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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Commissioner


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Having written when the four Canadian police officers arrived, I feel compelled to have my say on the departure of Mr. Nelson. To all those who have been hurling blame at the government, I urge them to put on their thinking caps and consider what motive this government would have at this time to fire Mr. Nelson.

Some of the callers and critics who were calling for earlier and more detailed disclosure from the government, might not have had the misfortune of having to fire someone and might not be aware of the proper procedure, including official, written notification. Moreover, if the aggrieved party goes public, the right to know and hear from the government must be balanced by attention to official procedure and the responsibility to safeguard not only national security but the reputation of the aggrieved party as well.

Many of us pretend that we do not understand that the desire to reform an organization, even with, and especially with, the best of intentions, can lead to problems that compound the very problem that existed in the first place. We know many workers in government and in private service who are very friendly and who appear to get on well with the public and who seem to get the job done. And yet some of these admirable workers might be using processes and procedures that are counterproductive to the overall running of the organization. Indeed, these hardworking workers may be blind to the effects of their methods on the other workers because they are genuinely trying very hard to solve wrenchingly, complex problems.

Without having any information on the problems and internal struggles that led to Mr. Nelson’s departure, I can only regard Mr. Nelson’s own remarks and those of the prime minister on Observer Radio. In reference to crime fighting, Mr. Nelson said a few weeks ago that a particular crime-stop initiative was either being assisted by or pursued with the help of a civilian, who happens to be in the tourist industry. The extent of the involvement of this or any other civilian was not stated. Is this the way police business is carried out, even if it is done in concert with conscientious civilians, and especially when reform is the order of the day?

Mr. Nelson also freely and publicly gave out his phone number to at least two persons who called into a radio program on Observer Radio. They had called because of difficulties they had with police procedures. Interestingly this was on the day before the melee started over his departure. One caller was concerned about the delay in obtaining personal firearms legitimately. Now, nothing is wrong with the police commissioner disclosing his telephone number in public; in fact it is a welcome act, if only because we may have to call him as a last resort. And therein lies the problem. Mr. Nelson should have directed the caller to the appropriated police section or police officer first, especially at this time when reform is the order of the day.

As trivial as these examples might seem, I wonder how many more serious departure from protocol, in trying to sort out the beleaguered force, contributed to his departure. I know of one relatively minor situation in which his eagerness and honest desire to do good and assist others fell a touch short, forgivingly, of the 37 years of high ethical standards he speaks. He is human. And by the bye, we are familiar with high ethical standards too.

I am left to think that it was probably neither the difference in cultures that was at fault, nor the attempt to import a foreign solution. Mr. Nelson might have become too colloquial in his earnest desire to reform the force and was probably going down one of the very same roads many of the previous commissioners had traveled. It is all so very sad. Things can only get better as we learn and move on.

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