Saturday, April 07, 2007

Interested Parties

I have barely begun reading the Report. There is so much other information on the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct website that I've been distracted. I've read the transcripts of hearings, the rulings of the commission, and the appendix on the process of the commission. It started because I wanted to know what those numbers everyone was quoting meant. Then I realised that I couldn't evaluate or analyse the report without understanding its history.

The parties to this Commission of Inquiry were the New Zealand Police, The Police Complaints Authority, the Police Association, and the Police Managers Guild. But Louise Nicholas wasn't even allowed to make a submission.

From the very beginning all the parties were entitled to make argue about every decision, from what the time period of the inquiry meant, to what sort of behaviour falls within the terms of reference. The only organisations whose views were considered relevant for these matters were those listed that had a connection with the police. The tone of this conversations are so civilised, so abstract, they're discussions for lawyers only:

HON JUSTICE ROBERTSON: It is a good starting point. I am not going to be terribly impressed by any semantic argument as to whether it's inside or out but I think 185(A), which ends up saying "any other offence against the person of a sexual nature" will be wide enough, even for my tolerant mind, Ms McDonald.

MS McDONALD: Well, we don't need to debate that further, in that case, Sir.

HON JUSTICE ROBERTSON: What, the tolerance of my mind or the definition?

MS McDONALD: I wouldn't even venture to go there, Sir.
It should come as no surprise that the different police agencies wanted to limit the inquiry every step of the way. To understand just how obstructive the police are you need to read the rulings. For example, the commissioner wanted to ask counsellors and services that work with survivors of sexual abuse some questions (we never get to find out what).* The police challenged her ability to do this, and the legal rules the commission was working on meant that she was not able to ask counsellors or agencies questions. That's how afraid they are of women's stories, they won't even allow the people who hear the stories to talk to the commission.

There may be some valuable information in the report, reading it is on my to-do list, but the process of the commission make it's limitation so clear. The rules for this commission were set by lawyers of all kinds, but not by women, and men, who had been sexually assaulted by police officers. Recently some of the submitters to the commission have talked about how little input they've had into the process, and how little they've heard from the commission. Submitters didn't get an advance copy of the report (which the police saw early last year), and so on. The privileging of the organisations which represent people who have abused their power, over the people who have been abused, is clear in every step that this commission has taken.**

What we need is a forum where survivors of sexual abuse to tell their stories, and have control of that process.

* Nine to Noon interviewed a counsellor in the Rotorua area recently, and called many more, some of whom said that they had had 20 clients who had been raped by police.

** To be clear I am not blaming the individual commissioners for this. They were limited by many legal precedents going back many years. This privileging is part of the nature of commissions of inquiries such as this.

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