington Examiner.

So far we have a few posts up.

Richard writes about Mulroney.

Kate laments the loss of Helen Thomas.

Scott analyzes the media.

Patrick Baud talks coalition and the lack of imagination.

And my old roomie, Tarek Virani, looks at the implications on Canada of the BP oil spill.

I've got a few posts up, too.  I write about the tragedy of children dying in the back seats of cars, the craziness of Maxime Bernier, the rise of Murphy Brown and, of course, INXS (cuz it's all about 80s pop culture... always).

So come on over, and be friend there.  As they say, blogs should never tear us apart.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Police Terrorize Child, Shoot Dogs, or, Some Cops are Assholes

This has been making the rounds this week (Radley Balko writes about it here; Erik Kain writes about it here), and I thought it was important enough to post here. This video takes us inside a drug raid. It's chilling when the bullets ring out and the barking of the two dogs stops. The cops shot the families two dogs. A child had to walk down the hallway, squeezing past the killers who have his father pinned to the floor.

There's no reasonable way to defend this.

The War of Drugs continues to destroy lives. Everyone should watch this video. It's important to realize that North America's attitude towards such "crimes" is little more than barbarism.

All of this for a small amount of weed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Mechanic's Name is Otto

That's pretty awesome.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bearing Witness to Police Brutality

At about 1:20 am Tuesday morning, I awoke to my wife standing at the window, the red flicker of an emergency vehicle's flashing lights routinely hitting the glass.  Eight and a half months ago, we were woken up by fire, and within hours, homeless.  Flashing lights tend to focus our attention.

Outside, there were numerous - perhaps four or five - squad cars.  In the parking lot of the industrial facility across the street (we live in a new build condo on the commercial end of a quiet residential street), there was a car "parked" erratically.  The police officers were handcuffing two men.  One on the ground.  One against the hood of the squad car.

The gentleman on the ground knew the game was up.  He quietly and co-operatively walked with his hands cuffed behind his back to a squad car and got in.  His cohort, faced down on the hood of the car, was nothing of the sort.  He was screaming at the cops, and fighting the application of the cuffs.  His upper body jerked up and down, trying to get enough torque free himself from what he obviously felt was an improper arrest.  His feet rose and dropped in sync.  He swore endlessly.

He was the complete embodiment of resisting arrest.

As many officers attempted to subdue him, and get him handcuffed (with eventual success), this gentleman kept screaming to know what the charge was.  It seemed likely - considering the positioning of the car, and his obvious altered state - that the charge was impaired driving.  I could not hear the response by the police officer, but it must have been something along those lines, for this gentleman's response was, "but I wasn't driving."

I have no idea if this gentleman was driving.  I would assume the officers saw which person exited via which side.  Further, this gentleman continued to kick and scream for the enunciation of a charge, as if no answer had been given prior, and as if he had not just acknowledged such a response.  At this point, the officers were tough with him, and maybe a little rough, but I could not wholly fault them for their behaviour.  This was about to change.

In the parking lot across the street stands an electrical box.  Made of metal, it probably measures six and a half feet high, and about four feet wide and deep.  It has a cement base and numerous warning signs demanding safety.  The gentleman would not stop screaming, "what's the charge?"  It is my assumption that although officers must answer this question, there is no requirement to answer it dozens of times from a man who has already acknowledged the response.

It is also my assumption that when a man, drunk or not, continues to ask this question, screaming but of no threat to the officers, the proper response is not to slam the man by his throat against a six foot high metal electrical box.  Nonetheless, that is what I viewed.

At that point, I went to find my camera.  Though I am glad that there are police officers who will protect the public from potential dangers - such as a drunk driver - I cannot, and will not, suffer officers who assault defenseless individuals.

I came back upstairs, wondering if the officers (one of whom regularly shone a flashlight at our row of condos) had noticed the light go on in my living room; wondering if they would come to my door at 1:30 in the morning to find out what I might be doing.  Thankfully, no such thing happened.

