When we are relieved of accountability for our actions, bad things happen

Lee Friday – March 7, 2017

Can you see a common thread running through these two headlines: Toronto Sun (January 3, 2017) : “Man assaulted by cop awarded nearly $29Gs.” The Canadian Press (February 17, 2017): “Feds to compensate 3 Canadians tortured in Syria.”

First story – In 2008, 19-year-old Garett Rollins was beaten by Police Constable Pouli of the Niagara Regional Police. In 2016, a judge awarded Rollins $28,500 in civil damages for assault, wrongful arrest, and malicious prosecution. Justice Paul Sweeny said “PC Pouli is liable for assault.”

Second story – “In October 2008, an inquiry led by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci found Canadian officials contributed to the torture of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin by sharing information with foreign agencies. . . . All three men deny involvement in terrorism and none has ever been charged. Their legal actions have been grinding slowly through the courts for years. . . .” The amount of compensation has yet to be announced, but “Maher Arar, another Arab-Canadian who was abused in a Syrian prison, received an apology and $10.5 million from the federal government.”

When a person – who is not acting in self defense – inflicts harm on another person, the aggressor must compensate the victim. This reflects genuine accountability. But that is not what transpired in these two stories. The victims in our two stories were, or are to be, compensated by taxpayers, not by the offenders themselves. There is no indication in either story that the individuals who are directly responsible for the harm inflicted will be required to pay financial compensation out of their own pockets. If I become aware of evidence to the contrary, I will amend this article – however, this would be very unusual. Normal practice is that the government pays, which means taxpayers are held accountable.

Furthermore, there is no mention in either article about any punishment of the offenders. In fact, the first article informs us that PC Pouli “remains a police officer and a well-paid one at that. According to the most recent Sunshine List, he made $142,000 in 2015.” And, according to this National Post article (January 3, 2017), PC Pouli “is not facing disciplinary action at this time.”

We must consider the word ‘government’ in its proper context. The same goes for ‘police’, and, as cited in the second article, “the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Foreign Affairs.” Clearly, these institutions were not the aggressors because they are not living, breathing entities. The aggressors are one or more specifically identifiable individuals working within these institutions. But these individuals are not held accountable. Taxpayers are held accountable.

Why are the individual offenders not held personally accountable? To answer this, we must examine the institutional framework within which these individuals operate. Government institutions extract their revenue from taxpayers. This coercive method of acquiring ‘income’ means that service is severed from payment. The government decides how much taxes to take, and it also determines the quantity and quality of services it will provide. In this respect, the government is not required to satisfy its customers – taxpayers – because it receives its revenue regardless of whether its ‘customers’ are happy with the services they have supposedly purchased. Thus, the coercive nature of government institutions fosters a culture where little incentive exists to control the behaviour of individuals, or hold accountable the individuals, operating within the system.

We are supposed to accept at face value the assertion that ‘society’ can grow and prosper only if government officials are granted legal immunity for actions they undertake in the performance of their public duties. For if they fear the personal consequences of their own mistakes, they may hesitate to take actions which they sincerely believe to be in the ‘public interest.’ With this fear running through their minds, they would be frozen in a state of inaction, and citizens would suffer the effects of a rapidly decaying society. However, when granted the privilege of externalizing the costs of their actions on to the backs of taxpayers, then, and only then, are the government’s angels able to function. This is the gospel according to government.

The truth is that those who are tasked with serving the ‘public interest’, while protected by ‘legal immunity’, are well positioned to serve whatever interests they choose. And, just as we can safely predict the sun will set in the west tomorrow night, we know with equal certainty that perverse incentives always arise in the absence of consequences for harm done to others.

The doctrine of immunity is a ruse, a license to abuse, and a not too subtle confirmation that some of us will always be above the law. It encourages people to do bad things. It promotes a sense of invincibility, superiority, entitlement, and outrage toward others who forget to bow in the presence of their masters. Young Garett Rollins learned this the hard way. Shortly before the assault, when he dared to question the rough treatment of a girl by Constable Benjamin Tomiuck, the response was “We can do whatever the f_ _ _ we want.”

The sense of superiority inherent within authoritative government helps to explain why the majority of murders, rapes, and robberies are not solved (see here). Accordingly, it is not surprising that a majority of people surveyed do not have a great deal of confidence in the police or the justice system (same link).

‘Legal immunity’ is not a moral concept, and it stands in direct opposition to the goal of achieving and sustaining high levels of peace, justice, and prosperity throughout society. Morality demands equality under the law.

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