Archive for December, 2011

Oversight and complaints mechanisms are an integral part of any policing organization.  Oversight is defined as an independent committee tasked with overseeing certain aspects of police actives that are considered deviant in nature.  These committees typically lack power to enforce their recommendations.  Complaint mechanism include a electronic submitted form, but is not limited too.  This form seems to focus more on identifying the complainant rather then the perceived deviant act of the officer[s].  The Commission is the main avenue for complaints against the RCMP.  A main theme with oversights and complaints commission is that they are divided into two intersecting faction: the police and the public.  The police are hesitant and often resistance to change brought upon by the oversight because they believe that they do not have the understanding nor the training to analysis the situation in question.  Many feel that they are the subject of undue discrimination brought upon by a community out for blood.

Oversights where born of a need to control the ‘bad apples’ of the police force.  Believing to have providence over them, the public tried to enforce sanctions and other restrictions.  But the police do not give these ‘suggestions’ any credence [unless followed by unrelenting public opinion, even then the public is told they are implement but in reality they are not enforced].  Essentially these services are a forum where the public can voice their opinions, call for alarm and other perceived idiosyncrasies.  These forums are believed to be the emissary of change and a bridge between the public and the police.

There is a cyclical ‘so what?’ question that permeates the discussion of oversight and complaints mechanisms.  The committees hold no real power, so what?  So what if there is no feeling of progress? There is no real forum for the police to voice their concern, so what?  So what if both sides are lost in egos and bureaucratic red-tape, so what?

Without power to enforce their recommendations the oversight is effectively lip-service.  This relates to no feeling of progress, spreading into sideways mobility.  This refers to the continued opening of inquires or committees to look into the problem and their only address of the systems and not the cause of the deviance.  The police also negotiate the offense down to a policy violation rather than a criminal offense.  The police cannot voice their concerns to any outside identity or even their superiors without fear of reprisal and breaking the blue wall of silence.  In the police line of work who they can trust is very important.  Even when not involved in deviance, those who go against the code [of conduct] whether block out in a handbook or verbally inscribed into new recruits, are viewed with suspicion and disdain.  Mainly untreatable.  This problem causes ripples within the unit and then the ranks and then the organization. At any point they can be on the receiving end of taunts, pranks and unaided calls for help.  Serpico, a prime example, went to the newspapers to report on his fellow brothers in blue for their involvement in deviant activities.  Their response?  To ignore his cries for back-up when raiding a drug house, he was shot in the face.  And because each side is trying to limit the power each has over the other, there is feelings of isolation and inadequacy.  This may lead in to blame-dodging in order to cover for this.

While on paper the oversight committees are worthwhile, they lack an important factor.  Power.  Power to implement change and power for the police to stem the tide of public blame.  As mentioned countless times they cannot implement any recommendations made by said committees.  The police feel that the public cannot properly understand what the job entails and thus are under-qualified to preside over their affairs.  This, in-part, is correct.  The general public has no understanding of the daily struggles of having to balance public interest, their own policies and the criminal code.  Not to mention various public appearances meant to stimulate the RCMP’s public image: musical ride and holding as a symbol of Canada to meet visiting dignitaries and diplomats.

There are three ways in which to make oversight mechanisms ‘work’.

First, giving them power to force change.  Once positive of this could be rising public confidence.  but this may also lead to an inflated self-ego and specialization through bureaucratization.  What I mean by this, because of their high specialization they would be the only ones with the resources to review police deviance and through this their reputation as the only ones with power to deal with the deviance with grow.  Dealing with an increased workload leads to growth thus hiring more people.  And through this not everyone will either be of the caliber the organization requires or susceptible to the invitation of a bribe.  Those wanting to implicate someone may bribe someone within the organization.  Specialization through bureaucratization means that through policies and other legalities they gain both power and a narrowed vision of what they encompass, leading to increased public and police isolation and distrust.  In short, are we not creating an environment in which we needed the oversight for the police?

The second, keeping the oversight the same.  It has already been established that the oversight cannot fully contextualize what they were originally created for.  Meaning they were meant as a vehicle of change, to oversee the police and deal with deviance, along with producing recommendations, policies and new legislation to prevent further deviance and to facilitate a more harmonious relationship with the public.  The police and the public both feel victimized and inadequate.  The advent of social media adds to this through repeated visualization of the event, sometimes edited to produce a particular result geared towards a certain side.

Third, is to tear down the existing structure and build anew.  To create a committee that is equal between the public, police and more importantly within the community.  I have some ideas about its creation.

For instance, its membership.  It should be temporary as to not become desensitize to the action it is investing and should be based off of voter registration and telephone directory to get a better cross-section of the community.  There should be an equal number of community members and the police.  Within the police, there will be a propionate number of upper, middle management and ‘beat’ cops.  As well as with the community should be reflective of all of its aspects.  This is so each side can explain their position on the issue and each can address concerns from their level of expertise.  Chairs will be in name only as there must be someone to control the meetings.  There will be open sharing of information between the both sides.  It will also be easier to compel the police.  Though sensitive information must remain within the committee.  As Chris Beach, who is an outreach and complaints analyst for the Commission, mentioned a shared data-base to make sure each side is sharing completely with one another.  Meetings of the oversight will not be public at first, to bolster the relationship between them and the police.Though later on, they may observe the happenings.  And like the Canadian court system, they will not be televised.  Andy discussion will be handed down through third parties like a public relations person, media or another organization.  As to waylay the force of questions directed towards them.  They would still be answerable to the public but this is to ensure that they can continue their proceedings without constant interruption.

As to whether these options ‘work’ is subjective.  Several people believe that the current oversight is workable while others have a variety of opinions.  Without major reorganization of the mechanisms implemented and a true cohesive/ collaborative relationship between these committees and the RCMP, there can be no progress.

Main themes include complaint form, RCMP security level, power and mistrust.

The formal complaints form found on the RCMP website allots more space to help identify the complainant rather than the incident.

Even though the RCMP lost the ability to investigate national security through the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, in 1985, but sixteen years later the Anti-Terrorism Act allowed for their greater involvement.

Power because both sides lack it.  Power to enforce and to develop an open relationship with the public because of their sanctioned use of deadly force.

This helps to spread mistrust because both sides cannot understand the others position and through the blue wall of silence there cannot be clear communication between them.

The G20 Toronto 2010 Summit was a formal meeting mainly consisting of heads of government. It focused on global finance and economics and took place in Toronto, Ontario between June 26 to 27 2010.  There were demonstrators that were protesting peacefully against the G20 Toronto 2010 due to issues such as poverty, gay rights, capitalism, globalization, and other issues that have caused controversy. This event had the most expensive security in Canadian history.  The peaceful protesters were arrested for trying to get their message across to the government. Moreover, a group of anarchists broke away from the crowd and started to damage buildings and setting police cars on fires while using black bloc tactics.Police powers were bolstered by the infamous ‘five metre rule’, created by the unpublicized Regulation 233/10, which allowed for extraordinary stop-and-search practice The G20 Toronto 2010 protest saw the largest mass arrests in peacetime Canadian history.  At least 1000 people were arrested and detained in a purpose-built detention centre.