Upon return to the bedroom, my wife informed me that they had doubled the man over and sat on him.  When I returned to my perch on the side of the bed, I could see them fighting with the man as they attempted to get him into a squad car.  He was still resisting.

Eventually, one of the officers went to the other door and reach in, pulling.  His body made repeated jerking motions.  His arms deep in the back seat; his head coming back and forth as a piston.  It became clear they were pulling and pushing him into the squad car.

Eventually, they were successful - though the gentleman was not giving up.  Banging sound came from within the cruiser as it rocked back and forth.  He must have been kicking it with all his force, considering the effects.

The gaggle of officers stood around and chatted.  More cars had come, as well as some SUVs.  Even the paramedics had arrived, though they soon left.  Eventually, one officer appeared to take this man's statement.

We sat in our bedroom, unable to go back to sleep, recording video footage that would catch nothing significant (we have only a digital camera with some video function).  We knew that someone had to provide witness for the events.

After the statement was taken, and police vehicles came and went, we sat.  We thought they would soon leave, or that a wagon would come to pick up the arrestee.  Neither would happen.

Eventually, the officers opened the door to the squad car and removed the gentleman they'd just fought so hard to intern in their Crown Victoria.  They brought the gentleman, still resisting, but with less energy, to another car.  They walked around the car and opened the door.  They were on our side of the street, just off the side walk; we could see clearly what was happening.

Once again, they attempted to put this man in the back seat of a squad car.  They got him to a sitting position on the back seat, but that was as far as this man was willing to go.  He would not pull his legs from the ground, and he struggled as best he could, arms still restrained behind him.  There were three or four officers fighting to get him in.  One kicked at his legs, trying to get them in.  Then they backed off, and began to close the door on this man's shins.  They hit his legs with the door.  Then, as that was not enough, multiple officers began pushing on the door, the gentleman's legs caught between the door and the frame of the car, feet still hovering inches from the ground.  They repeated this maneuver, but to no avail.  At no time did they try to pull him in from the other side - the tactic that had worked previously.  They attempted to use pain to make this man submit.  None of it worked, and they backed off.

They kept him pinned to the back seat of the car, legs still hanging out.  It was at this point we saw an officer begin to move over him.  It was at this point we saw a red dot, much like that of a laser pointer, dance across his torso.  The officer moved over him more, blocking his torso, the red dot no longer visible.

And then we heard a noise.

It wasn't loud, but it was loud enough.  It was indescribable.  There was no bang, no attack, just a quick, sharp... something.  I wondered if it was the sound of electrocution.

I wondered if I had just witnessed a man being tasered.

After this sound, the gentleman folded up into the backseat of the cruiser.  He was as loud as ever, but there was no sign of physical resistance.

Coincidentally, it was shortly after this that the paramedics returned.  They spoke briefly with the police and left.  Other squad cars left.  Eventually the car housing the perpetrator-turned-victim left.  Our street was quiet again.  It all took about forty minutes.


Days have passed.  It's Friday night as I write this.  So far, I have done nothing about the incident.  Well, not exactly nothing.  I have been scouring the local news to try to get some shreds of information, but nothing has appeared.  The Ottawa Citizen has a feature called The Blotter which details crimes and police activity.  There is nothing.  Ottawa Police Services has a crime mapping tool, which purports to show all the "calls" that are made that require police intervention.  There is nothing.

This post is the opening, but it is not the end for me.  Though the police may react appropriately to most situations, there are times when they do not.  It is our responsibility as citizens to refrain from ignoring such activities.  The police have great power.  They have the ability, intentionally or not, to foster fear in law abiding members of the populace.

I do not know what good I will be able to do.  I do not know what steps may have already been taken to address this situation, but I will begin to do my duty.

A man was abused.  He was abused by police.  He may be a criminal; he may be a bad person, but the actions of the police were inappropriate.  The actions were brutality.

