Keeping church and state separate is important. Keeping the state and the police separate is equally important.
We all got to see why, last week, when Stephen Harper – and one of his senior ministers – summarily changed their job descriptions. Last Monday, the Prime Minister assigned himself the role of federal Chief of Police. Then, last Wednesday, Employment Minister Jason Kenney did likewise.
On Monday, as every Canadian will recall, Armed Forces warrant officer Patrice Vincent was assassinated in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu by an avowed ISIS sympathizer, a pathetic loser who does not deserve to be named.
Vincent’s murder became political fodder, and within minutes.
The parking lot where Vincent was killed was still a crime scene when the Prime Minister’s Office instructed a Conservative backbench MP to ask a puffball question about a “possible terror attack.” He did so, and used those words.
The Prime Minister of Canada stood up and told the Commons: “We are aware of these reports and they are obviously extremely troubling. First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.” He then sat down.
All of this would be fine – it would almost be routine – were it not for one thing: Harper spoke about the killing before many hours before the police would do so.
An RCMP release would only come much, much later. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office deputized itself as the Mounties’ PR department, and issued a release that grandly elaborated on Harper’s statement in the Commons.
Two days later, yet more horror, and yet another Conservative politician elbowing aside the police. On that sad day, as all recall, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot while he stood guard at the National War Memorial by another extremist.
The shooting took place before 10 a.m. Thereafter, an entire nation wondered for more than two agonizing hours about Cirillo’s status. Until just before 1 p.m., that is, when Jason Kenney – not police, not a hospital, not Cirillo’s family – announced that the soldier was dead.
“Condolences to family of the soldier killed, & prayers for the Parliamentary guard wounded,” Kenney’s tweet read. “Canada will not be terrorized or intimidated.”
All of which was true. Every word.
But this is true, too: politicians aren’t the police. They should always leave the investigation of crimes to the police. They should always adhere to their clearly-defined constitutional role, and keep their lips zipped about what the police do (and vice-versa).
Canadians should be profoundly uncomfortable, therefore, that any politician would be speaking about these tragedies – or assigning motive, or telling us a soldier has been murdered – long before the police. That is not the way our system works.
As every school kid knows, our Constitution stipulates that the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches must operate separately. It’s all right there, in black and white, in parts three, four and five.
Messrs. Harper and Kenney’s insistence on breaking the news about the deaths of Vincent and Cirillo was unconstitutional, full stop. It also raises the unattractive possibility that, one, Harper and Kenney were willing to reduce two soldier’s tragic deaths to political talking points. And, two, that the Conservatives are willing to usurp the role of the police, if they see any political advantage in doing so.
If that’s the case, then we are piloting through some very dangerous waters, indeed.
The constitutional obligation of any Minister, any Prime Minister, is to (a) let the police do what they do, without interference (b) ensure that we have peace, order and good government – by ensuring that public opinion isn’t needlessly inflamed (c) resist the temptation to politicize something that should never be political.
By all accounts, Vincent and Cirillo were good men, and good soldiers. They bravely did their jobs.
Harper and Kenney should do theirs, and leave police work to the police.