Thursday, March 16, 2017

Evidence out-of-control: a provincial inquiry is needed into HRP's drug exhibit audit

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 5:00 AM

Police chief Jean-Michel Blais (right) and deputy chief Bill Moore address the board of police commissioners last month. - THE COAST
  • Police chief Jean-Michel Blais (right) and deputy chief Bill Moore address the board of police commissioners last month.
  • THE COAST

Last summer The Coast revealed that an internal audit conducted by the Halifax Regional Police had found widespread problems with the security and record keeping inside the HRP’s Drug Vault—the storage area that holds evidence seized in drug crimes—including missing drugs and cash. Now it turns out the problems have existed for much longer and the department knew about it since at least 2007. The audit had been completed in November 2015 but the Police Board of Commissioners were only told about it on June 22, 2016—the day before the story became public.

No politicians seem to want to publicly say it, but the obvious concern is that one or more police officers have simply walked out the door with drugs or cash. In fact, last January, months before the audit was made public, Halifax constable Gary Basso was charged with doing almost exactly that. (Those charges have since been stayed.)

Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
  • JALANI MORGAN
The case against Basso is alarming enough, but what is truly shocking is that after a cop was charged with stealing chemicals from the drug lockup, the department didn’t think it was relevant to reveal to the public that they had an audit showing that missing evidence and improper record keeping were a widespread problem. Since the allegations against Basso were what triggered the report, one would assume that the department would have wanted to signal to the public that they were taking security of evidence seriously.

Chief Blais has said there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise, by police officers. The problem for the HRP is that due to their actions there are still roughly 3,000 instances where there’s no evidence of anything at all because the exhibits are still being tracked down.

The problem is not simply that some small number of officers may have borrowed cash, drugs or chemicals from the vault. The shockingly sloppy evidence control procedures also create uncomfortable questions about the trustworthiness of our criminal justice system. How many people, guilty and innocent alike, took plea bargains because they assumed that missing evidence was still sitting in lockup? How many trials hinged on evidence where, unbeknownst to lawyers, jurors and judges, the chain of custody had been broken? How many days and hours of court time have been wasted by trial delays caused by the scramble to find evidence needed for disclosure?

The city needs to request that the province launch a broad public inquiry into the exact impact that these evidence problems have had on criminal justice in Nova Scotia to try to answer these questions. It’s barbaric enough that we put people in prisons at all, but if we decide as a society that we’re going to cage people up, then we sure as hell have a responsibility to ensure that speedy trials and reliable evidence are the norm.

We place an unreasonable amount of trust and responsibility on police officers as individuals and on the police as a public institution. If we insist on giving the police the kind of powers that they currently have, then as a public we have a responsibility to demand accountability and transparency. It’s possible that nothing malicious has actually happened, and it’s almost a certainty that the vast majority of these cases are unintentional errors. But it is also almost a certainty that people’s lives have been ruined by the way our police department has handled evidence. That’s a problem and we need to own up to it.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Screaming into the void, to no one in particular.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 6:46 PM

Jane Kansas uses a lot of potty mouth in the north end of Halifax. - PIERRE TABBINER
  • Jane Kansas uses a lot of potty mouth in the north end of Halifax.
  • Pierre Tabbiner

Most presiding judges are intelligent and humane and fair. Almost all judges, probably. Which is why the tiny minority of judges who are mother-wanking toss-baskets stand out so egregiously. It shocks the sensibility of every decent, thinking citizen when these neanderthal arse-waggers render a decision plumbed from the depths of some hideous stinking cesspool of maggot vomit.

In such instances, there are formal routes and methods of complaint. Letters outlining complaints can be sent to the various authorities asking for investigation. Ensuing wheels of bureaucracy can then grind slowly towards a letter of reply and much, much later, if the planets are in conjunction and pigs actually fucking fly, to some action of remediation.

Protests can be held: those aggrieved can gather in a public place, listen to speeches, engage in chanting and then march (perhaps on a freezing fucking frigid afternoon of an early March cold snap) to some edifice related to the injustice.

Some citizens will be left with a deep sadness and feeling of helplessness. Some will be left wanting to stab themselves in the leg. Some, perhaps saddled with a paucity of vocabulary, will pace back and forth in their shitty hovels, gnashing their teeth while muttering insensible strings of “fuck fuck fuck; fuck this fucking one-pump town; no fucking wonder this place is called the Alabama of Canada; fuck that fucking prick and the fucking horse he rode in on.” And so forth.

Some citizens will report, fairly and circumspectly, the facts of these dickweed matters, noting without emotion or editorial comment any disarranged clothing, presence of DNA, state of surroundings, alcohol levels and such. These reports may spark mental clusterfucks just by stating the facts. Online forums will be filled with outrage, disbelief, fired up emoji and swears. Many of these will be abbreviated: WTF; WTAF; FTW. And so on.

It will be rare that some citizen will feel free to spew forth, in print, without censorship or concern for vulgarity, a reaction to these shit bags, expressing a hope that there may be eternal cock punching in hell for such fuck-brained trash heaps.

Such decisions destroy spirit and life. Such decisions discourage others, who are assaulted by no fucking fault of their own, to not ever come forward. To not ever seek justice. To suck it up and leave it to fester inside for a lifetime.

Section 271(a) of the Criminal Code says, “Everyone who commits a sexual assault is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years or, if the complainant is under the age of 16 years, to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of one year.”

Except, not always.

The law, as Charles Dickens wrote in 1838, is an ass. But 179 years later, in our own tiny dimwitted way, it can also be a total fucking asswipe.

———


Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published in these opinion pieces are those of the author.

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Vol 24, No 43
March 23, 2017

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