A man I have never met, and would likely never befriend was slammed against a metal edifice by his throat.  He was kicked.  He was assaulted with a car door.  He may have been electrocuted.  I will take up his cause.  I will fight back for him.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Doctors Raping Patients

At ThePolitic, I have a brief comment on the story about non-consensual pelvic exams done on patients who are unconscious.  It is my contention that this is rape.  You don't get to stick things into a woman's vagina without her consent.  When you do, it's rape.  If I were to do "pelvic exams" on women who had passed out in bars, I'd (rightly) be called a rapist.  The same holds true for doctors in operating rooms.

Putting that aside, it's obvious that there are people in the medical profession who see nothing wrong with this form of rape.  As I note at ThePolitic, there's a lot to unpack here.  The mentality that justifies such egregious abuses of personal autonomy is somewhat disturbing.

The main justification for this practice seems to be that without this abuse there would be no women willing to submit to unnecessary pelvic exams - a useful teaching tool.  The data proves this wrong.  Further, there is always the option of paying women.  Nonetheless, even if we take this incorrect assertion as fact, it does absolutely nothing to justify the abuser's actions.

To assume that it does, we must assume that any one person - or any one group of people - is worth less than the collective.  To decide that the individual's wishes do not matter, in the context of the greater good, is to decide that each one of us is here as a resource for the group.  Our liberty and our autonomy matter not.  To approve the use and abuse of unconscious women is to degrade them, and to degrade the rest of us.  This is illiberal.  This strikes against everything that Western democracy is supposed to stand for (and be built upon).  This not only dehumanizes individual humans, it dehumanizes humanity.  The inherent dignity that liberty presupposes is considered non-existent when the personal wishes of an individual are deemed irrelevant in pursuit of the amelioration of the masses.

It's often joked that doctors have God complexes.  More than any other profession (well, maybe politicians), popular culture assigns self-reverence to doctors.  The actions described in the article would not, by definition, constitute playing God (God' not a criminal), however, by deciding that they, and they alone, will be the arbiters of what is moral, what is acceptable, what is legal and what value to place on human life, these doctors are not far off.  There's a certain level of narcissism required to assume that you should decide what goes in someone else's vagina.

Despite this abhorrent behaviour, I'm not willing to assume that all doctors are sociopaths (I would assume that the rate of sociopathy is no different than any other profession).  It seems to me that we are likely witnessing an instantiation of the Milgram Experiment.  Med students, naturally obedient and subservient to the doctors from whom they're learning, will be disinclined to refuse to abuse women when so directed by a superior.  I imagine this mentality is not the sole domain of med students, either.  From my experience (personally, and from what I've witnessed of friends and loved ones), patients are likely to defer to experts.  When a doctor tells us something needs to be done, we forgo the need to think critically.  Well, if a doctor said it, then it must be true.  Patients too often take insufficient command of their own treatment, acquiescing to whatever the man in the white coat suggests.

(This is not meant to be a polemic against doctors in general; just against those who would sexually abuse women.)

Since this mentality seems to be natural among humans, it is, perhaps, unfair to single out med students.  It is much fairer to pin the bulk of the blame on the doctors who ordered the abuse.  They were the ones most in control of the situation.  They are the ones who, ultimately, are responsible for the well being of their patients.  Though, I have to wonder, how long has this been going on?  Were the doctors who are ordering the exams expected to perform these same exams when they were med students?  If the med students who perpetrated these crimes in the past are now in a position to put a stop to them but don't (or worse, actively perpetuate this wretched practice), I have no sympathy for them.  Even if we could consider them victims when they were med students (big stretch), we do not absolve abusers because they were once abused.

Further, it is not the practice in North America to forgive someone of their crimes, even if we have a Milgram situation.  Just as the abusers in the strip search prank call spree are rightfully considered guilty (though with mitigating circumstances), so must the med students be considered guilty.  It has been a long time since Western democracy has accepted, 'I was just following orders,' as a basis for exoneration.

