On navel-gazing, civil liberties, and Shimon Peres

I hope readers will forgive a post that is definitely narcissistic and possibly an overreaction. Here it goes:

Israeli President Shimon Peres was in town last night. There was a reception at the National Gallery of Canada. I was invited.

While approaching the gallery, I took a call on my cell phone. There was a light rain, so I stopped and stood beneath a statue about 50 metres from the gallery’s front doors. There were several police in the area but no visible security perimeter. Other pedestrians walked by. It’s a moderately busy corner.

After a few minutes, a police officer approached and asked when I would be ending my call. I put my phone away. He asked what I was doing and why I was there. I replied —politely, I think — that I was on public land didn’t have to explain myself to him.

He told me there was an important dinner happening nearby. I told him I knew Peres was at the National Gallery and was on my way there. He asked to see my invitation. I told him I wasn’t obligated to show him anything. He said they had reason to believe I was a “security threat.” I asked him what those reasons were. He said it was because I had taken a ten-metre detour to check out the Peacekeeping Monument before crossing Saint Patrick Street and I was talking on the phone. His voice rose. He said he was “warning” me. I noticed other police watching us. At one point he asked why I wasn’t, or suggested I should be, on “our side.” I realized I was coming close to missing the reception, produced my ticket, and we parted ways.

I understand that there are a lot of people who want to harm Shimon Peres. When he’s in Canada, it’s the job of our police to protect him. I get that, though when all this took place I was well away from the gallery — and from the security guards and metal detector in its entrance foyer. I think police deserve to be treated with courtesy. If I’m committing a crime, I expect to be arrested. If I’m not, however, I expect to be left alone.

Peres, by the way, gave a lovely speech.

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