They are experts at pounding things— beats, doors and even the occasional head. Now Canada’s 63,000 police are learning how to pound on politicians’ desks. Increasingly organized and affluent, the police have become highly skilled lobbyists, pushing the law-and-order line. They are driven by their own certainty that they know what is best for the country and that their views have broad support among a public fed up with crime, criminals and legal mollycoddling. The police campaign developing against the abolition of capital punishment is a good illustration of just how sophisticated the men and women inblue have become at the political game.
The basic strategy was unanimously arrived at during a meeting last month in Montreal’s Dorval Hilton. Fifty representatives of various police associations across the country had gathered for a one-day session. The subject was hanging. The concern was that Parliament would abolish it, although the police firmly believe that most Canadians want it retained. The result was a telegram blitz of all MPS, who were asked to put their views on the record. The intention is to publicize the names and views of the abolitionists in Parliament so that retentionist voters can bring pressure to bear. It may not be subtle, in the manner of lobbyists for multinational corporations, but it could be effective. “It looks like it will be a very close division [in Parliament],” commented Meryle Cameron,
president of the Canadian Police Association. “The polls indicate a very strong majority of Canadians want capital punishment kept, and we hope politicians will consider very carefully before going against the wishes of their constituents.” Virtually every cop in the country is a firm believer in the death penalty for premeditated murder. Not, they say, because of any bloodlust on their part but because they doubt that anything else will deter the violent professional criminal. “I’m in favor of retention,” says Joe Ross, executive director of the Police Association of Nova Scotia. “But I’m not a barbarian or anything like that. I’m a family man with eight kids.” Cameron believes there “probably is a more humane way of administering capital punishment than the noose ... Giving a chap a needle in the arm would be a very easy way to do it.” But noose or needle, gas chamber or guillotine, the police want Canada to keep the ultimate deterrent. They do not like Ottawa’s counterproposal—that capital offenses carry a mandatory 25-year jail term, albeit with the possibility of a judicial review after 15 years. Harold Adamson. Metro Toronto’s top cop and president of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, is miffed that the chiefs’ position has been misunderstood or misrepresented as being in favor of the 25-year sentence. “Mr. [Solicitor General Warren] Allmand and others have been misquoting us,” Adamson says. “We do not say we support the 25-year proposal. We want the death penalty kept. What we are saying is that if Parliament in its collective wisdom abandons the death penalty we would be satisfied with the 25 years, provided it was 25 years firm. No judicial review after 15 years.” According to Adamson, the 15-year review would mean some prisoners would be released a year later. “The public won’t stand for these people being back on the streets.”
The policeman-as-lobbyist is a relatively new development in Canada, made necessary, the police say, by ineffectual politicians and lenient judges who are too quick with bail and too slow with jail. Says Nova Scotia’s Ross: “It used to be that rank-and-file police left it up to politicians and the chiefs to make policy. But they’ve been doing such a bad job that we’ve had to step in.” The vehicle for rank-and-file militancy is the police association—a postwar phenomenon that gives police a labor union in everything but name. The Canadian Police Association, headed by Cameron (a 25-year veteran of the Ottawa municipal force), is an umbrella group representing almost every officer in the country, except for the 15,000-strong RCMP and the Quebec provincial force. The CPA and its member associations are not poor. The national average pay for a first-class constable in 1975 was $16,000; the usual dues were 1% of that. In other words, the police associations have a combined budget of perhaps eight million dollars a year—with which to finance collective bargaining, staff salaries, legal fees, association premises and political campaigns like the one in favor of capital punishment.
With their higher salaries (10 years ago the average constable earned $5,700), their improved status in crime-conscious communities and their new political clout (they helped force a review of the contentious Bail Reform Act), the police in Canada seem to have overcome what used to be a chronic morale problem. If they win their current campaign, the policemen’s lot will be a happy one indeed.
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