The police security for the G20 Toronto 2010 had overused their powers with excessive use of force, breach of Charter violations,  use of intimidation and kettling.  First, there were examples of  excessive use of force that occurred  such as the photographer for the Post named Brett Gundlock was tackled and was removed by police officers in riot gear as they tried to keep the protesters from gathering around the Ontario legislature. A witness saw  the police officers knocked Brett Gundlock down and arrested and dragged him away. He was just standing there with other several media persons at that time. “They slammed him down, onto his ass so to speak, then they dragged him back up and pulled him back to the police line,” Mr. Gilmour said, a photographer for Canwest News Service (National Post, 2010).

In addition, there was confusion on the public and the police part of the regulation 233/10. The public was feared that if they came too close to the security perimeter of G20 Toronto 2010 meeting, the public would be forced to give their name and the purpose they were near the G20 security perimeter. If they refused, the public would be searched and be arrested. ‘The public has nothing to fear with this legislation and the way the police will use this legislation. It really comes down to a case of common sense and officer discretion.’— Sgt. Tim Burrows of the G8/G20 Integrated Security Unit (CBC News, 2010).  However, the police went out of the zone, and started to arrest and detain people illegally. For example, A woman working in Allan Gardens was illegally charged and arrested. She was charged for possessing burglary tools – her key chain. The charges ended up being dropped and she was released.  The Community Safety Minister Bartolucci’s ministry made a press release stating the changes under the Public Works Protection Act which specifically stated, “it does not authorize police officers to require individuals to submit to searches on roads and sidewalks outside the zone”(CBC News, 2010). Police had also used pre-emptive methods such as arresting citizens without any evidence or reasonable probable grounds. These arrests were breach of Charter of Rights such as Section 8 (unreasonable search and seizure), Section 9 (Arbritary Detention or Imprisonment), and Section 10 (unlawful imprisonment).

The police used certain tactics such as intimidation and kettling to control the protesters which aggravated them. Kettling is used as method to control crowds by closing them in by every corner when riots occur. For example, during the summit, the crowd was boxed or kettled in by the police on Queen St. and Spadina Ave. Toronto Police Service has confirmed that the crowd control technique will not be used again. Intimidation was also another role in the police deviance that occurred in the G20 Toronto Summit 2010.  Using excessive use of force, kettling and illegally arresting peaceful protesters were an act of intimidation, to stop people from demonstrating their beliefs and morals on controversial issues. Here is a link to a street map where certain activities occurred in Toronto, Ontario.

In every police organization, many police officers are supposed to be held accountable for their actions. Punch states that “the crucial test for policing in a democratic system is accountability. A police force that covers up corruption is unaccountable” (pg.9).  The Toronto Police of Chief  allegedly covered up the mistakes of the officers who used excessive use of force, and those who removed their name tags during the summit because they could not find the officers who was supposed to be held accountable for their actions. For example, Adam Nobody was a case of excessive use of force, allegedly said the victim was armed. Police of Chief had to clarify that Mr. Nobody did not have a weapon and the charges were dropped since no one came forward to tell the truth of what really happened.  The officers hid behind the blue wall of silence to protect themselves and preventing the force to look bad in the media. The Toronto Police of Service showed accountability avoidance for the officers who destroyed any faith that the public had in police officers, because they can`t apologize and take responsibility for their actions. Punch (2009) explains that if focus more on the institutional and operational level of a police force, then a theme of police deviance is not typically individualistic but collective that is mostly fostered by the police work, police subculture, and the organization of the force. Since the corruption is mostly focused on collective organization of individuals, it can be named “bad apples”. The more appropriate term for Toronto Police Service is “bad orchards” which has more serious, widespread and prolonged deviance in their force (Punch, 2009).

The most important issues I found that intrigued me was the regulation 233 1o law. I believe the public had the right to know what to expect when it comes to security perimeters. The police are supposed to follow the law that is given, and not take it out of their jurisdiction where the 5 meter rule did not exist. It is interesting to note that the police were given these special powers during G20 Toronto 2010.  Then few days later, the  Toronto Chief of Police denied that the 5 meter rule existed. This shows that “The police are not seen as legitmate and are not trusted, and are engaged in systemic crime and deviance, and are, above all, unaccountable” (Punch, 2009, pg. 8). Public has the right to know where and when not to be at a certain place, since this failed miserably, the government should be held accountable for charter violations that took place during the summit.

Another issue that I found is the excessive use of force that was used in the G20 Toronto 2010. As Punch (2009) states his textbook, “officers operate according to the rule of the law and are answerable to the courts, aim to enforce the law impartiality and apply their assigned monopoly of violence with restraint”(pg.4). The officers used pre-emptive methods to arrests citizens without any evidence. They would walk into a protesters home, and try to intimidate them from protesting in the G20 Toronto 2010.


Punch, M. (2009)  Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in policing. Cullomption, Devon. Willan Publishing.–exclusive-toronto-police-swear-off-g20-kettling-tactic

Toronto G-20 2010: Synthesis and Commentary

Posted: December 9, 2011 by hgill24 in Toronto G20 2010

The G-20 summit meetings took place on June 26-27 2010, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The summit included some of the most powerful leaders on this planet to discuss such as the Global Bank Tax and to promote Open Markets. Sadly, this event which was supposed to very historical and positive for Toronto and our great country of Canada would not be remembered as that but will be remembered for all the violent protests and police corruption against violent and peaceful protestors. Nearly 1,000 arrests were made during the event, making it the most mass arrest event in Canadian history. The Toronto Police have faced a heavy amount of criticism for their handling’s of the event where numerous non-threatening people were arrested and locked up in jail for up 40 hours without food and water which is very alarming because Canada is a leading example of how a country should be with the rights and freedom that it has and the unfair treatment of those who were wrongfully arrested. There have been many news stories around the world and especially here in Canada about the police handling of the protestors, outlets such as the Globe and Mail, National Post the biggest national newspaper company that we have here in Canada criticizing the police and big Media outlets such as the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and City TV have also weighed on the issue. CBC’s Fifth Estate has also produced a documentary called “Should Have Stayed Home” and it discusses people’s experience of how they were treated by police that weekend and share their stories with CBC.

An article which I received in my Police Deviance and Accountability class “Intelligent Control” (Hudson and Roach 2003, chapter 8 page 266) brings up the word Intelligent Control. I believe that one word describes the action by the Toronto Police during the G-20 summit meetings. In my opinion the police did not handle their duties intelligently and to this day are still being ridiculed for their actions through the internet, newspapers and other sources of media communications. From the police standpoint they understood the magnitude of this event because it was a meeting of a lot of powerful people from all over the world and were meeting up in Toronto and it is up the Toronto Police to make sure nothing gets out of hand and want to prevent anything that will endanger lives. I believe the pressure they felt from amongst themselves and possibly from the people above them led them to do the tactics that they did and I am not defending them but I could see their point of view. I still do believe they were wrong in their actions because their actions are one of the reasons why participants of the riots and protesters are enraged and their behaviors are getting more violent. The Toronto police I believe had a very poor game plan that was executed very poorly. In the book by Maurice Punch’s book “Police Corruption” he points out many different types of typology and I believe the typology that relates to this topic would be noble cause, which means that it was necessary for the officers to use the amount of force that because it was the only way to control the situation . The article “Is the Whole World Still Watching? Explaining the Violence during the Toronto G20/G8 Meetings (Hodgkinson, 2011) I found online, which is very interesting because it states that in past G-20 and G-8 summits that have happened in the past where there are always protests and protests that turn into violence and yet the police are still not prepared for what is to come. I find this interesting because the people that are preparing these plans for the police haven’t been able to learn from past mistakes made by the host countries prior to Canada hosting the G-20 summit in 2010. The article also states because of the magnitude of the event also led to aggressive and unethical acts by the police and als0 the people that participated in the riots which turned violent not the protesters who want to get their point across peacefully and civilly which is the difference between riot and protest. I am also not blaming everything entirely on the Toronto Police that day but the people who participated in the riots which were only a small amount also have some blame on themselves as well because as citizens it is up to them to know what type of behavior is acceptable and what type of behavior is unacceptable.

