Officers and gentlemen

Open letter to the territory's young men: It is important that we're perfectly clear here: It is not acceptable for you to exploit women who are clearly drunk.

Open letter to the territory’s young men:

It is important that we’re perfectly clear here: It is not acceptable for you to exploit women who are clearly drunk.

Such behaviour damages both you and the woman, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

It is decidedly not cool.

At the moment you may think otherwise. You have been getting some mixed signals lately – especially from the police.

Yeah, they are supposed to be the good guys – people who defend society against scum. And most of them do.

But some don’t.

It is important not to get the two mixed up.

That can be tough.

You might have heard about a couple of off-duty police officers partying with a married woman in Watson Lake.

The woman, a nurse, had smoked drugs. And over a period of about five hours she’d had a lot to drink – several beers, tequila, margaritas and Screech. She also bit the head off a fish. And threw up. And had more wine.

It was pretty wild.

She wound up at one of the police officer’s homes – the officer who wasn’t married. And the three of them had sex.

She claims they assaulted her. They said they didn’t.

It wound up in court and got messy.

Before a roomful of stern looking police officers, who came to court to support their colleagues, the woman was asked questions. Her memory was fuzzy – she’d drank and smoked a lot. This was held against her – her testimony lacked credibility, said the judge.

The two police officers performed better. They are trained to testify. And their minds had not been as badly dulled by booze.

All around, it was a deeply humiliating experience for the woman.

The Crown didn’t prove she hadn’t consented to the sex and the two police officers were acquitted of the assault.

The law decided they’d done nothing wrong.

But here is where things get tricky.

Just because the law decided the men had done nothing illegal doesn’t mean they behaved in an acceptable manner.

And the officers faced possible discipline by the police force, which takes a dim view of members who bring shame to their uniform.

Again, you might have heard about this.

Nothing much came of these charges either.

The woman decided being put through the wringer once was enough. She didn’t want to explain a humiliating night a second time before a roomful of grim-faced police officers.

Those charged with investigating the conduct of the officers put little effort into the case against the officers. They presented nothing.

Instead, because the woman refused to attend this week’s adjudication board hearing in Watson Lake, the affair was summarily shut down.

You should know, the board, which involves police officers investigating other officers, is seen as a bit wonky. For years, Canadians have criticized such conflict-ridden processes in the RCMP. To date, the problems have not been adequately fixed.

Few were surprised when it failed to discipline the two men. Nobody expected it to.

Again, you can be forgiven if you are confused – if you don’t know what’s right.

Courts and the police themselves have found nothing wrong with the men’s conduct.

In this case, what happened between two, or three, consenting adults is between them – even if one is drunk.

But, young men, that is dangerously misleading.

The criminal code is fairly specific on this matter, even if the Crown was incapable of proving it in court.

It states, “No consent is obtained, where the complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity.”

And consent cannot be obtained if the person is unconscious, drunk, stoned or sleeping.

To be clear, when an individual is drunk, by law she is unable to consent to sexual activity.

Police, of all people, should know this.

Also, consent cannot be given if it is an abuse of power, trust or authority – things police officers have to be particularly careful about.

The RCMP’s Commanding Officer Peter Clark, while he dismissed the case (and maintained the police force’s esprit de corps), publicly disavowed the two officer’s actions.

“I would like to state categorically that the members’ actions are not compatible with the mission, vision, and values of the RCMP,” said Clark. “Their behavior falls far short of the high expectations which we hold of our members, both on duty and off duty.”

Confusing, right?

Well, let’s be very clear …

It really isn’t that murky.

Society takes a dim view of men who exploit women addled by booze or drugs. Such women are incapable of giving consent.

As well, alcohol and marijuana are becoming recognized as date-rape drugs in their own right.

Despite the recent travesty, what’s right is still clear.

Even if our institutions don’t always enforce it, society demands you don’t exploit others.

It expects you to be gentlemen.

Searching for forgiveness

RCMP Sgt. Don Rogers was ticked off.

He was polite. He was diplomatic. He was professional.

But he was on the phone. With a complaint.

Rogers may be the public face of the Whitehorse RCMP, but he doesn’t complain very often. Almost never.

But Rogers was making the call today.

And, to be perfectly honest, he had a point.

This is a public recognition of that.

It is my apology.

To be clear, Rogers wasn’t asking for this.

And he wasn’t phoning on behalf of the RCMP. Say what you like about the RCMP, but it takes its lumps with remarkable stoicism.

No, Rogers was phoning on behalf of volunteers who assist the RCMP when it is called to search for missing people.

Last week, I’d wronged them.

I’d criticized their search effort, even though they found the woman alive.

A little more than a week ago, she’d walked out of the secure medical unit at Whitehorse General Hospital on a Sunday afternoon and vanished.

Police and volunteers fanned out to find this woman, who was considered a danger to herself. The woman was found Tuesday night after a tip provided by a teenager helped pinpoint her location, which was in the vicinity of Hidden Lakes.

Before that, acting on tips from samaritans, who claimed to see the woman wandering around at various locations, police and searchers had been focusing on the downtown.

They didn’t rent a helicopter because the best advice the RCMP had received, from bear researchers who had recently flown the area, suggested the tree canopy was so thick it would have been a waste of time and money, said Rogers.

The searchers, who are well trained and dedicated, spent the better part of a couple of days looking for a woman who, really, didn’t want to be found.

And they found her.

And I’d kicked them for it, suggesting they didn’t do enough.

That wasn’t fair to the volunteers, or the cops.

I’d suggested they would have done more had a 10-year-old boy been lost in the woods. But, as one searcher noted, in another missive to me, there’s a big difference between someone who is lost, and someone who is trying not to be caught.

That, too, is a good point. A distinction my recent piece glossed over.

Make no mistake, there were problems in the way this woman’s disappearance was handled -¬ particularly by the hospital. Those circumstances should still be examined to prevent them in the future.

But I lumped the search effort into that mess. I guess you can say I got lost in the woods myself.

Anyway, it was a mistake. Churlish, even.

And for that, I offer both the volunteers and the police this apology.