Thursday, 8 March 2012


I respect authority when it is exercised with discretion and accountability, but I really dislike the irresponsible, arbitrary and unaccountable exercise of authority.  Examples abound, but I have two little anecdotes that I'd like to share.

The first is something that happened to me a few years ago.  I was driving a road here in Ottawa where two lanes merge into one.  I was driving in the right lane and a young, ahem, lady was driving in the left and varying her speed, so I sped up and merged ahead of her.  Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw her giving me the finger.  I was a little upset, but more curious about why she was so irritated with me, so I pulled onto the shoulder, let her pass and began following her so I could have a calm discussion with her about her ire and to suggest more appropriate uses for her digits.  Really, mutual self-improvement was my goal.

Long story short, she called the police who pulled us both over.  I apologized to all involved, admitting that while I wanted both me and the young lady to grow from the experience, following her was probably not the smartest thing I had ever done, especially as I had my then 4 year-old daughter in the car with me.  Not good enough for mister police officer.  He took the opportunity to lecture me, which was fine, I was guilty of poor judgement and deserved some form of reprimand - though having it done by some twenty year-old with a badge, gun and HUGE ego did grate a little.  But then, in front of my impressionable daughter, he starts talking about how he could arrest me.

"Excuse me?  First, I did nothing for which you can arrest me.  Second, maybe we shouldn't conjure images of daddy being led away in handcuffs in my young impressionable daughter's head."  Please don't misunderstand me, I realize, and remain greatly ashamed, that I was the one who initially put my daughter in this position, but need we compound my error?

Yet, in his wisdom, he thought going on about my impending arrest was entirely appropriate ("Kids that age don't understand what's going on."  Hmmm.  His command of child cognitive development seems to be only slightly poorer than his command of the law he is supposed to uphold.

I again admitted my poor judgement, and he again talked about arresting me.  I again asked him to tell me on what charge he could conceivably arrest me, and I was becoming increasingly and visibly angry.  He didn't like the fact that I was challenging him, so he responded by ratcheting up his threats.  Finally, he said he could arrest me for "failure to yield."  I laughed at him and asked if we were done, collected my daughter and off we went.  Clearly the man thought because he had a gun and a badge and for that reason only, I should be compliant and cowering before his great authority.

In retrospect, getting so hot with a police officer, regardless of the weakness of his position, was probably another error in judgement.  I probably should have played the supplicant, but, again, I think this young man was grossly overstepping his authority and using it inappropriately.  I'm not saying challenging the cop played a role in the following anecdote (my wife is no shrinking violet herself and is probably even less tolerant than I am about people overstepping their bounds), but I am glad that the Bean seems to be following in her Mom's and Dad's footsteps at least a little.

Just a couple of days ago, my daughter was telling me that she couldn't sit with her friend on the bus because some grade fiver decided that he was responsible for seating the kids and did so arbitrarily.  I could tell this really rankled my daughter, so I asked her if anybody had challenged his self-assigned authority to do so.  She explained that nobody had because the kids were afraid of rocking the boat.  I left it at that, but yesterday she told me that when the boy in question started assigning seats again, the Bean told him that he was mistaken if he thought was the boss and felt he could direct kids as he had been doing for weeks.  Clearly, she touched a nerve, because before she knew what was happening the other kids on the bus were standing behind her in support.  I was one proud Poppa, let me tell you.  Now the kids can sit where they want and all because my little girl stood up to an older and bigger bully.

We've also told her that we have her back when questioning even bigger authorities like teachers and principals.  Having said that, we've also made clear that she better be pretty darn certain she's on the side of the angels when she does it.  I think being able to question authority is important, because authority without accountability can only lead to tyranny.  I hope the Bean comes to understand this.


  1. My run-in with the law has generated some debate on my Facebook page. Not in dispute is that I was stupid to have followed the young woman, even though I am sincere in my claim that I really just wnated to talk with her about the incident. It was the hight of stupidity on my part, I openly admit.

    Some contend, though, that I could have been arrested and charged with a crime. I am curious to know if I am wrong in claiming that I committed no crime for which I could have been arrested. Is there anybody out there with a criminal law or law enforcement background that could say definitively?

  2. My wealth of knowledge comes from my extensive run-ins with the law. I don't think it is semantics to suggest that: Arrested, charged and convicted are important distinctions to make. I am under the impression that technically any one of us can make an arrest if we feel a crime has been committed. A gun-toting moron like your young officer has at least that authority. So yes, he could have arrested you but would later have had to justify a charge. He would have had to face some tough questions back at the office if he brings a father and 4 year old in to charge them with failure to yield! That said, if the young woman would have played along, he might have reasonably charged you with harassment or stalking, or any number of vehicular infractions. Once again, very tough for him to prove and likely viewed as excessive given the circumstances, but the young woman would have likely made it worth it, just for him to continue teaching you the lesson he intended.

  3. I trust your first hand knowledge, Paul. I did a quick check of the Criminal Code provisions for harassment, including stalking, and am fairly sertain that what I did does not come within a country mile of that - I believe every category of harassment requires proof of repeated following. An interesting point about "citizens' arrest", I though in Canada that wasn't allowed - a research topic for tomorrow.