Large public demonstrations lead to what Phillip Stenning describes as "public order policing" (Stenning, ed.). Between 1997 and 2002 there were at least five highly publicized "public order policing" incidents. These were the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) meeting held at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 1997; demonstrations in 1997 regarding the closure of several schools in New Brunswick; the 16th World Petroleum Congress in Calgary in June, 2000; the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City April, 2001; and the cancellation of the Guns N' Roses concert in Vancouver on November 7, 2002. In three of these incidents – the 1997 APEC meeting, the 2001 Quebec City Summit, and Guns N' Roses concert – the actions of some police officers were questioned and public hearings conducted.
By 2000 many police forces in Canada, unlike the U.S. (McEwan), had developed local, internal guidelines to further restrict the use of force by their members (Stansfield, Regional Municipality of York). More studies were also conducted. The Toronto Police Service found that the largest proportion of situations in which firearms were used were robbery and drug investigations. Its report, released in May 1998, was the most comprehensive study of the use of force in policing (Toronto Police Service). Two years later the Board of Directors of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs endorsed A National Use of Force Framework to develop more uniform policies across the country (Canadian Association; Stenning, ed. 122). No reports could be found regarding progress on this initiative.
In spite of numerous reports, studies and inquires, the use of force by the police continues to fester in the minds of many Canadians and remains an important public policy issue. The 2002 Annual Report of the Calgary Police Service, for example, indicates that the largest number of complaints received in the previous year was "unnecessary or excessive physical force or threatening the same" (Calgary Police Commission, 2002 Annual Report). The RCMP also continue to cite a number of complaints regarding "excessive use of force" (Commission for Public Complaints, Annual Report). It is likely that this is common to most if not all police forces in this country.
Issues in Civilian Oversight
Because of limited research data on civilian oversight in Canada, it is difficult to resolve the fundamental issue of whether the police are not conducting themselves properly while enforcing the law, or whether this simply reflects public perceptions and changing public expectations.
It is common knowledge that people tend to complain when they do not achieve what they want. In addition, complaints directed toward professional or occupational groups providing a public service are not unusual. Expressing dissatisfaction, in other words, is fundamental to human conduct, especially when it involves people who are expected "to serve." Should complaints against the police which ordinarily involve a small percentage of officers be considered within this context? Or because of the power they possess, should more be expected of the police than other occupational groups?
There are several factors to be considered in the debates about civilian oversight. Police in most societies are public symbols of authority so conflicts with them are unavoidable and inevitable – at least for some segments of the population. Police work, moreover, is confrontational by its very nature, and enforcement of the law frequently occurs in situations that are emotionally explosive. Citizens can also exhibit very ambivalent views of the police: officers can be seen as protectors and, simultaneously and conversely, potential aggressors due to their coercive power. Citizen complaints about the police, it can be argued, may simply be an aspect of living in a free and democratic society (Phillips and Trone, 1; Stansfield 109).
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