Through the curiosities of circumstance, Nigel Clarke finds himself marooned in Ottawa, the capital of the socialist haven of Canada. Thanks to The Progressive Army and co-conspirators who must remain nameless, Nigel is able to smuggle his thoughts on life behind the curtain to the outside world each week.
To read last week’s correspondence click here
I was out walking this evening, smoking a joint. Of course I was – it’s legal here.
Well, I suppose, officially, it will not be legal for another few months, but it has been nearly a year since Revered Leader Justin Trudeau announced full legalization and started the mighty gears of bureaucracy moving.
And, of course, ‘officially’ is not the same as ‘functionally.’ Yesterday I passed a man leaning up against his car smoking a joint. Later that evening I spotted someone in full winter regalia shoveling their driveway with a rather substantial marijuana cigarette between their lips – like a stoner on the planet Hoth. It seems as though in this neighborhood you are as likely to pass someone smoking a joint as carrying a Tim Hortons coffee.
I finished the joint just as I turned onto the street where the low-income housing complex I mentioned last week sits. Before I had even exhaled, two police cars pulled up on the street directly in front of me. Two clean-cut, white, male officers got out and began to walk towards the entrance to the housing residence, and me.
I wondered what they might be there for. As I have previously mentioned, the residence is populated by mostly new immigrants, the recently homeless, addicts, and people with mental health problems – the most marginalized among us.
I also wondered what their attitude might be to the relatively unsavory looking character standing out front under a cloud of pot smoke.
As the officers walked up, the first man smiled and spoke to me.
“Real beauty night eh?”
I replied that it was, so long as you stayed out of the wind.
“Oh, you gotta stay out of that wind eh.”
I watched as they walked through the front door of the residence held open by a woman they referred to with open arms and back slaps as “Jolene!”
They were not exactly the KGB.
I suppose extrapolation would be purely anecdotal, but sometimes the mind wanders in exile…
A friend of mine used to say that anyone could sit out by the road in a lawn chair and pass judgement on everyone who walked by – that person is too young, too old, too fat, too skinny, too black, white, blue, green, orange – should they only be given a reason. He was an amateur philosopher, I suppose.
It seems to me when marijuana is illegal, and police are encouraged to play Where’s Waldo with stoners, they are given the reason to begin to pass judgement.
Consider I would not have been the most wholesome looking individual. Should the officers have been presented with the opening and encouragement for the construction of a negative narrative, they likely could have let their imaginations run wild.
It is interesting to consider this effect on the relationship between police and community when the need for a negative narrative is removed.
I have a Canadian friend here, an accomplice perhaps, who tells a story. They describe walking to work early one morning through near empty streets. In their story, a disheveled man with apparent mental health problems comes around the corner, flailing and yelling violently. My friend describes calmly avoiding a confrontation and continuing on to work. The punchline to the story is, “I was slightly concerned because no one else was around, but at least I knew he didn’t have a gun.”
When having the discussion on police reform which is now so crucial in the United States, defenders of police officers will often point out the stress of going into potentially violent situations in which every citizen could have a gun. Perhaps not an unfair point, since there is something like one gun for all of the approximately 320 million people in the U.S.
In Canada, with its robust gun control, every prole does not have a gun. In a country of about 35 million, much of it rural, there are about 7 million guns. Many types of firearm are restricted or banned outright. During the last year on public record (2012), Canada had 172 people killed by guns. During the last 10 years, they have averaged eight people killed by police per year.
I guess the point is, when those officers were walking into the housing residence, they would not have had much worry that the ominous looking man out front had a gun under his coat. And no matter how much they bought into the message and fear of Donald Trump, they would have had little worry that the immigrant residents in the building, many of them Muslim, would have a stash of guns.
It seems as though this would have allowed the officers to be much more at ease with the situation.
Last week there was a shooting in Quebec City, Canada about 300 miles – excuse me, 450 kilometers – away from where I am staying. The shooter, a young white man influenced by France’s Marin Le Pin, walked into a mosque and shot six people dead.
Gun control opponents will often make the argument – Bad guys will always get guns, the only solution is to have good guys with guns.
What I find curious is that in Canada there just does not seem to be that many “bad” guys. In the last 30 years, Canada has had 10 mass shootings, defined a shooting in which four or more people die. TEN. In the United States, there are more than one per day.
I have to admit, though; the ins and out of gun control, or even legalized weed, are not first and foremost in my mind.
I cannot help thinking about those two officers with their thick accents and their “ehs.”
The quest for police reform has many angles. But, it is interesting to note the opportunities for a different type of relationship between police and the community when legalized pot removes a major facilitator of negative narrative creation and gun control removes a large portion of the danger and stress police officers face daily.
Until next time,