In the end, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of their "good" intentions, regardless of their willful ignorance, these doctors and med students committed rape.  They shouldn't be allowed to get away with it, but (I'm cynical enough to assume) they will.  Our only real hope is that enough people will realize the abhorrent nature of this practice and put a stop to it.  Until then, we have no way of knowing how many more women will be abused.

Hell, we have no way of knowing how many have already been abused.  Many women will go without justice, because they have no idea that they were raped.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

At the Risk of Charges of Treason...

I must ask, what the hell is going on at DND?  Now, they're all worried about reports of torture of detainees handed over to Afghan police forces.  The rest of us have been talking about this for months.  Richard Colvin has been talking about this for years.

Here's the story:
The Canadian military has ordered a formal investigation into how a critical report on the beating of an Afghan prisoner remained buried at National Defence headquarters.

In June 2006 soldiers captured a suspected Taliban fighter and handed him over to local police, who then beat him to the point where the Canadians had to intervene.

A report on the incident, which undermines Conservative government claims that no prisoners handed over to Afghans faced abuse, was apparently uncovered only in December.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk ordered an investigation, which is headed by Rear-Admiral Paul Maddison, commander of Joint Task Force Atlantic.

Natynczyk's deputy, Vice-Admiral Denis Rouleau, says the probe will look at the incident itself, why soldiers took the actions they did and how it was reported.

The report of the investigation is due March 1 and is to be made public shortly after.

Diplomat Richard Colvin testified before a special House of Commons committee in November that he repeatedly warned federal officials in 2006 and 2007 that prisoners faced the possibility of torture in Afghan jails.

You'll have to pardon me if I think it is a little late for the Chief of Defence to suddenly be concerned with the treatment of people we handed over to local authorities in Afghanistan. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad the bureacrats at DND will, I assume, be trying to discern what went wrong. They should have just been a little more concerned three or four years ago.

Further, can this little incident put to rest the notion that if you don't like government officials covering up torture, you obviously hate the troops on the ground?  It's my reading that the troops on the ground agree that certain Afghan officials were torturing people.  It's my reading that the troops on the ground agree that we shouldn't let this happen.  Granted, we shouldn't be that surprised.  This is not the first time soldiers in the theatre acted nobly, only to have their higher-ups not really care.

So Gen. Natynczyk, by all means, report on your error, but please let no one try to spin this to imply that no error was ever made - or that it was just a administrative error.  It's become clear that we, as a nation, knew - or chose to ignore - that people were being tortured, people whom we had a moral and legal obligation to protect.

And it should be remembered: it was government officials who failed our troops, not those of us who refuse to let our nation be complicit in torture.

The Second Derivative of Political Accountability

This morning before work, I was watching a bit of CTV Newsnet, and the ticker along the bottom noted that the Conservative government's support is continuing to drop (sorry, no link).  To a casual observer, it appears that this decline began with the prorogation (is that even a word?) of Parliament, and has just kept going for the past month.

If you're cynical like me, you're pretty sure that a big reason that the Conservatives prorogued Parliament was to shut down the Afghan detainee scandal.  By extension, it's my guess is that it was the cynicism of the move that has hurt the Conservative government.  Ironically, I hadn't noticed much evidence that the inquiry into the Afghan detainee abuse issue was actually hurting the public's opinion of the Conservative government (your humble writer notwithstanding).

Scott H. Payne wrote a post a little while ago (quoting a certain author of this blog) suggesting that if the Conservative government had just come clean at the beginning of the scandal, admitted mistakes were made and vowed to get to the bottom of things, they could have come out of the whole thing pretty much unscathed.  The implication being that, a la Nixon, it wasn't the crime; it was the cover up.

But since the government seemed to be doing fine throughout the fall, it appears that it's not even that.  The public may have tolerated the crime; they may have even tolerated the cover up of the crime, but they were simply not willing to tolerate the cover up of the cover up of the crime.

God bless second derivatives.