Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Ashley Smith died in the immediate because her prison guards failed to quickly intervene despite clear evidence that a medical emergency was was taking place before their eyes. Robert Dziekanski died after being tasered by the RCMP at YVR who then, astoundingly, failed to check for vital signs and administer first aid when he became non-responsive. Shidane Arone was tortured to death by Canadian soldiers at Belet Huen, Somalia.

Ms. Smith, Mr. Dziekanski, and Master Arone had one thing in common. They all died as a result of the actions or inactions of uniformed servants of the Crown who were dutybound to know and act otherwise. Instead, despite all the training and corporate propaganda respective to their services, they failed.

Why? Institutional cultures form, training standards are developed in vacuums, hierachies meant to maintain a common standard and chains of responsibility also reduce the need for people to think critically. Rules and orders are followed because they exist and why they exist isn't anyone's concern but those at much high paygrades. Boatrockers are forced out or walk out.

We inherit our uniformed services and institutional practices from the times when we understood much less about ourselves. Religion and society mandated black and white law. Hell or prison or freedom and paradise. The rules were clear for life and death and no one really had to think outside that box.

Our police respond to disturbance with electronic truncheons. When they investigate and arrest, the courts sentence the found-guilty to the gaol, and the gaol is kept secure by guards, much the same way they did a century ago. Our soldiers for all their Kevlar, GPS, and night-vision gear would react the same way to drill commands shouted by a parade commander from 1913 or 1943, as they do 2013. The basic patterns of equipment and organisational structures haven't changed in 70 years.

Meanwhile, out there in society, organised religion is decline, we've put machines on Mars and sent them to photograph Pluto. Gay people can marry instead of go to prison. We find causes of crime in poverty and mental illness, much the same as we now understand failed states and terrorism to have causes in poverty and colonialism, both in turn the side-effects of neoliberalism. Education is universal. We are networked locally and globally. A map of the entire planet and good many people living on it is stored on the "phone" that fits in my pocket and works nearly everywhere. We can eat and drink around the world in an afteroon downtown. I can be more than 10 000 km from here tomorrow, on Bondi Beach or a temple in Kathmandu tomorrow and not in months. A person transplanted from 1913 would be in an alien world.

Yet here we are, putting people in institutions with the same basic form and function as those of Victoria and Edward and expecting them to think and act like according to the standards of a world where their own children might grow up to walk on Mars. Is it any wonder they fail so tragically?


David Wilson said...

whenever the topic of police comes up, I remember the G20 here in Toronto - they do what they are told to do and more, and also (having once long ago been a Fire Chief) I know how compelling membership in such a club can be

CathiefromCanada said...

What a perceptive post, Boris.