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Victoria police officer seen giving thumbs-up to vaccine-mandate protesters

Officer was responding to "appreciative comments" about VicPD, police chief says
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A Victoria police officer gives a thumbs-up to protesters near the Inner Harbour. Via Twitter

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak says an officer captured on video driving a marked Victoria police vehicle and giving a thumbs-up as he passes protesters opposed to vaccine rules was responding to “appreciative comments” about VicPD.

The five-second clip, shared on Twitter and Instagram, shows an officer in a VicPD Esquimalt division car driving on Belleville Street while extending an arm out the window and holding his thumb up as he passes people waving Canadian flags and signs with slogans like “Let’s make Canada free again.” The video is noisy as people honk their horns and cheer.

Manak said in a statement he initially viewed the video with concern because impartiality and neutrality are “key” to working as an officer. However, the chief said the officer in the video told him he was responding to appreciative comments about VicPD ensuring public safety at the rally.

“As a police department, we attended 170 protests last year to keep the peace. While impartiality and neutrality are essential at these events, so is proactive engagement with protest participants and bystanders in the interest of public safety,” the chief wrote.

The chief’s statement, shared on Twitter, drew both praise and skepticism, with some questioning how the officer could have heard any comments praising police while driving through the noisy crowd.

Coun. Stephen Andrew shared Manak’s response on Twitter, calling it “enlightening and appreciated.”

Manak was not available for an interview.

But Rob Gordon, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, said he doesn’t buy the officer’s explanation.

“Neither does a large number of other people,” said Gordon, who nonetheless said it’s good management for the chief to give the officer the benefit of the doubt.

Officers are required to enforce the law in an impartial manner and should not express political opinions while in uniform or driving police vehicles, he said.

By demonstrating partiality, they compromise their position as police officers, Gordon said.

“It brings doubt on the issue of whether or not that officer could act impartially when confronting a situation where there is a conflict between these truckers and members of the public,” he said. “It’s a question of how they use their discretion, and police officers have a lot of discretion about enforcement.”

Protesters lined streets and gathered on the legislature lawn Saturday as a convoy of vehicles choked Douglas Street, bringing traffic to a crawl and preventing B.C. Transit buses from providing service into parts of James Bay.

The noisy rally in Victoria coincided with the culmination of a massive cross-country protest in Ottawa, where thousands of trucks and other vehicles packed Parliament Hill and the city’s downtown, leading police to urge people to avoid going downtown.

The “Freedom Convoy” started in response to the federal government’s vaccine mandate for Canadian cross-border essential workers, including truckers, requiring proof of vaccination to avoid quarantining after returning to Canada.

The White House has a similar mandate requiring those crossing into the U.S. to show proof they’ve been vaccinated.

Some protesters in Ottawa have said they intend to stay until vaccine mandates are dropped, and police in Ottawa have estimated the cost of policing the protest at $800,000 a day.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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