The next article that I have come across is one where a respected Toronto news reporter witnessed police brutality first hand and talks about how he feels about it. Steve Paikan says he saw a news reporter get beat up with elbows and punched by Toronto Police officers for having his credentials removed. Paikan says he was watching a peaceful protest when police starting beating on the reporter from England and that he himself was given an ultimatum of leaving or risk being thrown in jail. Two students who flew to Toronto from UBC Okanagan to attend the peaceful protests were held in jail for over forty hours with no food or water which in some cases can be life threatening to those who are diabetic and people with other health conditions. I think the opinion of someone who is known to the average person is important because if he can get his point of view out there and I also think it is great that Paikan is sharing what he saw and is personal encounter with the police during the G-20 riots.

The final article that I have reviewed is an article from the National Post stating that there have been seventy-eight complaints filed by rights groups against the Toronto Police for brutality. There is a story in there in which one woman was arrested for taking a photograph of someone being arrested and hauled off in a van where an officer was sitting on her and held or throat.  The article also states that over twenty thousand security personal where on site for the two day event and $1 billion was spent on security alone. During those two days over 1000 people were arrested and 278 people were charged. I think it is alarming about some of the stories of victims that I have come across during this time that I have been introduced to this topic and something needs to be done, which I believe is to have those who officers known to participate in these unethical acts to be held responsible and send message with a fine or suspension so other officers to think twice before engaging in unethical practices or else in the future the issues will only get more serious and continued to be ridiculed in the process. The longer I have been researching this topic some new issues arise, one being “who is in charge of looking at police deviance complaints and what happens when a complaint is filed and how effective is this process and does it direct into an officer being disciplined or is this just another issue being swept under the carpet in hope of it just being forgotten about one day.

After researching this topic for a few months I believe the biggest issue or concern I and others have is who should be held accountable the officers or the police chief? There are arguments against both but if it were up to me it would be the chief because he is the one who came up with the game plan and the officers are the ones that executed a poorly designed plan. Since I am a big sports fan I like to use sports analogy, In any sport when a team is not living up to expectations of the team owner and the fans who pay a lot something needs to be done and in most cases by firing the coach is the first thing that is done because it brings in a new start and new rules and brings in a fresh stat because in sports it is mental not physical changes that are needed to get the steer the ship into the right direction. In this case the coach is the chief and he is the one is held accountable and I believe to send a message you cannot make an example of someone who is at the bottom of the depth chart you need to make an example out of someone who has a lot a credibility like in sports the team captain, star player or the head coach. Sending a message would not be trading away a fourth line player. Part of being the chief or the coach is to be a leader and to make sure to do the right thing for organization and in Toronto during the G-20 summit the best thing for the safety of others and the Toronto Police Department failed and I believe the police chief should be held accountable. If no one is held accountable then we have not learned anything, I believe the point of mistakes is how not to make those same mistakes again and minimize future mistakes, everyone makes mistakes but we have to acknowledge that a mistake was made and correct those. In this case there were admitted mistakes for example the one of the “special powers” but nobody was held accountable or took responsibility and that is why I am discussing this topic and the subject of police deviance and accountability is a debatable topic in today’s society. I believe that if officers and or higher up people are disciplined then it would make an officer in the future think twice about going beyond their limits. In a case where one man sued the Toronto Police department settled outside of court for a sum of $25,000 which was undisclosed terms, so making it difficult to know the exact details of what went on and when the case goes undisclosed everyone tends to forget what happened. There are some other cases that will be going to court and hopefully new details will emerge of what happened and hopefully people who have questions will begin to get some answers that they deserve to know.

The significance of the topic is that the police are the ones that we look to when we need help and for protection, its there job to ensure that there is peace and deal with those persons who break the peace and deal with them appropriately. When the police break their code it calls everything into question like if we cannot trust the police because their behavior is unpredictable then who can we really trust? With todays technology everyone has televisions, computers and phones and if someone is caught doing something wrong more than likely people will get a hold of the incident and it could be all over the news and newspapers in a matter of minutes. The police are always under pressure and scrutiny, if something goes wrong they are the ones that get blamed and if something goes right they do not get enough credit in my opinion. For example the police have been heavily criticized for not laying any charges during the Stanley Cup Riot in June while over seas in England there have been many charges laid against the London Rioters. It is always what have you done for me lately type of thing and if your not perfect then your going to have a lot of people breathing down your neck.

For people who engage in unethical practices against the police code, I believe someone or a different organization should oversee complaints against police officers. If an issue is dealt internally we will never get answers about the disciplinary action that may or may not have taken place. I feel as if a situation is dealt internally it would either go unpunished or a very lenient penalty against the person who is being disciplined. On the other hand if a person who is not working directly for the police department then I believe the officers will be more on edge and if they are caught then the situation will be out the police’s hands and the officer will have to deal with whatever the judge or whoever hands down to him or her. I believe anyone is expendable and if they are not living up to expectations of the society or the organization they belong in then I believe that somebody who is capable of handling the expectations of the position should be in charge and running the operations.

One area I would like to see improved is the discipline of the actions some officers commit. I believe in tougher and harsher penalties against those who have been proven to engage in behavior that contradicts the code of police officers. Letting people of easier is not solving anything and only bringing more controversy to the police organization and by having stiffer penalties will have a more positive bearing on the police organization and bring back more respect as well. If it were up to me I would give the officers one chance and the second offense would result in permanent termination and that person would not be allowed to become a police officer again. After the first offence I would suspend the officer for thirty days without pay if or when the same officer is caught doing something he or she shouldn’t be doing then they would be relieved of their duties.

I am fully aware that this issue will not go away 100% but with some tweaks it can become more respectable. Police officers know what they are getting themselves when they choose the career path that they did and I am not saying every police officer is bad I believe a small portion of them are “corrupt” and these guys didn’t come looking for trouble but trouble just found them. I believe with better screening and after they are hired they should have check-ups and ensure they are still fit to be on the force because it is a big responsibility to in some cases hold the lives of people in their hands. I also believe that there are people who are scared to come forward with information that they may have about deviant practices committed by officers and there are many cases that the public hasn’t even heard about and that’s a scary thought. It is now almost 2012 and there have been new cases emerging specifically the sexual assault accusations against male RCMP members against their female counter-parts and it is really disturbing and I hope whoever has been affected negatively by the police that they get the answers that they deserve.

