CANNABIS CULTURE – A police officer who supports the legalization of marijuana was barred from speaking at a harm reduction conference by the Victoria Police Department.
David Bratzer, an active-duty Victoria, British Columbia policeman who is part of the anti-prohibition group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), was planning to speak about his views at a city-sponsored drug policy and harm reduction conference on Wednesday, March 3.
“Even though the event is scheduled outside of his regular work hours, management from the Victoria Police Department, without Bratzer’s knowledge, informed city staff that he was being withdrawn from speaking,” a LEAP press release states. “Then on February 24, a senior officer at the department directly ordered Bratzer not to participate in the event.”
“I will not be attending this event,” Bratzer said, “but I would like to thank the City of Victoria for the invitation to be part of an honest and open discussion about harm reduction. I will try to find other venues to present my views about drug policy.”
Bratzer has spoken about his views at a number of drug policy venues, including delivering testimony to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in Ottawa, and has, according to LEAP, “always taken pains to state that his opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employer”.
“We feel that because he works in this community as a police officer and he is a very public figure, that it would be confusing to have him speaking about his views on social policy,” Sgt. Grant Hamilton of the Victoria Police said in an interview with A Channel News.
After learning of attempts to muzzle the officer, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed a complaint with the Victoria Police Board.
“In light of this allegation, the BCCLA is concerned that the Victoria Police Department is taking an unduly punitive and anti-free speech position without justification,” the BCCLA said in a press release. “Where an off-duty communication by a member is a critique or endorsement of government or department policy, and is not stated or implied in that communication that the member is unable or unwilling to enforce the law impartially and according to his or her statutory and professional duties, it is inappropriate for a police department to interfere with that communication.”
“The voices of front-line officers who are charged with enforcing the drug laws are incredibly important to the public debate on drug policy issues,” said LEAP’s executive director Jack Cole, who is a retired narcotics detective. “Preventing an officer from sharing his firsthand perspective about the harms of our current drug laws with policymakers is a disservice to the entire democratic process.”
Add your support for law enforcers’ rights to free speech by signing LEAP’s online petition for Bratzer.
Go to the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition website.