A Victoria police officer who is an outspoken advocate for drug legalization has filed a human rights complaint against the Victoria Police Department and Chief Jamie Graham, alleging he has been discriminated against based on his political views.
Const. David Bratzer, co-ordinator of the department’s bait-car program, is also president of the Canadian branch of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international organization of current and former law-enforcement officials pushing for full legalization and regulation of drugs.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has decided to investigate the bulk of the allegations despite complaints from the department that some incidents fell outside the six-month time limit. Bratzer filed his complaint in February, describing 11 incidents dating back three years.
According to tribunal documents, Bratzer said he notified his superiors of his intention to join LEAP in 2008 and assured them that, if he participated in any public work on behalf of the organization, he would make clear the views were personal and that he was not representing the Victoria Police Department.
Bratzer said he has kept that commitment but was warned not to criticize other officers or spend so much time on LEAP that it took away from the duties of his job. His position with LEAP is voluntary.
Bratzer was barred from participating in a panel discussion on harm reduction at Victoria City Hall in February 2010, ordered not to comment publicly on Washington state’s successful referendum on marijuana legalization and repeatedly reminded that Graham disapproved of his actions.
The complaint also names Insp. Jamie Pearce, who sent Bratzer a letter on Sept. 27, 2012, which said he must get permission from his supervisor before making any public statements “contrary to positions that the executive of the board of the Victoria Police Department is taking, or is reasonably expected to take on behalf of the department.”
Graham was not available to comment, but Victoria police said in a statement: “While we can’t offer comment on the specifics of this complaint as it remains before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, VicPD remains hopeful that a resolution can be reached soon that satisfies both parties.”
Bratzer’s allegations have yet to be proven at the tribunal.
“All the incidents relate to his political belief about drug prohibition and all demonstrate repeated efforts by the respondents to restrict, prevent or deter him from publicly expressing his political belief outside of working hours,” the tribunal documents state.
U.S.-based LEAP has about 5,000 members including current and former police officers, judges, prosecutors, corrections officers, border guards and former Drug Enforcement Agency officers.
LEAP executive director Neill Franklin said many officers have been punished for being part of the organization, including being passed up for promotions or being fired.
“Unfortunately, this is nothing new in the police world as far as folks like David who are active police officers doing what they should do as citizens [yet] being targeted by their police departments,” Franklin said.
He said many in the law enforcement community support LEAP “covertly” because they fear reprisals from employers.
“David knows the importance of speaking on his time, on his dime and not bringing his department into any of his speaking engagements. Being a police officer is an occupation, but we are citizens first,” Franklin said.
In August, the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs signalled a softening toward enforcement of minor drug offences, voting in favour of issuing violation tickets for possessing small amounts of marijuana instead of pursuing a criminal charge.