In my previous posts, I have provided informative information as well an analysis on the term “Blue Wall of Silence”, also known as the “Blue Shield”, first coined in New York, USA.

This unwritten code can generally be defined as “A rule among police officers not to report on another officer’s errors, misconducts, and or crimes when questioned about an incident of misconduct involving another colleague, during a course of an inquiry”.

In my second post, I had examined the reality of “The Blue Wall of Silence” and brought some questions to light such as: does it exist? If so, to what extent; and what generates it?

In this post, I will discuss the idea proposed as far back as Max Weber, in the chapter “Bureaucracy,” in his work Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Economy and Society), published after his death in 1920 where he writes:

Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration always tends to be an administration of ‘secret sessions’ in so far as it can, it hides its knowledge and action from criticism.

Weber describes an “ideal type” that in real life will vary from place to place and time to time. But nearly a century later, it can be agreed that the generalization holds, especially in a setting in which government chooses or is forced to be concerned about the loyalty of some portion of the citizenry.

For the concept of loyalty implied that there was much information within a bureaucracy which could be used to injure the Government or the national interest if revealed by disloyal persons to hostile nations or, for that matter, to internal elements hostile to our “way of life.”

In her article for the Max Weber Lecture Series, Deirdre M. Curtin, in “Keeping Government Secrecy Safe: Beyond Whack-A-Mole”, writes that scholars have struggled with the general concept of secrecy for centuries.  Secrecy presupposes a separation, setting a part of the secret of the secret from the non-secret, and of keepers of a secret from the excluded targets.  It establishes insiders and outsiders, groups of “us” and “them”.  Having control over secrecy and openness gives power for influences what others know and plus what they choose to do. “Secrecy is a universal form which as such has nothing to do with moral valuations of its contents. On the one hand secrecy may embrace the highest values. On the other hand, secrecy is not in immediate interdependence with evil, but evil with secrecy”. This means, wrong doing, illegality, unethical behavior will in all likelihood be hidden from public gaze.

As G. Simmel in “The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies” argues that secret keeping actually endows secrets with value. This value is based not on the content of the secrets, but rather on the fact that others are excluded from knowing about them. This is an ancient principal which transferred the aura of sacredness from the church and religious officials to secular leaders and was never more strongly invoked than in defense of seventeenth century absolutist monarchies. Kings and governments therefore, at certain times abused their subjects and citizens with the power they gained through the possession of information, and they used secrecy to cover up any wrong doing. Even the American President, Woodrow Wilson though speaking against secrecy in his 1912 election campaign, concluded “Government ought to be all outside and no inside”. But once elected to the US presidency adopted and applied the Espionage Act which was highly restrictive of free speech.

Secrecy by governments is enacted in the name of “National Security” which is a key justification traditionally given for classifying documents as secret and top secret. Where the “Blue Wall of Silence” comes in is that justification usually given for police actions or why investigations are kept secret is that it protects the investigation. This tendency for administration secrecy is one of the main reasons why freedoms of information laws are adopted in the first place. Such laws do not do away with administrative or government secrecy but they do provide access to documents or information in some cases that would otherwise have remained out of reach. Moreover, they give statutory and judicial support to the principle of openness.

However, the recent opening of Pandora’s box by Wikileaks brought, according to some, possible calamity to the US government, and international relations more generally, because of the unauthorized disclosure of classified military secrets. Leaking always had a symbiotic relationship with secrecy and is the classic way of outing possible abuse of power. Without secrecy, there would be no need to leak information. Wikileaks can in this context be understood as an example of a new way of challenging government power in information age by getting previous hidden information with possible evidence of power of abuse out into the open in a largely unstoppable and global fashion.

It could be said, that the information age on the one hand demands that secrecy is no longer a viable way to deal with the public, while at the same time emphasizing that public order organizations such as the police force feel a constraint to be secret in order to genuinely protect the work they do.

A key characteristic of the Blue Wall is the solidarity shown within the police force. Fellow officers are expected to back each other up in all circumstances.  Aid one another when in trouble. An important feature in solidarity is inclusion. Everyone wants to be part of a group or a clique. This need to belong can result in officers remaining silent to other officer’s misconduct in order to protect their colleagues. This can lead them to feel included and cement their relationship with their fellow officers.

The second characteristic of the Rule of Silence, and which ties in with loyalty, is staying silent and even lying for another police officer. A consequence of this is that “by maintaining this loyalty an officer promotes presence of police deviance whether for a noble cause or not”.

We all are familiar with Robert Dzienkanski’s incident at the Vancouver International Airport. Where four Vancouver Police Officers tasered and killed Mr. Dzienkanski. This incident became publicised, and led to an investigation.  The RCMP found it easy to cover up the incident at first by casting a favourable light on the four police officers involved for police officers share an understanding of what it takes to make decisions in the field of action. It is hard for the public to understand the decisions police officers make because they are not in a role of authority and do not have to make decisions objectively. RCMP officers in this case supported their fellow officers precisely because the decisions they made were done in the heat of the moment, and the same thing could have happened to any of them.

Another more insidious example of the Blue Wall of Silence at play is the experience of sexual harassment that Constable Catherine Gallagher had with the RCMP for number of years. Gallagher states that her senior officer in the Air India Task Force would use the pretext of telling the Air India families new information to lead her out of town so that he could try to have sexual relations with her. Although there was no new information no one came forward or said anything to the contrary. Other officers stayed quite therefore demonstrating deviance as they did not report these activities in trade for acceptance and to retain membership within the organization. Before Gallagher even became a police officer she had intercourse with a RCMP officer who claimed that if she didn’t he would ensure that she never made it to the RCMP. The powerful pull of officers wanting to belong to a group is the force that causes officers to remain silent in order to get that feeling of acceptance. Gallagher accepted and normalized this behaviour for 16 years. Her need to stay in the force and be a part of the RCMP is the cause of her remaining silent up to now.  However, her coming out to the media and her 114 page report to the RCMP outlining how she was treated is a tremendous breakthrough.

The characteristics of the Blue Wall have become embedded and a part of the police sub-culture. It has become integrated into the actual backbone of the police organization in such a way that it has become an unofficial understanding on how justice is delivered. How can we change something that is instituted so deep?

The police may still be embedded with Weber’s idea that secrecy is part of a bureaucratic organization, but the society at large has changed with the age of information.  As the media has proven again and again, it is perfectly capable of exposing the inner workings of organizations that work on the presumption of secrecy and modern laws, such as the Access to Information Act, aid the media in this quest. This is a game changer.

Added to this is the available technology of cell phones equipped with photo and video cameras which the general public now carries around with them. What use to be secret can no longer be secret because whatever takes place with witnesses around can easily be recorded and submitted as evidence for the public’s consumption.

