A Victoria police officer who advocated for drug legalization while off duty and claimed discrimination by the Victoria Police Department has been awarded $20,000 in a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision.
Const. David Bratzer filed a human rights complaint in February 2013, saying the department effectively muzzled him by limiting his right to speak personally and publicly as a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition while off duty.
LEAP is an international non-profit organization, headquartered in the United States and composed of current and former law-enforcement officials. It advocates for the legalization and regulation, with age restrictions, of all illicit drugs.
Bratzer, employed by the department since 2007, was seeking $65,000 because the discrimination was longstanding and interfered with his right to express his views.
Instead, over the course of a 10-day hearing, the tribunal considered injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect in awarding Bratzer $20,000. The department argued against any such award.
Bratzer complained that on eight occasions, the Victoria Police Department attempted to restrain his advocacy for LEAP and changes to drug laws, and in so doing, discriminated against him on the basis of his political beliefs, contrary to section 13 of the Human Rights Code.
Having considered eight alleged incidents, tribunal member Walter Rilkoff found five instances — a majority — in which Bratzer was discriminated against.
In those instances, Bratzer was prohibited from attending the Victoria Harm Reduction conference, was given direction not to speak at a Green Party event, had his right to speak out on drug legalization violated in letters from senior officials in June 2011 and September 2012, and was ordered not to speak to the press on the successful 2012 Washington state referendum on pot reform.
Bratzer received several letters from his supervisors that set out rules for public speaking, including a requirement that he ask for permission. Rilkoff noted former Victoria police chief Jamie Graham’s political views, which were not in favour of drug legalization or decriminalization, played a partial role in how Bratzer was treated on one occasion.
Victoria police said in a statement Thursday that the department accepts the tribunal’s decision. The department said the tribunal recognized its efforts to balance its interests with Bratzer’s right to express his views — which the tribunal identified as “a novel and a difficult issue.”
“From the VicPD perspective, we are pleased that the tribunal recognized our good-faith efforts,” Acting Chief Constable Del Manak said in a statement. “It is important to accept this decision, learn what we can from it, and move forward as an institution.”
In light of his findings, Rilkoff ordered the police department to “cease these contraventions of the [human rights] code and to refrain from committing the same or similar contraventions.”
The tribunal ordered the department not to enforce sections from a series of letters and documents and to remove them from Bratzer’s file.
The 86-page decision said that Bratzer had long wanted to be a police officer. After time as a jail guard, beat cop and then police drug expert in trafficking of marijuana and cocaine, he came to believe in LEAP’s stance that adult drug abuse is a health problem not a law-enforcement matter.