A Victoria police officer who advocates for the legalization of drugs while off-duty has been awarded $20,000 in a human rights case that pitted the nine-year veteran against his employer.
The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal sided with Const. David Bratzer, saying the Victoria Police Department interfered with his rights as a citizen to freely express his views and ordered the award for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.
"Today, it's fair to say that employees, in particular police officers, have more freedom to engage in debates about public policy issues than they ever have before in this province," Bratzer said in an interview on Friday.
The tribunal ruled in an 86-page decision that Victoria police restrained or attempted to restrain Bratzer's off-duty public advocacy activities as a member of the international organization, Drug l. Members of the organization include current and former law enforcement officials.
Interference of a significant right
The tribunal says Victoria police interfered with Bratzer's rights in five of eight complaints he made, including prohibiting him from attending a harm reduction conference in Victoria, speaking at a federal Green party event and refraining from commenting to the media about a successful 2012 marijuana referendum in Washington state.
"I accept that, for the most part, the VicPD was sincerely trying to feel its way through a confounding issue attempting to balance the interests of a long-standing public institution that is paramilitary in nature while recognizing Mr. Bratzer's right to express his views on this topic," tribunal member Walter Rilkoff wrote in the decision.
"Nevertheless, the interference was of a significant right afforded to all citizens of this country and province, including police officers, and any award must recognize the seriousness of that interference."
Acting Chief Const. Del Manak of Victoria police said in a statement the department accepts the decision, will seek to learn from it and an appeal is currently not planned.
Bratzer filed the complaint against the department in February 2013, saying it tried on numerous occasions to restrain his off-duty public advocacy for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
"We say that the more dangerous the drug is, the more reason you have to regulate it and control it through legalization," said Bratzer. "That's why we support the regulation, the control of all drugs as opposed to just some of them because at the end of the day, it's the policy of prohibition that has failed globally."
The organization also links its approach to helping people get treatment.
"We want to find a way to keep people alive until they can successfully enter and complete some kind of program to address their addiction issues," said Bratzer.
He said he doesn't believe his off-duty views on drugs affect his duties as a police officer.
"I have great relationships with my co-workers," Bratzer said. "Over the years, they've come to see when I'm on-duty I still enforce the drug laws within the bounds of my discretion."