The idea that organizations can keep their inner workings secret in order to maintain their superiority is dying a slow, but inevitable death given modern technology. The future as Gary Rothwell and J. Norman Baldwin’s research has unearthed is that the predictors of police willingness to blow the whistle are going to come into play more and more.  The public demand for accountability, fueled by the media, is going to force the police force to implement the nine policy and structural variables which predict whistle-blowing. Again, these variables are:

  1. Capacity of the organization size;
  2. Number of police officers;
  3. Supervisory status;
  4. Agency tenure;
  5. Work group assignment;
  6. Existence of a policy manual;
  7. A policy mandating the reporting of misconduct;
  8. Presence of internal affairs unit; and
  9. Use of polygraphs.

Another unforeseen consequence, but as depicted by Constable Gallagher’s experience within the RCMP, is that the introduction of female police officers in the midst of what Thomas Nolan calls in his essay, “Behind the Blue Wall of Silence” in Men and Masculinities, a regimentated and ritualistic hegemony and a hidebound tradition of heterosexism and homophobia.  Nolan means that the undercurrent in police culture is infused with a homosocial and homoerotic cast that sexualizes the construct in a way which is unique to policing.  The police culture is mired in a form of masculinity that privileges tradition, ritual, hegemony and secrecy.  Nolan suggests that that the so called “Blue Wall of Silence” is a component of a coherent and compelling construction of a sexual identity that is grounded in “a phallogocentric, masculinist form of domination and that is mired in a faux-heterosexual masquerade”.  According to this understanding female police officers would be required to play the role of sexual objectification to titillate their male superiors.  However, as the breakdown acknowledged by Constable Gallagher indicates, such pressure placed on a police officer’s psyche can only go so far.  The Blue Wall of Silence worked as long as the officers participating in it saw themselves as a part of a brotherhood defending themselves against the outsiders, “the other”.  The Wall, however, is going to crumble when those in power decide to victimize the institution’s own members. It is like feasting on the inside of your skin.  All you are going to be left with is exposure to the elements.

In today’s world the elements are the information age; people’s expectation that those who are in position of power, or carry the ability to exercise power, need to be accountable for this exercise of power; and finally the attitudes which were prevalent within a male dominated work force now are undermined, for the better, by a greater representation of female participation in jobs traditionally held mostly by men.  The world has changed, and continues to change, and institutions which could uphold secrecy in their inner workings before, are now increasing pressured to disclose in this age of information accessibility and record ability.  When a person walking down the street can video police conduct on his/her cell phone and upload it to You Tube for the whole world to watch, how can secrecy be maintained, except by extreme prejudice.

First of all, what is the APEC? APEC stands for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. It is a forum consisting of 21 countries, which promotes free trade and economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. APEC was established in 1989. Canada joined APEC in 1989. An APEC meeting is held yearly and attended by the heads of government of each member country. In 1997, this APEC meeting was held in Vancouver at the UBC campus on November 24 and 25. During this summit, a protest was held at a designated protest area at UBC.

These demonstrators were protesting against the heads of state that were responsible for human rights violations in their respective country. In particular, Indonesian President Suharto and Chinese President Jiang Zemin were singled out by the protestors as being violators of human rights in Indonesia and China. In fact, Indonesian President Suharto threatened to boycott the Summit if the demonstrations embarrassed or offended his dignity. Some of Suharto’s comments regarding the protest can be found here.

In the days leading up to the Summit, police and security officials were roaming the UBC campus in order to silence any protestors who were putting up signs in the name of human rights. Some anti-Apec organizers were arrested prior to the Summit taking place. The law was used for preventative security and public order purposes, rather than with the intention of criminal prosecution and punishment. Frustration had been mounting in the days leading up to the meeting day. During the Summit, protestors eventually knocked down a security barricade in the designated protest area and RCMP officers responded with pepper spray, police dogs and arrests. Even a CBC camera man was hit with pepper spray. Many allegations of police misconduct were alleged against the RCMP. One such allegation was made by Craig Jones, who was reportedly arrested, held for fourteen hours and released without charge for displaying signs of “Free Speech,” “Democracy,” and “Human Rights”. Due to the many complaints filed against the RCMP, a Commission or Inquiry was held, which investigated the allegations of misconduct by RCMP officers. The Commissioner of Inquiry found that the conduct of individual RCMP officers, in some instances, were inconsistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that members of the public were affected by RCMP misconduct. The final report of this commission can be found by clicking here. Also, a chronological timeline of events relating to the incident can be found by visiting the this website.

After I typed in Vancouver 1997 APEC Summit into the Google search engine, a wide range of websites relating to the topic popped up. The first website that comes up in the search is the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website. The federal government website details the 1997 Vancouver APEC Summit. There is no mention of the protest or abuse of police authority on this website.

The second link that came up was a Wikipedia link which described everything about the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Under the heading of meeting developments, there are couple sentences that deal with the controversy that occurred with the RCMP using pepper spray against protesters in the 1997 Vancouver Summit. Other conflicts and threats to the other summit are also touched upon.

There is also a link to CBC archives. After clicking this link, a video of a news report taken after the UBC protest is shown. The video shows a heated conflict between RCMP officers and protestors, in which pepper spray is seen to be used. In the end of the video then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien responds to the question of the use of pepper spray by saying, “For me, pepper spray, I put it on my plate.” I thought this remark was very interesting. Here is a link to the video:

The fourth link linked me to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP website. Here the details of the Commission that resulted from the police misconduct at the protest are found. One link titled Fears of APEC-style Clash in 2010, referred to  protests and even had the following picture of the 1997 protests. When reporting on the fears of a conflict at the 2010 APEC Summit, plenty of mention was given to the Vancouver Summit. This website had interviews of some of the protestors and even with the executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. No RCMP representative was interviewed and it seemed to me that the article was written in favour of the protestors.

Overall, after typing in Vancouver 1997 APEC Summit, all but one link on the first page of the google search engine has some mention about the confrontation between protestors and RCMP officers. Interestingly, this one website without any mention of police deviance is the first link and is a government of Canada website.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched into the Canadian constitution in 1982. This Charter guarantees fundamental freedoms to everyone. According to the Charter, everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. Also, everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. To view the full contents of the Charter you can click here. During the 1997 Vancouver APEC summit, these fundamental freedoms which are guaranteed by the Charter were brushed under the mat and violated by the police during their dealings with demonstrators.

The APEC Commission which was assembled after complaints were made about RCMP conduct during the APEC summit found that the conduct of officers was inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by section 2 of the Charter. This final report could be found here. The question that needs to be asked is who gave the officers orders to strip demonstrators of their fundamental freedoms? The answer to this question is simple when you look back at the history of similar events in Canada. The RCMP was given orders by the political sphere of Canada to strip protestors of their rights and engage in police deviance if the need arose. However, it is important to note that this accusation of political interference has always been denied by the police and the politicians during this event and similar events in history.

