Canadian Police Protest Charter Violations

“The greatest tyrannies are always perpetuated in the name of the noblest causes.” —Thomas Paine

“All tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but once the fraud is exposed they must rely exclusively on force.” —George Orwell

Canadian police associations are hiring lawyers to represent them in protest for having to violate Charter rights and freedoms.

You know something’s wrong when even the police are protesting Covid rules. It began with a coalition of Ontario police officers forming a group known as Police On Guard For Thee and hiring constitutional lawyer Rocco Galati to represent them in early January. In the words of a press release issued by the Constitutional Rights Centre of which Galati is chief counsel, “they are concerned about the apparent Charter violations” of Covid measures. “We swore an oath to uphold the Charter, keep the peace, prevent offenses and ensure public safety. Some officers are doing what they’re told without realizing that in doing so they are actually breaching the Charter which they swore to uphold.”[1] Since then, police in Alberta have also taken legal representation in protest.

The statement issued by Police On Guard For Thee was signed by Len Faul, a retired OPP officer with 32 years of service. Faul explains that “provincial legislation, such as the Ontario Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, is NOT criminal law. Members of the public failing to comply with emergency measures such as mandatory mask wearing, gathering in groups, meeting with family or friends MAY be in breach of Provincial regulations, but these are not crimes. Police power to enforce Provincial legislation is very limited and we must bear in mind that members of the public do not need to talk to the police, nor identify themselves as a result of this regulation, particularly if an explanation or request by an officer will suffice. …Police management must be held accountable for all directives given to their officers to ensure the basic Rights and Freedoms (sic) of our community members are rigorously ensured.”

Also prominent in the movement calling for an end to police abuses is retired Ontario Provincial Police officer Vincent Gircys, who was present when Toronto City Police raided the Adamson Barbecue and arrested business owner Adam Skelly. In an on-site video interview, Gircys expressed disgust at the move and the abrogation of Charter rights suffered by Skelly, while just down the street a corporate box store carried on its business unmolested. In an extensive interview with What’s Up Canada,[2] an independent YouTube channel, Gircys outlined the fundamental principles of policing and their obligation to uphold the Charter. “In Ontario, you promise to enforce and protect the constitution of Canada without bias, and that’s basically the Charter. It’s pretty straightforward.” Gircys said that unless a case can be demonstrably made for new laws and regulations that impact the Charter, i.e. by providing scientific or legal validation, it amounts to “a power grab.”

Gircys explained Sir Robert Peel’s nine fundamental principles of policing[3] and asked that fellow officers consider whether these are also being violated. Peel, a Prime Minister of England, established the London Metropolitan Police force in 1829 and was thus dubbed “the father of modern policing.” Two of Peel’s foundational principles include that “to secure and maintain respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws,” and that “the extent to which the cooperation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.” In addition, “police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.” Gircys cites the media as public enemy number one during the Covid crisis, calling them out for doing “a disservice to this country.” He spoke of how public trust in the police – hard-won but easily lost – is being undermined by unjust Covid regulations.

The statement from Police On Guard For Thee adds: “Some of (our officers) have drifted away from the oath without realizing, due to pressure from supervisors and politicians. This has led to often extreme action by officers which has caused severe bodily harm, and even death, of otherwise good and law-abiding citizens they are supposed to protect. That is why we are acting now. We cannot go along with unethical, vague, overly broad, arbitrary, draconian and unconstitutional practices and directives in law enforcement. Any violation of the oath that we took renders enforcement unlawful.”

Alberta police officers are just as dismayed by the unconstitutional Covid regime in their province. A Police On Guard for Thee statement titled “COVID-19 – Perspective of Active Duty Police Officers in Alberta,”[4] notes the absurdity of police being asked to “surveil toboggan hills, break up outdoor hockey games, respond to calls to disperse family Sunday dinners, monitoring for people standing too close together and observing face covering compliance. Can any serving Law Enforcement Officer honestly say that they signed up for this? Perhaps a better question is, ‘is any of this actually legal?’” The group took the time to read the Alberta Public Health Act, where they discovered “some truly frightening authority that the Government of Alberta, at one time or another, bestowed upon itself.” These include the power to extra-judicially issue a certificate for the detention of someone they deem to be a recalcitrant patient for up to seven days; and to order the immunization of anyone who isn’t immunized or otherwise immune to the virus. Although these powers have apparently yet to be used, they remain on the books.

The statement further notes that at an injunction hearing brought by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms against Alberta’s public health orders held on December 21, 2020, the Honorable Justice Anne Kirker acknowledged that “Albertans are suffering irreparable harm as a result of the infringement caused by the public health orders.” Unfortunately, the judge ruled against the injunction anyway, leaving the Alberta government in violation of both Charter and Alberta Bill of Rights provisions. The officers admit in the press release that “I was just following orders” isn’t an excuse for continued violations of civil rights, a principle established in the post World War II Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals.[5]

It’s worth noting that history demonstrates that when governments act so far outside international human rights laws that even their police forces can’t support them, such regimes usually collapse. A classic example is the case of Bolivia vs. Bechtel in January 2000. When the Bolivian government privatized the public water systems of two of its largest urban centers, El Alto/La Paz and the city of Cochabamba, water rates soared by more than 50 percent. This sparked a rebellion that came to be known as the Cochabamba Water Revolt, during which a 17-year-old boy was killed by the army. This incident led to the military laying down their weapons, the collapse of the government, and forced the Bechtel corporation out of the country after a token settlement was reached.

It’s encouraging to see the commitment of our peace officers to rights and freedoms that were hard fought and won over many decades. Their actions reflect the spirit of the “Call to Defend Democracy” issued in June 2020 by the international Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)[6]: “Silencing free speech, jailing peaceful dissenters, suppressing legislative oversight, and indefinitely cancelling elections all do nothing to protect public health. It is only through democracy that societies can build the social trust that enables them to persevere in a crisis, maintain national resilience in the face of hardship, heal deep societal divisions through inclusive participation and dialogue, and retain confidence that sacrifice will be shared and the rights of all citizens respected.”

We’ll let Officer Gircys have the last word: “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep sitting down to decide what to have for lunch.”   

[1] “Police on Guard for Thee” hires Rocco Galati of Constitutional Rights Centre, January 11, 2021 (link to downloadable PDF): https://www.constitutionalrightscentre.ca/police-on-guard-for-thee/ See also Police on Guard for Thee Facebook page with initial statement dated December 21, 2020.

[2] “When Officers Start Speaking Out, It’s Time to Listen Canada,” interview with retired OPP officer Vincent Gircys, What’s Up Canada YouTube channel, December 4, 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdKtEdI8Sb4&feature=youtu.be

[3] Law Enforcement Action Partnership, “Sir Robert Peel’s Policing Principles,” full text: https://lawenforcementactionpartnership.org/peel-policing-principles/

[4] https://twitter.com/PoliceOnGuard/status/1353356893079519233/photo/1

[5] US Department of Health and Human Services / National Institutes of Health Office of NIH History & Stetten Museum, The Nuremberg Code (full text): https://history.nih.gov/display/history/Nuremberg+Code

[6] International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), “A Call to Defend Democracy,” June 25, 2020: https://www.idea.int/news-media/multimedia-reports/call-defend-democracy

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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2 Responses to Canadian Police Protest Charter Violations

  1. Vincent says:

    Democracy “IS” two wolves and a sheep sitting down to have lunch! If you’re going to quote me, you need to get it right.

    V. Gircys

  2. My apologies. The correction will be made. Thanks!

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