If people at work started taking orders from their loved ones at home about how to do their job, nothing would ever get done right. Not only that, but this would be totally wrong in itself. Well, believe it or not, this is exactly what happened during the 1997 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit (Link ) In Vancouver. These aren’t any type of workers were talking about; we are specifically talking about the federal police force in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police(RCMP). The RCMP did not follow the fundamental principle of police independence. There was the big question of government interference. This is one of the key issues associated with the 1997 APEC incident. The RCMP came into violation of this fundamental principle.
According to Pue(2000) APEC raised some serious questions about constitutional principle, the role of police in a democratic society, public accountability, and the effects of globalization on rights and politics. So how much power do the politicians really have? Some of the authors, such as Gerald Morin, chair of the first RCMP Public Complaints Commission, and famous CBC journalist Terry Milewski, had a direct connection with the APEC situation that occurred. This was more than just a case of abuse of power and authority over a non-violent crowd by the use of pepper spray.
Surely enough there had been some special orders given to the police during the 1997 APEC summit. This is evident from the behavior of the police . The RCMP was really worried about making sure the leaders were protected, which was fine, but to an extent. The whole process of how it was done was really out of the ordinary. The police went about proactively arresting protesters and even taking down sings that protesters put up. The police went to the extent of using pepper spray on the non-violent protesters, this was really an outrage. This is a breach of individual’s rights to exercise their freedom of speech. When individuals were arrested (for no proper reason) there was special bail conditions, they had to sign bail papers with conditions such as “we will only release you if you promise not to go back and protest in the UBC area until such and such time”. There is no way the police were acting this way without special orders given to them.
The concept of police independence from government goes deep and can be confusing; it indulges on what has been referred to as a special delicate balance (Wiseman 2008). Contrastingly, the rule of law would be breeched if anyone told an RCMP officer that they must investigate or lay charges against a certain person or group. For example like during the APEC if officers were told to use force against protesters to make them stop. This kind of direction to the police comes in the way of police investigations and the course of justice. These kinds of directions bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
Then again, the RCMP, like others in the government, must be accountable to superiors and ultimately to responsible Ministers and through them to other people. Entire downright independence “would run the risk of creating another type of police state, one in which the police would not be answerable to anyone.”(Wiseman 2008) Police independence from interference in individual investigations is definitely important, but so is the ability for the government to provide general direction to the whole police force and be accountable for police conduct.
In the book “Police Corruption Deviance, accountability and reform in policing” by Maurice Punch (2009), he talks about something called state domination corruption. He says it is when police are linked to state or local politicians and their illicit aims, with sometimes clandestine units, death squads and violence against political opponents and rivals in criminal enterprises and against out-groups such as terrorists, street children, and journalists. Well what happened during APEC was exactly this, because police were guided by political influence and there was no “police independence” that day. There is lots of evidence in the RCMP PCC exhibits which is about 1.3m of text records. It consisted of documents compiled by many government agencies and witnesses for display during the RCMP Public Complaints Commission. There was so much evidence of statements from police and witnesses, pictures, videos(about 80), and other relevant material.
An important testimony was provided by Annette Muttray from the UBC Library Archive (Link) . Muttray was a graduate student at UBC and became a target to police on that Nov, 25, 1997. She was arrested while looking for her friend Jamie Douchette during the protest, but he was already arrested himself. She was taken to the Richmond Police Detention Facility, where many other APEC protesters were. She, like all other females was subjected to a strip search by the police. In the end, Muttray’s allegations that her arrest had been inappropriate, and that her bicycle and backpack had been left unattended by police were rejected by the PCC Commissioner. In addition, while the strip search of female prisoners was, in general, deemed inappropriate by the Commissioner, he agreed that Muttray had been legally and rightfully arrested and that her strip search was, therefore, not unlawful. In a similar case another UBC student represent himself at the RCMP Public Complaints Commission hearings and was a vocal critic of the process insisting that it could have no lasting effect due to its inability to call then Prime Minister Jean Chretien to account for decisions made in and around the protests at UBC.
This story brings me to my point of the police and politicians using techniques of neutralization (Punch, 2009), which are accounts and rhetorical devices employed to neutralize the moral bind of law. Accounts are employed both before and after an act, in order to justify or excuse it. This is basically a form of denial. The RCMP officers that day at APEC could have been thinking to themselves sayings “these orders were given by our prime minister, so were only doing our job”. These are just ways of minimizing wrong things and making them justifiable. Another good example of this is when Prime Minister Chrétien brushes away the pepper spray incident, saying “For me, pepper, I put it on my plate”.(Link) Punch would say this technique of neutralization is the denial of responsibility from the Prime Minister.
All in all, it doesn’t matter if you naturalize your actions or not because they are wrong in themselves. For example, the police should not use methods of neutralization and make themselves think it was okay for them to act unlawfully because they were given orders from politicians. Rather, the police should just do their job normally and independently and away from any influence let alone a political one. Now how often will officers go out and break their little rule of silence and go yapping “we were told to do this because of so and so”. Even without the police telling us directly, its not hard to put the pieces of the puzzle together of what happened at Vancouver APEC 1997.
Punch, M. P. (2009). Police corruption deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Portland: Willan Publishing.
Wiseman, N. M. (2008). Hand in glove? politicians, policing, and canadian political culture. In Policing and Accountablity (pp. 117-127).
Pue, W. P. (2000). The apec affair In Pepper in Our Eyes Toronto: UTP Distribution.
Pecho, J. P. (2008). Apec inquiry collection (various collectors) . Retrieved from
Milewski, T. M. (Producer). (2005). Protest and pepper spray at apec conference. [Print Photo].
Retrieved from http://archives.cbc.ca/war_conflict/civil_unrest/clips/2016/
Asia-pacific economic cooperation (2011). [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from