The APEC Summit was business as usual. In his article “Hand in Glove? Politicians, Policing, and the Canadian Political Culture”, Wiseman is quoted as saying “behaviour of police and politicians at the APEC summit confirms their long standing view that the state and its police organs engage in systematic repression of democratic voices”. Although, the police and politicians are seen as separate, according to Wiseman, the politician is able to hide behind the veil of the police officer. Essentially, the police are an arm of political administration. During the APEC summit, the politicians used their strong police arm in order to silence the fundamental rights of protestors. Allowing politicians to influence the way police work is done goes against the official paradigm of the police. In the official paradigm or code, police independence is a major feature. According to Punch(2009), the official paradigm is the institutional ideology that an organization is structured upon and the operational paradigm refers to the practices that deviate from the official code. Police conduct during the APEC summit deviated from the official paradigm by allowing political influence to affect their police independence. The police are supposed to be accountable to the government, not directed by it. As stated earlier, if we look back at Canadian history, we can easily find similar instances in which politicians hid under the mask of the police and engaged in politically influenced behaviour. Wiseman states:

“It is hardly new in Canadian history. Police were used by authorities to thwart union-organizing activity among autoworkers in Oshawa,Ontario in the 1930s, in Quebec’s asbestos industry in the 1940s, and among Newfoundland’s loggers in the 1950s. The RCMP’s covert operations targeting the Parti Québécois in the 1970s are well documented.”

“If something goes amiss in the field, as it did, the Prime Minister claims his hands are clean. When the police act heavy-handedly or in violation of the law, a dumb cop excuse is almost always effective in shielding politicians from their responsibility for what happened.”

It is evident after reading “Police Corruption – Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing”, by Maurice Punch that the dumb cop excuse is almost always an effective excuse to shield the police organization and politicians from their responsibility during such events as the Vancouver APEC affair. However, Punch argues that the rotten apples theory is false. The rotten orchards theory is one that holds true when looking in-depth at police deviance incidences. The Knapp commission of 1972 and later the Mollen Commission in New York are evidence of that the rotten apples theory or the “dumb cop” theory is false. Instead, “there are no individuals in organizations” like the police according to Punch.

Now we’ll come back to the issue of the police being used as a political tool by politicians. During the Vancouver APEC summit, the strong-arm of the police was used by Canadian politicians. The politicians were the true face behind the mask of police deviance during the event. These politicians promised the Indonesian and Chinese head of states that they would subdue protests that were directed at them. According to the article “Globalization and the policing of protest: the case of APEC 1997” by Ericson et al. (1999), the head of states of Indonesia and China expressed their concerns to Ottawa that they didn’t want their leaders to be publicly embarrassed by protests at the Vancouver APEC summit. Indonesian president Suharto was assured by Canadian authorities that they would police the protest in an effective manner. Thus, the leaders of Indonesia and China influenced our Canadian politicians to influence the police to violate the fundamental freedoms of protestors.  In his (1999) article Ericson et al. comments on the meeting between a RCMP Staff Sergeant and the Indonesian APEC delegation:

RCMP Staff Sergeant Peter Montague reports on an advance meeting he conducted with Indonesian APEC delegation: ’I assured them that if there was a demonstration on a major motorcade route, we would take an alternate route to avoid potential embarrassment. …They asked me several times to repeat this assurance and I did.’

It is evident by the above quote that the RCMP were willing to do whatever it took to save the embarrassment of the Indonesian head of states. Also, the above quote perhaps suggests that the RCMP were influenced not only by Canadian politicians, but also by Indonesian politicians. To me, this suggestion is very disturbing. The fact that Canadian politicians were influencing the police to act in deviant methods in order protect the reputation of an accused human rights violator is horrific. Maurice Punch explains this type of behaviour in his three level typology of police deviance and corruption. The form of police deviance that was demonstrated at the Vancouver APEC summit was externally driven through state domination. In this case, the police were linked to and influenced by the state (Ottawa) and their goals. During this event, the goal of Canadian politicians was to save the embarrassment of visiting head of states. As a result of saving this embarrassment, innocent demonstrators were pepper sprayed, they were illegally strip searched and their fundamental freedoms which are guaranteed by the Canadian constitution were violated.

After the dust settled in the aftermath of the Vancouver APEC affair, a commission was held and the Ted Hughes recommended many things. A news article that comments on the conclusions of the Inquiry can be found here. The most important recommendation that Ted Hughes gave was in regards to relations between the police and Canadian government. Ted Hughes recommends:

“The Mounties should request “statutory codification” stating how they are independent from the federal government. The force’s officers need to know they must “brook no intrusion or interference whatever” in carrying out their duties.”

Although the above recommendation was stated by the head of the Commission, recent history has shown that the above suggestion had not been studied carefully. During the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto, similar events took place in which the police violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of protestors and if you look at that event in detail, you will find that the politicians were again using their arm of the police to crack down on protestors. As Wiseman states in his article, “police power and its use for political and other unlawful purposes is as strong – and as wrong – as ever”.

In sum, the policing of protest at the 1997 APEC meeting was characterized by political intervention, which lead the police to make illegal preventative arrests, censored peaceful expression and assaulted protesters who were already dispersing. Furthermore, there was a departure from democratic norms. Even the Ted Hughes, head of the APEC commission, points a finger at federal officials for unwarranted “influence and intrusion” in the pepper spraying and arrests of students camped at the Summit. However, this political intrusion has always been denied by Canadian politicians. Interestingly, commissioner Ted Hughes invited Jean Chretien to testify at the Inquiry, but the Prime Minister refused and distanced himself from the APEC affair.

In my opinion, events in which police violate the rights of peaceful protestors will always occur. The police, alongside the military, represent the arm of the state. The separation of powers between the police and government is considered an important part of liberal democracy. This separation of powers was invisible during the APEC protest. Politicians were able to influence the police to act in a certain way. When needed, the police can be utilized by the state and powerful interests to silence dissent, violate the rights of protestors and to help maintain the status quo. In the past, the police have been used by the state  to silence dissent during anti-Vietnam protests and during the Black civil rights movement in the United States of America. Closer to home, the 1997 APEC protest and the G20 Toronto Summit are instances in which the police were influenced by the state to silence dissent and to uphold the status quo.


Punch, Maurice (2009). Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing. Devon: Willan Publishing (Routledge)

Bronskill, Jim & Bailey, Patricia (2001). APEC report slams RCMP, Ottawa: Police conduct, meddling by officials called `inappropriate’. The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from on October 26, 2011.

Ericson, Richard & Doyle, Aaron. Globalization and the policing of protest: the case of APEC 1997. British Journal of Sociology. Dec 1999, Vol. 50 Issue 4, p589-608.

Ian Tomlinson’ s death became a controversy because it was believed that the family was misled about his death by the police. On April 1,2009, Ian Tomlinson was walking to go home when he collapsed and died on a London street, at the periphery of a G20 protest. Moments earlier he had been struck from behind by a police officer’s baton on a leg and pushed down on the ground.

Simon Harwood was the Metropolitan Police that struck and shoved Tomlinson to the ground. The decision not to charge Simon Harwood for the death of Ian Tomlinson was overturned primarily because it turned into a scandal when a video footage of the attack was released and it was only then, it was investigated as a criminal inquiry. The death of Ian Tomlinson was very controversial because many facts were not released to the public or to Mr. Tomlinson’s family in a timely fashion. Simon Harwood, charged with manslaughter for the death of Ian Tomlinson, has pleaded not guilty.

According to the first investigation report of Tomlinson’s death -which was released by the police – Mr. Tomlinson died of a sudden heart attack. The findings of a different pathologist for the second post-mortem stated that Tomlinson died as a result of bleeding caused by a blunt force trauma in the abdomen. There were discrepancies in post mortem reports and multiple autopsies needed to be conducted.

