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Call in the common sense police

Prime Minister Stephen Harper can rest assured that he will be well protected during his visit to the Yukon.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper can rest assured that he will be well protected during his visit to the Yukon. Anyone planning any funny business should be advised to pay close attention to rustling in the nearby bushes - lest our Conservative member of Parliament, Ryan Leef, spring out while garbed in camo and wielding a pair of handcuffs.

So you may think, anyhow, after reading Carrie Boles’ commentary in Wednesday’s newspaper, which offers a first-person account of how she decided to deface Leef’s campaign signs, only to be nabbed by the MP himself and placed under citizen’s arrest.

Some readers wondered whether the piece was satire. It’s not. To be clear, we provided the letter, in its entirety, to Leef’s campaign manager before publication. We were told then that the events described were “generally accurate.” Since publication, Leef has told other news outlets - although he hasn’t returned our calls - that parts of the letter are, in his view, deliberately misleading. It’s peculiar that he feels this way now, given that he did not take up our earlier offer to dispute the description of events or share his own views.

The letter quickly became national news, with The Canadian Press, National Post and Globe and Mail all scurrying to the story. So did Buzzfeed and Vice, with the latter characterizing Leef as being like “a total ninja or a creepy Rambo.”

To recap: Boles, a self-avowed socialist and no fan of the federal Conservatives, took it upon herself to take a knife to Leef’s signs along the Alaska Highway on the rainy evening of Aug. 27, cutting out his name and leaving rectangular holes behind. She describes hearing some commotion coming from nearby bushes while doing this, and initially worries it may be a moose or bear. Instead, she says a camo-clad Leef and another man grabbed her, twisted her left arm behind her back and brought her to her knees, handcuffed her and called the police.

The police arrived about 10 minutes later. Leef told them he wasn’t interested in them pressing charges. (It’s worth noting that ultimately, this is up to the Crown, not him.) He advised Boles to direct her energies toward more productive ends, by volunteering for a political party.

Following the letter’s publication, CBC North ran a story that afternoon that included some new details, some of which are disputed by Leef. It describes how Boles had vandalized the signs a night earlier, and in response, Leef and his campaign manager set up a motion-triggered camera in the hope of catching the culprit. Boles also told the CBC that she believed she had been caught in a sting, with Leef and his sidekick waiting to catch her in the act. This isn’t true, Leef later insisted: he maintains he was merely checking on the signs again when he came upon her, and says he did not, in fact, hide in the bushes.

Leef has defended the measures he took, noting he has two decades of law enforcement experience as a former Mountie, conservation officer and jail boss. He’s reasoned that a certain amount of force was needed, given how it was dark and the person being apprehended had a knife. Yukon’s RCMP, meanwhile, are urging residents to not try to perform similar acts of Leef-style vigilantism if they see someone vandalizing signs, and to instead simply call the police.

Predictably enough, the community response in the Yukon is largely divided along partisan lines. Those who already dislike Leef are quick to denounce him for over-reacting to the situation, while those who support our MP denounce these critics for being, well, soft on crime. What everyone should be able to agree upon is that both actors in this melodrama suffered from a shortage of common sense.

Some have been surprised to learn that a citizen’s arrest is a real thing, beyond what you see on television. It is, and the Justice Department’s website specifically offers the special case of catching someone in the act of damaging your personal property as one case in which a citizen’s arrest is permitted. The website goes on to caution that a minimum amount of force should be used, and that excessive force may end up prompting a civil lawsuit.

Leef should count himself lucky that Boles hasn’t decided to go that route. She wouldn’t have to win a case - just making a big stink over it could help derail Leef’s campaign. As things stand, he may find himself spending a lot of time on voters’ doorsteps explaining why he was lurking about the highway roadside on a rainy night, clad in camo and brandishing handcuffs, when he could instead be selling residents on his party’s platform.

Boles, meanwhile, has offered a confused explanation for her actions. She has insisted she didn’t know that defacing signs was illegal. Of course, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law. She has also described her actions as civil disobedience - which, by definition, means deliberately breaking the law to make a political point.

A better word would be hooliganism. Destroying someone’s campaign signs during an election is not much better than shouting down a candidate at a public event. Don’t like Stephen Harper? Fine. As Leef says, join an opposition campaign of your choice. This is not the Arab Spring. We do not, contrary to the overheated rhetoric spouted by some excitable left-leaners, live in any sort of dictatorship.

Yes, the Conservatives have been implicated in shenanigans that have served their electoral advantage. There’s the robocalls scandal that saw voters in the Yukon, among other ridings, receive automated phone calls that told them, incorrectly, that their polling stations had moved. Only a one-time junior staffer with the Conservatives ended up being convicted with breaking the Elections Act, but the judge deemed it unlikely that he acted alone.

There’s also the Fair Elections Act, which makes it harder for Canadians to vote by making more ID to be required. And there’s the fact that the prime minister’s former parliamentary secretary is now behind bars for election fraud, after he was convicted of overspending during a campaign.

We could go on. But none of this is an excuse to break the law. Far from it - by doing so, Boles, if anything, simply strengthens her opponent’s hand by allowing the Conservatives to be viewed as the ones who occupy the moral high ground.