Broad unconvincing in wake of police spying revelations
In the wake of the revelations of police paying informants to spy on legitimate activist groups and political parties, I was most unimpressed by the reaction of Police Commissioner Howard Broad.
According to the Sunday Star Times Rob Gilchrist acted as a $600 per week plus expenses informer. He ratted on Greenpeace, animal rights activists, peace groups, unions and political parties. Police sought personal information on individuals, including details of sexual relationships among activists.
Broad appeared on Radio NZ Nine to Noon programme on Monday. He seemed desperate to claim these protest groups were involved in 'violent acts' - he used this phase several times. In repeatedly using the words 'violent acts' and 'terrorism' Broad is simply engaging in outright spin, if politically motivated slander. How is holding up a coal ship for a few hours, dropping straw on a floor or chaining oneself to a fur shop a 'violent act'? How can all this surveillance activity be by any measure in proportion to the gravity of any potential offence?
When it was set up in 2004 the Special Investigation Group was dedicated to national security related crime with a focus on counter-terrorism. Yet Broad once again demonstrated that terrorism can mean anything authorities want it to mean. "Terrorism is wherever you find it. Someone who wants to commit a violent act or do serious damage to property or disrupt our community substantially.". Even though New Zealand legislation includes an overly broad definition of terrorism, it does not cover serious damage to property (only infrastructure).
Against the Current also takes issue with Broad's claim that the police targeting individuals and not the groups they were involved in. He points to an email Gilchrist received from police asking specifically about the actions of "Climate Change Groups". This demonstrates aspects of Broad's defence are of dubious veracity.
People may ask - how else do you expect the police commissioner to respond? I think he would have been better to acknowledge that police intelligence work is always caught in a balance between community safety and the right to privacy. He could have implied that aspects of this operation may have overstepped the mark, without actually saying so. Broad could have acknowledged that police now have to operate in an environment where the public have higher expectations of police conduct, and this is reflected in the purpose statement of the 2008 policing legislation that demands that policing services are provided in a way that respects human rights.
Wouldn't this have this killed the issue dead? Maybe not, but such an approach would have painted the police in a much better light.
In saying this I am not attempting to give the police free pubic relations advice, but to demonstrate how a police commissioner with social democratic values and genuine respect for human rights might respond. It is clear now that Broad is not such a man. While Broad is preferable as Commissioner if the alternative had been Clint Rickards, it is time there was a new Commissioner.
While Broad may have been the front man this week, Nicky Hagar has previously noted that Assistant Commissioner Jon White has a history of harassing and inprisoning people involved in legitimate protest activity. I will not be surprised if some White neo-McCathyist paw prints are found all over the Gilchrist case.