Tomlinson case is a well-known example of police deviance and attempt to evade accountability. Their initial failure to respond promptly rises a serious question of accountability. The governing and investigative body that ensures police are using reasonable force during protests have failed. Their failure to respond earnestly, in addition to some misleading information given by the police suggests that the organization is to blame for such corruption. Corrupt practices seemed to surround the organization, as seen in Tomlinson case through misleading reports and delayed information release. Police present that time of incident refused to cooperate and etc. In short, if formal accountability has failed to be delivered in this particular case, then cultural and organizational changes must be made

Punch (2009) states : “Yet a wealth of material- in academic publications, historical accounts, public inquiries, documentaries and media exposures, court cases, biographies of officers and films- reveals that police officers frequently if not routinely bend and break the disciplinary rules and the law. This is a recurring and persistent theme since the commencement of ‘modern’ public policing early in the nineteenth century. The combined historical and contemporary evidence indicates that the police can be venal and violent and can behave irresponsibly while evading accountability. For accountability is not something an agency can claim to possess simply because it meets the certain criteria or has procedures in place; rather it is something an agency convincingly delivers to the satisfaction of the stakeholders- both routinely but especially at critical moments.”

What made this story controversial is not only the use of force that led to Tomlinson’s death, but also the evasion of accountability . It is evident in this situation that the role of the police in protests is strategically coercive in nature, and it raises the question ” who are they protecting by exercising unnecessary force or violence?” Kettling is one of the tactics used in protests that raises questions of ethics and widely criticised as one of the inappropriate use of police force. Kettling is containment strategy and the police use their bodies (cordon) as a fence to stripped off any human rights. Police prevent people from getting in and getting out and sometimes police can deprive them of food and water for long periods of time. Often, after a group of protesters has been kettled in, the police tighten the cordon, and push the protesters into a smaller and smaller space until they are packed very closely together; if the protesters push back, the police retaliate by hitting them with their shields, their batons, or their hands. Sometimes police officers go inside the kettle and roughly pull out someone they suspect of having committed a crime — or someone who is shouting, or holding a sign, or taking photographs.

The Ian Tomlinson case showed issues surrounding police violence, direct action for accountability and mass media. The development of information taken by camera phones and digital cameras by bystanders, and shared or released to a networking sites is a new capability or power that captures the real image of policing. According to Goldsmith (2010), the concept of new visibility and Ian Tomlinson case are used to illustrate the unprecedented power of this new capability and the challenges that it poses for police image management. Following Tomlinson’s death, this ‘new visibility’ has put the police image under scrutiny and it also pushes the police organization to take some action of some kind. After the footage of the attack was released, some facts became more transparent to the public’s eye and supported the idea of the police misleading the public and the family of the victim: (1) The family was not told that they had a legal right to attend the autopsy, and (2) The first pathologist who examined Tomlinson, Freddy Patel, also conducted the autopsies for the Home Office and the police. Patel found that he had died of coronary artery disease. The second post-mortem was ordered by the family’s legal team and the IPCC after the footage was broadcast. (3) The second post-mortem was conducted by Dr. Nat Cary, who stated that Tomlinson died of internal bleeding. (4) The first pathologist did not mention if there were additional injuries and also omitted to mention blood volume found in the abdomen.(5) Before the officer was identified (Simon Harwood), an image was published showing his ID badge number was missing on his shoulder and his face covered with a balaclava.

The police are given their own judgement to decide to use force that is appropriate, necessary and reasonable according to the situation. If there is no set guidelines to the appropriateness, reasonableness and what is necessary use of force, how is there going to be a formal accountability in terms of dealing with police violence? Concealing these problems and as long as it is hidden from the public, it will not be dealt with. It only means that the organization itself is to blame. As Punch ( 2009) points out that there is no individual in an organization so therefore it makes no sense to deal with police corruption in a bad apple level. If police corruption is universal, present at some point in time and in every level of the organization, therefore, it should be dealt with as “rotten barrels” level and approaching it in a level of “ bad apples”, will simply NOT WORK. It only means that police corruption is formed within the institution.

A wrongful conviction can be understood as the conviction of an individual of a crime that person did not commit. The “crime that person did not commit” could refer to an “actual innocence” mistake (in which the convicted offender was not even involved in the actual crime), or it could refer to a “legal innocence” mistake (in which the convicted individual was involved in the crime to a different extent than the crime represented by the charge). The wrongful conviction of innocent people has gradually been recognized over the last quarter of a century as a problem for the Canadian criminal justice system. It is extremely difficult to determine the number of wrongful convictions in Canada. A situation where an individual is found to be legally guilty of a crime he or she did not commit; and the actual perpetrator is out free in the world. For a variety of reasons a person may be wrongfully convicted of a crime he or she did not commit, and the only way to prove his or her innocence is in a court of law. One of the major aspects of wrongful convictions is the tunnel vision; it results when there is a narrow focus on a limited range of alternatives. Tunnel vision is insidious and it results in the police officer becoming so confused upon an individual or incident that no other person or incident register’s in the officer’s thoughts. Canadian wrongful conviction victims are: Donald Marshall Jr., James Driskell, David Milgaard, William Mullins-Johnson, Steven Truscott, Kyle Unger.

While conducting an initial Google search on the topic “The Role of Police in Wrongful Convictions in Canada”, a number of interesting cases emerged. One of the result was a news article published by CBC news that highlights some major cases in Canadian history. This article has twelve cases and a brief description for each case and it is fairly recent because it was updated in October/2010.
An interesting case that was found during the preliminary research done on the topic is the case of Donald Marshall Jr case. The late Mr. Marshall was as a young Aboriginal man from Nova Scotia imprisoned 11 years for a murder he did not commit. The Marshall case was the subject of the first public inquiry into a wrongful conviction in Canada. The inquiry first raised awareness about wrongful convictions and it also made important recommendations about how to prevent them in the future.

Another interesting case was found is the case of Tammy Marquardt A young single mother from Ontario who was imprisoned for 13 years for the murder of her two and one half year son on the basis of erroneous forensic pathology expert testimony that the cause of her son’s death was asphyxia.

The term miscarriage of justice is not defined in legislation, but has been broadly defined by courts to include cases “where there was no unfairness at trial, but evidence was admitted on appeal that placed the reliability of the conviction in serious doubt. In these cases, the miscarriage of justice lies not in the conduct of the trial or even the conviction entered at trial, but rather in maintaining the conviction in the face of new evidence that renders the conviction factually unreliable.” Miscarriages of justice are not limited to cases of proven or factual innocence and include both cases where there have been unfair trials or the reliability of the conviction is in serious doubt. Justice Kaufman in an important report advising the Minister of Justice whether to reopen a conviction has stressed that a miscarriage of justice would occur both if an innocent person was convicted or if new evidence could reasonably have affected the verdict. In the latter circumstances “it would be unfair to maintain the accuser’s conviction without an opportunity for the trier of fact to consider new evidence.” Thus convictions in Canada can be both re-opened and quashed on grounds short of proven innocence. In my view, this is a strength of the Canadian system given the practical difficulties of establishing innocence in a definitive manner.

