"Get back in your vehicle!"
The words rang in my ears. Strolling from my parked car in Marketplace I'd turned to find a young RCMP officer beside his black ghost cruiser, lights flashing wildly. Despite parking spaces on either side, he'd pulled in behind me on an angle-SWAT-team style-to prevent any attempt at escape. The fact that he was also cutting off traffic didn't bother him. Nor did the fact that I had no idea what he wanted.
But when a cop yells you generally obey. So, bewildered, I got back in my car. After ascertaining that I wasn't on the lam or a danger to the public, supercop demanded my paperwork.
"You were driving on Northlands Boulevard without a seatbelt."
I neither denied nor corroborated the claim. You put seatbelts on and take them off so unconsciously that in that moment I couldn't even remember.
"You must have a seatbelt on at all times when a vehicle is moving."
Of course. Sorry... I guess.
It was all very weird. Officious and unusually aggressive. Plus I'd already been out of my car and walking: whether I'd been wearing a seatbelt or not, he had no proof. This is where, if the cop were normal, he might have weighed this discrepancy and issued a friendly warning to, presumably, a fellow local. Instead he wrote up the offence. When he'd passed me going the other way on Northlands I'd taken no notice; but he'd had to make a U-turn and seriously exceed the speed limit to scream into the lot behind me like this on a busy, pedestrian-filled evening. For a seatbelt infraction? WTF?
It reminded me what happened to a friend's 19-year-old son during the Olympics, when he was pulled over for no reason and asked where he was going.
Just coming home from work, he'd answered truthfully.
As if, the cop had challenged.
Then, like today, I suspected the hallmark of Officer Dibble: an out-of-town cop.
A few days after "the seatbelt shakedown" I was at Alpha Lake Park on a sunny evening. During the day the park had been packed-moms and dads and dogs and kiddies and swim toys and barbeques. Plus drinks: many adults in these family groups sipped surreptitiously from concealed beers, coolers or cocktails as-let's face it-is the norm. Still, despite a bonanza to be made on liquor and dog infractions, no police or muni officers had materialized. Now it was 7:30 p.m. and the park was empty save for myself and a handful of Aussies trickling in after work to toss a football. They were chatting and laughing, quiet and low key, and yes, there were a couple brews. Enter Dudley Do-Right stage right, thumbs in belt.
Now I'm no law enforcement scholar, but all I expected was a quick lesson in community policing. Something like: "Hey boys, I know it's quiet here now but you know the rules-how about you tip those beers out and take the party home." Done. Policing over. No hard feelings.
Instead the cop began lecturing and belittling them as if they were naughty two-year-olds. I was happy to see that the Aussies weren't up for it.
"Look mate, if you're gonna give us a ticket we'll take it, just hand it over," said one.
"Hey, you can't do that," said another, when the cop insisted they pour out not just open beers, but every can and bottle in their possession, including unopened cases being transported by people who weren't even drinking, a spurious correlation (based on three to four open beers among a dozen people, "reasonable suspicion" that an unopened case was going to be consumed illegally would never stand up in court). Worse, a guy who'd just stopped by with his girlfriend on their way home to eat take-out sushi and say hi was assailed by the cop, who rooted through his grocery bags and told him he had to empty the six-pack in one of them.
"No I don't," said the man, still sitting quietly eating. And he was right.
"Yes you do," said the cop, grabbing the bag.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing," said the outraged victim, grabbing it back. He had no open alcohol, wasn't and hadn't been drinking.
The cop grabbed his arm, twisted it behind his back, pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him. One of the most egregious displays of unnecessary force I've ever seen-and I've seen plenty.
Whether it was the rational intervention of his partner, or the fact that I openly questioned him-and filmed the entire incident on my phone-the cop eventually undid the cuffs and released the innocent man.
Was the officer from out of town? I'm not sure. But having lived in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and several large foreign cities, and being well aware both that policing isn't easy and that at times Whistler needs reinforcements, I know this much: we have become strangely and shamefully over-policed.