Couchiching Online
nav button nav button nav button nav button nav button nav button

74th Annual Summer Conference, August 4–7, 2005

Force and the State

Summary by Bryan Brazeau

Alan Borovoy


Dr. Alan Borovoy, the General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, opened his talk by defining state-applied force as “any intrusion the state perpetrates on an individual without that individual’s knowledge or consent.” His talk centered on how the police, those who hold force on our behalf, may be held accountable for their actions insofar as justifying the application of force. He affirmed that in his opinion, the instruments by which Canadians hold the police to account are inadequate. These instruments, he explained, are primarily the courts and the complaint systems. The problem lies in the fact that the courts may only adjudicate based on evidence presented before them by complaint systems where most of the investigations are done by the police themselves. Concerning the relationship between the government and the operational details of police operations, Dr. Borovoy argued for a greater degree of transparency and communication citing such cases as the scandal in Ipperwash, Ontario, several years ago when opposition members in the Ontario legislature criticized the excessive use of force by the O.P.P. in dealing with a non-violent aboriginal protest. Ultimately, the Ontario government argued that they could not interfere in operational details of the O.P.P. since any such interference would be inappropriate. Also citing the more recent case of Mr. Arar, Dr. Borovoy claimed that the “civilian masters” of Canadians seem to have a doctrinal obstacle insofar as communication with the operational details of police operations are concerned. In response to fears that the police may become too politicized if such communication should take place, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has adopted the position that Canadians need to change their doctrine; a new system should be proposed whereby police policies and practices can be independently audited by an agency free from police, government and concerned parties’ influences. Ultimately, Dr. Borovoy justified his recommendations by suggesting that “when making public policy, it would be wiser to create policies to deal with human beings as we find them and not as we would like them to be.”

Christine Silverberg


Christine Silverberg, a retired Calgary Chief of Police, argued that any discussion of the state’s use of force and accountability mechanisms would not be complete without an emphasis on sustained and effective leadership. Furthermore, she argued that states should use the same policies on the national level that they use on the international stage to justify the use of force. She cited five key criteria from the 2001 Canadian-funded international Right to Protect Report on intervention and state sovereignty: Is the threat external or internal?; Does the issue concern a right to react or a right to protect?; What does the threat consist of?; Would the use of force be a last-resort, after every other non-violent means has been tried; and, Are the consequences of action likely to be better or worse than the consequences of inaction? Ms. Silverberg affirmed that the individuals making the above decisions are police officers at every level operating on democratic principles. She re-iterated the importance that the public’s trust in its police be unbroken as many perceive the relationship of the police to the community to be the defining point of a democracy. Thus, Ms. Silverberg concluded, the excellence in which any police force operates must be based on the excellence within. Such excellence is only achievable as a result of effective and sustained leadership, freedom from partisan politics and the stabilization of competing interests.

Irus Braverman


Irus Braverman, a lawyer and doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, spoke about the ongoing house demolitions for planning purposes in East Jerusalem. In the past 20 years, according to Amnesty International, 280 (or 2.5% of) houses have been destroyed. In East Jerusalem, according to Braverman’s statistics, 85% of houses have been built without a permit and are thus illegal by Israeli law. Ms. Braverman began by discussing why such illegal constructions are so prominent; since the 1967 war, when Israel conquered and annexed East Jerusalem, only 3,000 permits were given out by the Israeli planning system. The lands on which many Palestinians continue to live have been declared as “green spaces,” and thus, their houses have become illegal constructions. The next question Ms. Braverman discussed was why, if so many houses are illegal, the demolition rates are so low. The Israeli state often perceives the building of such houses as acts of political resistance and, as such, does not need to demolish all houses. Instead, it only needs to make a terrifying spectacle of several demolitions to intimidate. Such demolitions are also quite costly, and Jerusalem is a very poor municipality. Thirdly, Ms. Braverman spoke about how certain houses are chosen rather than others for demolition. Municipal and regional inspectors are in charge of choosing such buildings. Many Palestinians find the decisions quite arbitrary, leading to heightened fear and anxiety among many living in East Jerusalem that their house may one day be destroyed with very short notice. According to Ms. Braverman, many of these 24-hour demolition notices also tend to be hidden away, or posted, photographed for superiors and then taken down. Unfortunately, Ms. Braverman believes the number of such demolitions may be on the rise in the years to come as the Israeli state has created the “Garden of David,” an archeological park, deemed to be a green space, on an area that is already occupied by many Palestinian houses. The buildings on this land have now become illegal, although some have been standing for more than 30 years. If they are all destroyed, Ms. Braverman estimates that at least 1,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians will become homeless.