One day when I was about 18, I was walking towards a subway station in Toronto after seeing a movie with a friend. As we neared the station entrance a cop car slowly pulled up beside us and stopped. My friend and I gave each other a worried glance but kept walking. An officer rolled down the window and barked at us to come back.
When we dutifully walked up to his car, he asked “what are you doing?” in a rather stern voice.
My stomach tightened as my dry mouth tried to spit out words that didn’t seem to want to come. As I realized that my hesitation was probably making me appear suspicious, my panic level took another jump.
I stuck my arm out behind me and pointed a finger at the subway station before finally stammering, “going to the subway.” My temporarily mute friend could only nod in agreement.
It turns out the police were responding to a robbery report in the neighbourhood and once we told them what movie theatre we’d been at, what movie we’d seen, how long ago it ended and where we were going, they concluded what we already knew: we had done nothing wrong and they had no reason to bother us.
I bring this up because I think how my friend and I reacted is pretty typical of how most Canadians unaccustomed to dealing with police would react to an unexpected visit from the cops. We associate having to talk to the police with having done something wrong and so if a cop wants to talk with us we immediately feel like we are in trouble no matter how certain we are that we shouldn’t be.
And when we see the cops talking to someone else, our first thought is usually, “I wonder what they did?” We are quick to assume that if the cops are talking to you, you did something to warrant their attention.
That is why this situation where police are routinely trying to interview people whose only “crime” is to publicly speak out against the Olympics, is so problematic. When saying something negative about the Olympics is all that’s necessary to draw police attention, the cops are identifying that behaviour as something inherently suspicious that the community at large should be concerned about.
That’s true even if police say they are not trying to intimidate anyone. People get the message: If you speak out against the Olympics you will be marked as a potential security threat and investigated. If that prospect scares you or you feel police attention could damage your reputation then you stay quiet.
Canada is a country that is supposed to be a beacon of human rights and democracy where the right to speak out is highly valued.
With all the money we’re already forking out to host the Olympics, do they really have to cost us our soul as well?
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