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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Cops and Robby: Theory and Games in Toronto (Updated)

Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way first; politics isn't about serving the public good.  It's about winning.  If it were about serving the public good, political leaders would spend time trying to establish consensus and setting the sorts of example others could draw inspiration from.

Instead, politics is about strategic manipulation of assets to create fields of victory.  Knowing that what the public wants and what they're willing to pay for it are wildly out of line, political organizers pick an choose their battles, their opponents, even their friends.  Which is why they can spin around in different directions, depending on which way the winds are blowing. 

When they get caught in doing something problematic (or not doing something which is essential, but difficult and unappealing - like structural change), political planners often turn to that age-old tactical slight-of-hand known as "bait and switch."

Thing is, political operators aren't the only players on the board.  All kinds of other stakeholders who interact in the public sphere know these tricks of the trade, too.  When they're thinking ahead, all of these players will try to suss out the lay of the land through SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analyses and plan accordingly.

Among those other players are the police.

You may have noticed that the Toronto Police have a serious reputation crisis on their hands.  It's quite possible that the public (and by Association, the Police Board) are done with platitudes and want some meat.  The G20, Sammy Yatim and an admission by a police officer that discrimination is built into the system are all very problematic for the police.  And that's just scratching the surface.

It's hard enough for law enforcement at the best of times - people tend not to follow rules they find onerous, like texting and driving or rushing yellow lights.  When the public doesn't think law enforcers are following the laws they're meant to uphold or enforcing them fairly, it gets even harder.  That's where we're at right now; that's why people are demanding change.

This isn't all on them, though.  Police aren't solely responsible for a systematic culture change; they don't write the laws and ultimate accountability for their conduct lies with elected officials.  But they do wear the blame for how internal cop culture manifests negatively in society. 

Everyone wants the easiest solution to their problem, the shortest route between challenge and comfort.  Where's the low-hanging fruit solution to this structural/branding crisis?
Enter Rob Ford. 

Rob Ford is in a spot of trouble with the law, what with the crack scandal and all.  But, he's the Chief Magistrate, so the job of the police is to support his office - isn't it?  Or is it to enforce the law equally, regardless of a person's status?  Those being stigmatized at the lower end of the social spectrum are becoming increasingly agitated by top-official abuses that aren't meeting consequences.  And the police seem to have been doing a good job of corralling around the Mayor when he gets into trouble.

Here's where it gets interesting.

At the same time as they've been helping keep the Mayor out of harm's way, Toronto's Finest have been very careful not to take a public stance on the Mayor's direct involvement in any of the allegations that are being made or investigations being conducted.  This could be a case of professional conduct, which would be nice, but in politics you always assume everyone has an ulterior motive for everything they do/don't do.  What could be the police's ulterior move here?

Now, this would be cynical politics at its worst, but from a strategic point of view very clever; what if the police, knowing they need to deliver some sort of public-assuaging deed, are setting up the Mayor for a fall?  What if the intent all along has been to bait-and-switch when the time is right, offering Ford up to the public as a distraction?

Should the Mayor of Canada's Largest City (who already gets international press) be arrested and convicted on drug-related charges and related corruption/cover-up charges, fit would hit the shan.  There would be massive, global interest and scrutiny around how politics is working/not working in Toronto.  The elected officials, the bureaucrats, the public, everyone would be in a tizzy; and the police would have their deed to tie over public/media interest for quite some time.

Where ensuing focus wouldn't be is on internal problems within the Toronto police force.  Heck, by taking down the biggest fish in their net regardless of status, they would be demonstrating their commitment to blind justice.  It would be very difficult for any politician (some of them with some overlooked criminal infractions themselves) to pry into police culture for quite some time without being accused of striking back in retaliation to the punishment of one of their own.

Is this the Toronto Police Force's play?  Do they even have people who do plays?  Beats me.

It will, however, be interesting to see how the story continues to play out.  I'll certainly be tuning in. 

After all, who doesn't enjoy a good high-stakes game of chess?

UPDATE: There've been some updates on this front.  Any similarities between my speculation and reality, of course, are entirely coincidental.

UPDATED, AGAIN: Christie Blatchford from today (Nov 15, 2013):

All that can be read like this: The police did by the back door - gave the stamp of approval to the disgracing of Ford and to the notion that this was correct and in the public interests - what for some reason they were unwilling to do by the front, that is, with an arrest and charge.

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