COLUMN: Public concern raises rights debate

The Nanaimo school district is in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation when it comes to security of students, staff and property.

A situation in the community involving an “individual” caused enough concern for district officials and Nanaimo RCMP to heighten security at Cilaire Elementaey School, Dover Bay and Nanaimo Distirct secondary schools and district headquarters.

Donna Reimer, district spokeswoman, sent out a press release Feb. 5 stressing the security measures were a precaution and  there had been no direct threats against the three schools or the district office.

The only information was that under the district’s threat assessment protocol with the RCMP and other community agencies, an individual in the community is giving cause for some concern.

Requests for more information from the district were met with refusals and claims of balancing an individual’s right to privacy versus providing people information.

Const. Gary O’Brien, RCMP spokesman, did say an employee of the district, who is currently not working, allegedly threatened other people involved with the district and while police were investigating, the individual threatened police officers, for which he was arrested.

The person spent about five weeks in jail after pleading guilty to threatening police officers and was released Tuesday, with probation conditions.

Officials felt it prudent to increase security around the buildings where individuals had contact with this person, though O’Brien stressed it was a precautionary measure.

With the horrific shooting at Newtown, Conn. fresh in everyone’s mind, it must have come as a surprise and concern for Nanaimo parents picking their children up from school to see private security guards on the grounds and RCMP in cars patrolling the neighbouring streets.

Add to that the lack of any substantial information, and parents can’t be blamed for worrying.

But given the state of our legal system, there is not a whole lot more school officials and RCMP can do.

There were only allegations of threats against school district employees. No criminal act was committed other than the threat against police officers and the individual paid the cost and did his time for that.

Increased security around the schools made sense, though there is no doubt in my mind police knew the whereabouts of this individual throughout the entire ordeal. Getting them to say that on the record though, is another thing.

It’s often a cold slap in the face to victims of crime to be reminded that everyone in this country has rights – even those committing the crimes.

More and more, the practice of releasing the names of individuals convicted of sex crimes and considered to be a threat to reoffend is taking place. That is one instance where the protection and rights of the many outweigh the rights of the few.

We’re talking the proverbial rock and hard place. No crime has been committed so the public has no right to information. Yet, a good portion of the community is being held hostage by a perceived threat – not kowing who, or what, might be lurking around the corner.

So we increase the security in our community because the rights of the individual trumps the rights of the rest of us.

And as much as the newsman in me wants to get all the facts out to the public as quickly as possible, it’s a good thing we have checks and balances in our legal system.

Because one day it could be you or me in a difficult situation. And I know the last thing I would want is my rights being trampled on.

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