Back of the Book
Implementing new approaches – with distinction
May 5, 2022 By Morley Lymburner
Exactly 10 years ago, Robert Lunney, former Chief of both Edmonton Police and Peel Regional Police, wrote an article for Blue Line. In it he pointed out concerns regarding the ever-present dangers of social media and its effect on social unrest. He wrote a message worth repeating:
“The roots of disquiet must be assessed and dealt with by the body politic, but the symptoms are issues for the police. The crowd behaviour and tactics of protesters present challenges differing from the past. The ubiquity of social media offers agitators new techniques to control crowd behaviour, testing police mobility and timing. The challenge is to protect lives and property, while respecting the democratic right to freedom of assembly and free speech. New coping strategies and tactics will be needed.
“The tenets of democratic policing are based on the principles of Sir Robert Peel and those beliefs are relevant to every aspect of police response. To paraphrase:
- Police should prevent crime and disorder.
- The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
- The degree of co-operation of the public diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.”
Lunney, like myself, has been a staunch supporter of inter-agency cooperation. He has been a firm believer in a life of continual learning and sharing of knowledge acquired. In fact, these are the tenets on which Blue Line Magazine was founded.
The occupation of Ottawa in the early months of 2022 showed both the weaknesses and the strengths of policing in Canada. There is much to be learned.
Early on in the occupation, the community and local, provincial and federal politicians were told that this was an event never seen before. The scope and character of the events leading up to the blockade, and the hostage taking of a community, was not realized by politicians despite pleadings from local police that they did not have the resources to handle this. The government let the police down with simple remarks like “You can use your local resources” and “Just use laws that exist to deal with it”.
One of the most egregious of all was individual politicians deciding to negotiate with this group by short circuiting the police. Some went to “hear them out” and found there was no focus nor particulars they could address. Others decided having a meal with the organizers of the protest would solve all the problems. Another decided he would approach the leaders to get a “concession” to remove trucks from a back street.
The scope and character of the events leading up to the blockade…was not realized by politicians despite pleadings from local police that they did not have the resources to handle this.
In hostage situations, the first rule is to never give the perpetrator the “top guy”. As Churchill said, “Those who are charged with the direction of supreme affairs must sit on the mountain-tops of control; they must never descend into the valleys of direct physical and personal action.”
Unfortunately, it is a known axiom that when politicians feel they have lost control of a serious problem they reactively reach out to that which they can control. The police became the scapegoat in general and, since he is the top person, the Ottawa Chief of Police in particular.
As the world found out, this occupation was better organized and financed than anyone had predicted. Huge sums of money came in from unknown and mysterious sources and tractor trailers were filled with camping gear. Subsequent events proved the former Chief was correct as the world subsequently saw the numbers of police and resources that had to be brought to bear to clean it up.
This is where we saw police agencies from across the country come together, using their training to the maximum to end a semi-seditious conspiracy with no singular endgame. It could only be accomplished with a lot of personnel and an unlimited budget. Resources that could only be called upon with the government’s institution of The Emergencies Act.
Robert Lunney’s remarks from 10 years ago were prescient to today’s realities:
“If our cities are indeed on the threshold of an increase in public disorder arising from deepening societal divides, and if this protest movement has more traction with the general public than the disorderly events of the past, then it is imperative that the forces for order make astute preparations. Batons, pepper spray and mass arrests are a last resort. If ‘something’s going on,’ then new approaches are called for.”
In Ottawa’s case, new approaches were called for and new approaches were implemented with distinction.
Morley Lymburner, U.E., M.S.M., is the former creator and publisher of Blue Line magazine
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