Nobody is above the law — especially those with a badge

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I remember being told at a very young age the police were my friends.
If I ever needed help, find a police officer. Call 911.

They were there to protect me.

That was a long time ago, and I wonder how many parents are still teaching their children the police are their friends.

I find myself spending more time explaining to my kids — young teenagers who are questioning all they see in the world around them — why the police who tasered Robert Dziekanski won’t be charged in his death.

I’ve had to listen to a senior RCMP officer in Kamloops tear a strip off me because I questioned the wisdom of assigning a couple of bulky cops, dressed in their “gang squad” leathers, to parade through local bars and look intimidating.

I’ve had to listen to a mother cry, distraught because she’d reported her teenaged daughter missing and, two days later, had yet to have an officer show up at her house to get some information.

I calmed a friend who had complained to the local RCMP about how it treated her son — only to have the officer who arrested the young man approach her in a store and take her picture with his cellphone.

He smirked and walked away.

I’ve had street friends complain about being continually harassed by local police, from just general rousting to one I found most distasteful, when an officer continually called a transgendered friend, who has chosen to be a woman, by her former male name.

Funny how it always seems to be the same cops they each name, privately, because they just don’t want to do anything to see the hassling and harassment notched up.

Such is the life of the marginalized in our society.

If you need any more examples, just consider the sudden death of Ian Bush up in Houston two years ago.

Do you think the Bush family continues to have any faith in their police — or the justice system?

There is something fundamentally wrong with the policing system in British Columbia — and it has to stop.

One of the first steps that should be taken is every single police detachment in the province should take a long, hard look at its members.

Listen to what they say.

Watch how they interact with others.

Maybe pay attention to public complaints about improper behaviour.

Perhaps that way, they could weed out the kind of police who might confront a newspaper carrier and throw out racial slurs.

Maybe they’d identify the ones who think that a badge and a gun — and let’s not forget the ever-present taser — give them permission to drive home drunk, put the boots to someone or throw an addict out into the frigid winter night to freeze to death.

The next step would be to quit moving these officers from detachment to detachment.

It’s an awful lot like the Catholic Church used to do with its pedophile priests, shunting them off to different parishes when their current flock started to get an idea something was wrong.

The location changes, but where’s the guarantee the behaviour, the attitude, change as well?

It isn’t easy being a police officer.

They put their lives on the line.

For that, they get to carry a gun and other weapons for protection.

It doesn’t give them the right to think they can flash their badge and be forgiven for their transgressions.

It doesn’t give them the right to shoot first and think later.

And it certainly doesn’t give them the right to think they’re above the law.

Remembering a light who guided many special children

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Note: I was honoured to have this column read at Anne's funeral. Even now, after having written it, read it many times and seen it published, it makes me cry to realize that such a vital light in our world has been extinguished. But every time I look at Sean, I see the child Anne saw, the one with the potential yet to be realized -- and I thank whoever it is up there for bringing this incredible woman into our lives.

The voyage through the world that is autism is much like visiting an unknown country.

Sure, there are guidebooks that can tell you what you may see, what landmarks you may encounter, some of the problems you’ll face as you travel through — but they are just words.

Reading about the chance you may encounter a bridge that’s difficult to cross as you travel isn’t the same as trying to make your way across the rickety connector.

And so it is that, when finding oneself in a strange land, we tend to look for a person, someone who has been there before and can help us savour the happy moments and prepare for the challenging ones.

In my voyage through autism, there have been several such guides, but none like Anne Simmons.

I met Anne as I’ve met all those who have been there as my youngest has worked his way from diagnosis of autism to confident high-school student.

Another of my “tour guides,” Patti Pernitsky, told me of the incredible Child Development Centre and how the staff there work with special-needs children. So, when Sean had outgrown Patti’s nursery school, we moved him to the CDC.

And we found Anne, a woman who, with a calm, even voice and an arm around my shoulders, assured me my youngest would be fine there.

I didn’t need to worry, Anne told me. She’d be there to help him learn.

It was scary. At that time, still a pre-schooler and challenged with communicating to others — including his family — Sean would struggle.

He’d become frustrated and angry and, as with many who live with autism, would shut down.

Sometimes, he’d lash out.

His play was solitary, choosing to get out the blocks or a puzzle and do them alongside someone rather than with one of his day-care mates.

As the days went by, I continued researching autism, reading about treatments, symptoms, characteristics — doing all those things parents do when their child has been given a diagnosis that is both foreign and frightening.

But, through it all, there was Anne.

She’d be there in the morning to give Sean a hug and help him get settled.

She’d be there when I came to pick him up, always with a positive story about how he had done that day.

She was there when he started interacting with other children.

Anne was there when my son started to play with his peers outside in the centre’s incredible yard.

She was there when I needed to understand how the theory I had been absorbing was being put into practice by my baby.

And this incredible woman was there when Sean, by now in kindergarten, made the monumental step of being able to take the HandiDart bus from Stuart Wood elementary each school day over to the CDC building for the afternoons.

She watched as he went from a five-year-old who needed the driver to help him off the bus to a confident student who could wave goodbye to his driver and get off himself, coming into the day care, heading to his cubby, putting his coat away and finding his room — and his friends.

Now, Anne didn’t do all this alone — no, there were so many other staff there who all played a part in helping Sean break through the isolation of autism and interact with his world.

And they each contributed to making him who he is today, a teenager who towers over his mother, who has chosen drama for a major, who is on a bowling team and — despite once being told by a specialist he would likely not talk — who rarely shuts up.

Through the years, I stayed in touch with Anne, showing her photos of my kid as he grew and progressed.

It wasn’t just politeness — I wanted her to see how the work she did with him at the beginning resonates even today.

My friend , Anne, unfortunately left us last Sunday.

And, while it’s almost a hackneyed phrase to say, in her case, it is true — she has left such a massive hole in the fabric of the CDC, its staff and families.

For more than three decades, she cared for children — really cared for them.

And I’m so fortunate that one of them was my son.