Bill Blair’s Peculiar Coup: An Alternate Perspective on Police Misconduct.

Posted on June 30, 2010


So it turns out that police chief Bill Blair not only ordered his men to ignore the charter of rights and freedoms, he also deliberately misrepresented a law which granted his officers expanded powers of search, questioning and detention. In my previous post, I argued that in giving these orders to his officers, Blair was breaking the law. This time around, I’ll take a slightly different approach, and show that the results are no less appalling.

Let’s start with the proposition that the rules enforced by Blair’s officers were the law, because they were enforced by officers of the law. This view is consistent with legal positivism, or the view that the rightness or wrongness of a law has no bearing on its status of the law. John Austin (1790-1859) came up with a good scenario to summarize this position:

“Suppose an act innocuous, or positively beneficial, be prohibited by the sovereign under the penalty of death; if I commit this act, I shall be tried and condemned, and if I object to the sentence, that it is contrary to the law of God, who has commanded that human lawgivers shall not prohibit acts which have no evil consequences, the Court of Justice will demonstrate the inconclusiveness of my reasoning by hanging me up, in purusance of the law of which I have impugned the validity.”

Forgive his religious language; Austin is a product of his time. The central point is that all that is needed for a law to be a law is for it to be enforced by the state. This squares nicely with the “Tough luck, hippie. The police have the authority to do what is necessary” perspective frequently expressed by police apologists. So let’s run with that.

If the five meter law, along with the illegal searches which were carried out all over the city, were the law because Bill Blair said so, then Blair acted to create and enforce his very own law. This is much more pernicious than a simple lie. If Bill Blair’s orders constituted a real law, then he was effectively taking over the duties of the legislative branch of government, making and enforcing laws without their involvement or consent. Anybody who values democracy should be very concerned that this was allowed to happen.

Given the conditions in the jail, one could make the argument that Blair, or some other ranking police officer, had also decided to take on the duties of the judicial wing of the government. The people in the jail were punished. They were left handcuffed in overcrowded cells with inadequate food and water. This has since been justified on the grounds that the detainees were violent criminals. Police apologists say this in spite of the fact that nobody in that jail was convicted of any crime. Traditionally, it is the job of the police to stop crimes from happening and apprehend those who commit them. It is then up to judges, lawyers and the rest of the court system to assign punishment to those who break the law. There is a distinction between jail, where arrestees are held temporarily, and prison, where convicted criminals repay their debt to society. Police officers decide who goes to be held in jail, while judges decide who goes to be punished in prison. At the film studio jail, the Toronto Police could be said to have bypassed the judicial system and implemented brutal punishments on unconvicted prisoners, most of whom appear to have been either peaceful protesters or innocent bystanders.

What do you call it when the police unilaterally take over the legislative and judicial functions of government? When the military does the same thing, you call it a coup. I don’t see why it should be any different if the police are at fault. If Blair’s made-up laws were indeed valid, then he orchestrated what might be one of the most bizarre coups the would has ever seen. It only lasted a few days, and as of this moment it continues to have the full support of the government it supplanted.

You can condemn Bill Blair and the Toronto Police Service differently depending on how you interpret the laws they were enforcing. You could say that the laws did not exist. If this is the case then, as I argued yesterday, the Toronto Police Service were complicit in the largest string of organized crime our country has ever seen. If, on the other hand the laws did exist by virtue of their being enforced, then Bill Blair enacted what amounts to a temporary coup, supplanting both the legislative and judicial branches of government in order to have total control over the city.

Either way, he needs to resign. Now.