Focus On

Apples and injuries: Framing conversation on police reform | Jeffrey Hartman

Tuesday, August 04, 2020 @ 2:23 PM | By Jeffrey Hartman


Jeffrey Hartman %>
Jeffrey Hartman
Used to ride around here up on my high horse..."
Matthew Good Band, The Future Is X-Rated

On June 26, 2020, the Hamilton Spectator published a cartoon by Theo Moudakis of a police car with a label reading “WARNING: May be hazardous to Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Colour, and to those with mental health issues.”   

Powerful people in the Hamilton region don’t like the cartoon. Halton police Chief Steve Tanner, tweeted: “Thanks @TheSpec for adding to negative stereotypes and adding fuel when it is not needed nor warranted. If or when we have officers with issues they will be dealt with and terminated as required. Saying all police are “bad” is as accurate as saying any group is all that way.”

Police are not like “any group.” Black, Indigenous, BIPOC, and those with mental health issues are not like police. Police are united by employment as civil servants (thank you to Dave Shellnutt for that observation) not by personal characteristics that have for centuries subjected certain people to derision and scorn. Comparing police to a group of Black people, for example, to conclude that every bushel will have a couple rotten apples is not the issue.

What is the issue? Here I am reminded of the vagabond’s trial in Discipline and Punish:

“There had to be a place, a location, a compulsory insertion: ‘One sleeps at home, said the judge, because in fact, for him, everything must have a home, some dwelling, however magnificent or mean; his task is not to provide one, but to force every individual to live in one.’ Moreover, one must have a station in life, a recognizable identity, an individuality fixed once and for all: ‘What is your station? This question is the simplest expression of all the established order in society; such vagabondage is repugnant to it, disturbs it; one must have a stable, continuous long-term station, thoughts of the future, of a secure future, in order to reassure it against all attacks.’ In short, one should have a master, be caught up and situated within a hierarchy; one exists only when fixed in definite relations of domination: ‘Who do you work with? That is to say, since you are not a master, you must be a servant, whatever your station; it is not a question of your satisfactoriness as an individual; it is a question of order to be maintained.’ ”

When we examine Tanner’s comments through this lens, we can see that the conversation goes beyond apples and injuries. It is about hierarchy and relations of domination. The issue is the use and function of power in society and, more specifically, the role of police as a repressive state agent in the Althussarian sense. Canadians want to examine that relationship. Police and those with power do not. This is why police routinely use the most prestigious law firms in Toronto to defend against misconduct. This is why Doug Ford, in response to calls for police defunding, said “I do not believe in that for a second.” And this is why Tanner obfuscates the issue, decries “negative stereotypes” of police, and chides the Hamilton Spectator for its well-placed criticism.

Tanner and those of his ilk will continue to defend the status quo; they have to because power is consolidating and outwardly projecting. Police will continue using big Toronto law firms to defend misconduct cases. Ford will continue passing socially regressive legislation.

After all, the judge’s task is not to provide the vagabond a home but to ensure he lives in one.

Jeffrey Hartman is a Toronto-based criminal lawyer at Hartman Law, with a special focus on prison and police law. You can reach him at jeff@hartmanlaw.ca or call 416-316-2234.   

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to 
The Lawyer’s Daily, contact Analysis Editor Peter Carter at peter.carter@lexisnexis.ca or call 647-776-6740.