Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Targeting critics of the law

Jerry Stratton, September 22, 2005

When Canadian journalist Kerry Diotte criticized red light cameras in his Edmonton Sun column, Edmonton police pulled his files looking for a reason to arrest him. When that didn’t work, they pulled his automobile information and home information, and ordered a special task force to be on a special lookout for Diotte’s car by license and description.

The special task force was “a squad designed to target a list of 100 aggressive drivers.” Diotte was not on the list, but “aggressive drivers” to Sergeant Bill Newton apparently includes drivers who criticize police revenue streams.

They also tracked Diotte down, found his favorite bar, and staked that out. Diotte, however, took a taxi home. Witnesses say he wasn’t drunk, but perhaps he knew it pays to be extra-cautious when you’ve been criticizing city revenue projects, especially ones that benefit police departments.

This highlights two problems: one is that when law enforcement has easy access to information about people, individual law enforcement agents will use that information, whether it is legal or not, to harass police critics or other people they don’t like.

The other is that when we make laws that everyone is going to break, it makes it easier for law enforcement to harass people who speak out against those laws. Newton fully expected to find something in Diotte’s files that could be used against him. If Diotte had driven home, even if he wasn’t drunk, the task force would have stopped him for some violation, whether going with the flow of traffic (higher than the speed limit) or obstructing traffic (at the speed limit) or one of the myriad other laws that police can use to stop anybody on the road. Once stopped, they could, under Canadian drinking and driving laws, claim “impaired driving”, regardless of Diotte’s blood alcohol level.

Diotte was lucky. He should consider himself lucky they didn’t start targeting his family as well. That’s another risk when criticizing one or more of a class of laws that everyone breaks at some time or other.

  1. <- Federalizing New Orleans
  2. Left Wing Court ->