Matt Sheehy – Police Caught in the Middle

Covid-19 has made law enforcement more difficult. Crime rates have not abated but social tension, mental breakdowns, and Covid restrictions have increased dramatically. Covid has put police in a position of enforcing rules, mandates, and regulations as if they are laws. Few of these have yet been challenged under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The public has generally complied given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic. But as two weeks to flatten the curve turned to two years of lockdowns, the populace is getting cranky and less compliant.

This grumpiness will only increase as restrictions remain in place. In enforcing increasingly unpopular mandates, police can find themselves at odds with members of the community who would normally be supportive of police efforts to maintain law and order.

Over the past 18 months politicians and bureaucrats seemed to engage in a contest to see who could appear tougher in dealing with Covid. Some health bureaucrats appeared to enjoy their newfound influence a little too much. In almost every community, busybodies emerged as experts on the latest rules and regulations, which were forever changing. It is all beginning to wear thin with the public.

This puts law enforcement in a difficult position vis-a-vis those they are sworn to protect, and risks shattering the centuries-old social contract between the protectors and protected. In some places like Australia, this contract is now so utterly fractured it will never be mended.

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Be Wary: We must be wary of a health crisis bleeding over into politics
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Can’t happen here you say? We have all seen Canadian police use questionable force against civilians including clergy, mothers with children, and, yes, kids in playgrounds.

Exceptions you say. Well of course they are exceptions, but they were nevertheless blasted across the news in Canada. The imagery is ugly.

We must be wary of a health crisis bleeding over into politics. Where does health care leave off and politics begin? Police do not want to be anywhere near this dreadful juncture.

History has taught us that using the police to enforce political agendas never ends well.
Police associations and unions need to become more involved in issues related to Covid 19 enforcement and educate members on the limits of their legal and moral responsibility.

The very definition of what constitutes a legal order is rooted in a mountain of international law going back to Nuremberg. Here’s a hint, “I was ordered to do it” is no defence.

Aside from international law, public perception weighs heavily on how laws are interpreted. And here things are changing. The public is increasingly wary of public Covid pronouncements. We are learning mandatory vaccines are not 100% effective. Vaccine recipients can still get Covid. Now we need boosters.

This was not how the vaccines were marketed. To many it seems like a bait and switch. Universities and think tanks are revealing lockdowns do more harm than good. Not so long ago, public health officials ridiculed inexpensive therapeutics for Covid but now that Merck has its own pricey therapeutic, they are back in fashion. No wonder everyone is skeptical.

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Shifting Narrative

The public narrative on Covid is shifting with each passing week with new revelations. The legal and moral landscape two years from now will be different. Gross errors in public policy will be laid bare. Will politicians and news media step up and accept responsibility? No, they will look for scapegoats, and blame always flows downhill. Police should consider where they might fit in this blame game?

We train police officers about diversity, cultural sensitivities, terrorism, and reasonable force. Might it be time to educate police on what constitutes a legal order and the liability of enforcing an order that may in the future be viewed as illegitimate? It is time for police associations, fraternities, and unions to provide forums for discussion of these issues.

When local police forces in Ontario refused to enforce Premier Ford’s order to stop and interrogate people without cause, they said no. It was a good start.

In closing, I will quote from Sir Robert Peel who is recognised as the father of modern policing.

“The police are the public and the public are the police.” Once that trust is eroded it is very difficult to repair.

 

Captain Matt Sheehy

Air Canada (Ret.) Member of IPA (Canada).

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Captain Matt Sheehy is a retired airline pilot with 37 years experience and has over 20,000 hours in his log book. He also has extensive experience and expertise in the field  of aviation security. Matt is former OPP Auxiliary Constable and continues to lend his security expertise to the aviation and transportation industry.

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