The various research that has been conducted on this topic primarily focuses on the phenomenon of tunnel vision, which Margaret Beare defines in her scholarly article Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop, “the single-minded and overly narrow focus on an investigation or prosecutorial theory so as to unreasonably color the evaluation of information received and one’s conduct in response to the information” (Margaret Beare, 2008, p.21).
The article “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop” is Margaret Beare’s research on a project undertaken with Dianne Martin that was still incomplete at the time of the latter’s sudden death. The objective was to asses the degree to which the police had or had not implemented recommendations for changes in police procedures made by inquiries, task, forces, commissions and auditor general’s reports. The recommendations are based on wrongful convictions. The over representation of judges and lawyers in the evaluating process and the privileging of legal knowledge over social science or other scholarships appear to be endemic. It is also easier to formulate languages like “tunnel vision” and systemic missteps to characterize weaknesses in the system than to provide concrete examples how to provide those in the future. There is a tendency to revert to blaming individuals or rotten apples despite having identified the whole system per as contributing to the wrong outcome.

The idea of Noble Cause Corruption is a mindset or sub-culture which fosters a belief that the ends justify the means. In other words, law enforcement is engaged in a mission to make our streets and communities safe, and if that requires suspending the constitution or violating laws ourselves in order to accomplish our mission, then for the greater good of society, so be it. The officers who adopt this philosophy lose their moral compass. This type of thinking is misguided and places the officer at risk of losing his/her job, facing criminal charges, and seriously damaging the reputation of their agency. Some examples include: lying in court to convict a suspect, also referred to as “testifying,” planting evidence on suspects, and falsifying reports. According to Beare, the noble cause corruption when the “justice officials – in the name of getting a conviction – are prepared to violate laws, Charter protections, and any number of ethical considerations” (Beare, 2008, p.33).

Margaret Beare makes an interesting point in regards to police officers assuming innocence until proven guilty. “We ought not to wonder at the number of cases where it is revealed that the police operated from an assumption of guilt, but rather question how a justice system could have been imagined whereby officers working daily for months or even years on a case-often a horrendous crime of some sort-could be expected to try to build cases while assuming innocence.” (2008, p.33). She also points out that the theme in all of these wrongful-conviction cases is that justice is a “game that you wrap to fit your preferences, or your unconscious biases.” Therefore “shop around” and select evidence, experts, and judges based on your specific agenda” (2008, p.33). Erroneous errors in police investigations have been one of the most common causes of wrongful convictions and that behind some of these errors is a deliberate attempt to get the guy that you know to be guilty. Margaret Beare argues that wrongful convictions are caused by other issues such as systemic problems within the criminal justice system itself. She also explains that these are “problems that won’t be fixed as long as the miscarriage of justice is treated as an isolated even…wrongful convictions don’t occur in a vacuum. There are systemic reasons they go wrong” (2008, p.29). However, using the word systemic does not cure the problem.

This topic “The role of police in wrongful convictions” relates to the idea around police deviance and accountability because Maurice Punch in his text Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing argues that corruption is not one thing but covers many deviant and criminal practices in policing which also shift over time. It rejects the ‘bad apple’ metaphor and focuses on ‘bad orchards’, meaning not individual but institutional failure. For in policing the organisation, work and culture foster can encourage corruption. This raises issues as to why do police break the law and, crucially, ‘who controls the controllers’? Corruption is defined in a broad, multi-facetted way. It concerns abuse of authority and trust; and it takes serious form in conspiracies to break the law and to evade exposure when cops can become criminals.

As the pace of DNA exoneration has grown across the country in recent years, wrongful convictions have revealed disturbing fissures and trends in our criminal justice system. Together, these cases show us how the criminal justice system is broken – and how urgently it needs to be fixed. In 2001, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School analyzed the cases of 86 death row exonerees. They found a number of reasons why innocent people are wrongly convicted in capital cases. Also Marvin Zalman give other factors in wrongful convictions, included in their article “Criminal Justice System Reform and Wrongful Conviction”, Which describes the nature and importance of wrongful conviction as a criminal justice policy issue, the development of an innocence movement to litigate on behalf of potential exonerees and to promote policy issues, the innocence movement’s policy and research agenda, and the very small amount of criminal justice research on the issue in comparison to legal and psychological inquiry. Wrongful Conviction as a Policy Issue: This section describes the policy salience of wrongful conviction, the nature of the emerging innocence movement, the movement’s reform and research agenda, and the limited nature of innocence research by criminologists and criminal justice scholars. “Wrongful conviction is now an issue on the public agenda. The news media, long Supportive of prosecutors, are now sensitized to miscarriages of justice, and their Continuing reports of exoneration keeps the issue in the public eye”. (Tulsky, 2006; Warden, 2003). Marvin Zalman also makes a specific points about the civil cases, fair trial rights vindicate the truth, “while government misconduct is revealed as having concealed evidence of a Person’s innocence, leading to a gross miscarriage of justice” (Garrett, 2005, p. 38). As a result of the DNA revolution, it is now thought that wrongful convictions are so frequent as to constitute a major policy concern that poses a serious challenge to the fairness and accuracy of the Criminal justice process. This article has proposed a broad research agenda addressing the new innocence movement that works to clear wrongly convicted convicts and to generate and publicize policy changes that logically should reduce miscarriages of justice.

Wrongful convictions are an inherently difficult topic to study, but the increase in exonerations over the past two decades has accentuated the need for research on how and why wrongful convictions occur. The major factor contributing to the increased discovery of wrongful convictions has been the use of post-conviction DNA examinations. Exoneration using DNA evidence have been well publicized, whereas non-DNA exoneration have typically been difficult to track, but both are important in determining the major factors behind wrongful conviction.

In conclusion, there can be no greater failure of the Criminal Justice System than to convict an innocent person. Yet we know it happens, and with greater frequency than once believed. If one extrapolates from the 197 convicted persons exonerated by DNA of serious crimes in the U.S., and the small but growing number in Canada, it is only reasonable to assume that the actual number is far greater, because of the high number of cases where DNA was not available to assist in determining the truth. This is unacceptable. Fortunately, it is possible to greatly reduce the potential for wrongful convictions. In every Canadian case discussed earlier, serious, avoidable errors were made in the police investigations (as well as by other players in the Criminal Justice System). There is now considerable research on why investigative failures leading to wrongful convictions occur, which provides the road map to preventing them. Proper recruiting and training, implementation of the major case management model, fostering a culture of excellence in ethical investigations, and ongoing education into the causes of wrongful convictions and proper investigative techniques are necessary to create an environment in which only the guilty are convicted, not the innocent. A wrongful conviction not only hurts the individual convicted, it hurts society, both in terms of the true guilty party being allowed to remain free, but also in terms of the public’s confidence in the Criminal Justice System. The police play a pivotal role in this system, and must play a similarly significant role in working to prevent wrongful convictions. The question arises, what can we as a society to do help combat wrongful convictions? Can we do anything in regards to police training?


Beare, M. (2008). “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop”, in M. Beare (ed.) Honouring Social Justice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 17-54.

Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: deviance, accountability and reform in policing. UK: Willan Publishing