Saturday, March 22, 2008

Power trip: OC Transpo

Something is badly broken at Ottawa's municipal bus service, OC Transpo. A big hat-tip to apply-liberally and to the Ottawa Sun's Ron Corbett for this story. It's one that deserves wide circulation, so I thought I'd do my bit.

Readers will remember my run-in with ill-trained rent-a-cops at the Greater Toronto Airport not long ago. The increasing use of contracted-out uniformed goons in North America is a serious cause for concern, in fact. It is hard enough to make regular police forces accountable, as the killing of Robert Dziekanski, at the hands of RCMP officers who are still on active duty, graphically illustrates. But, imperfect as they no doubt are, there are public complaints processes that at least permit the semblance of accountability: and, when they fail, as they so often do, to punish police abuses, they become in themselves the subject of public scrutiny and pressure.

We know, in other words, where to go if a police officer misbehaves. Without these minimal and imperfect safeguards, we might end up with routine practices somewhat more like this recent OC Transpo outrage. A disabled man, trying to find his way home, was accosted by rent-a-cops, who held him, handcuffed him, and possibly robbed him as well. Lines of accountability, in such cases, are far less clear.

Obviously the victim in question seems to have a sterling civil case for false arrest against OC Transpo and their hired muscle, if a lawyer is willing to take it on pro bono. (A former government scientist, he is now struggling to live on a disability pension.) But my question is this: are the Ottawa Police involved in this case? Because they should be.

If the story holds, the rent-a-cops in this case, who have had the status of "special constables" since April 1, 2007 (allowing them to make arrests), appear to be guilty of
forcible confinement, assault and possibly theft. A person is guilty of forcible confinement, as set out in Section 279(2) of the Code, "who, without lawful authority, confines, imprisons or forcibly seizes another person" [emphasis mine--DD]. Assault is defined in Section 265(1) of the Code: "A person commits an assault when (a) without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly."

So, are the Ottawa police all over this case? They ought to be. Not only does the matter, as reported, clearly warrant their involvement; it is surely in the interests of proper law enforcement that private security agents, "special constables" or otherwise, not be permitted to usurp and exceed legitimate police authority. I shall not be alone, I suspect, in expecting the Ottawa Police Services to commence an immediate investigation.

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