If an officer of the law photographs himself doling out his own special brand of crime and punishment, is it really anybody’s business? When does a person’s professional work life end and their personal life begin? When you add the Internet and social media to the equation, these questions become even harder to answer. But what someone does in their own time is beyond an employers jurisdiction.
The most recent example of this problem is Cpl. Jim Brown, who is at the center of an investigation after photos of the officer participating in violent sexual acts were posted to an online fetish website.
In response to the photos, the RCMP have launched both an internal and independent investigation against Brown to determine whether or not he was in violation of the RCMP’s code of conduct. While this incident comes at a time when the RCMP are already taking a lot of public heat for misconduct against officers, Brown should not be disciplined for his actions.
What someone chooses to do or post in their off duty hours is their business. All participants in Brown’s photos were consenting adults, so although the content of the photos may not be considered the sexual norm in some circles, nothing illegal took place. An employer, even the RCMP, has absolutely no right to tell any employee what is acceptable when they’re off the clock; especially when it comes to something as personal as sexual preferences.
The argument from the other side comes from Assistant Commissioner Randy Beck who publicly stated that RCMP officers are held to a higher standard than others. But regardless of their position in the community, RCMP officers are still people too and what they do off the job, provided it’s legal, is not the business of the community. Sure, Brown could have done more to conceal his identity in the photos, but he is perfectly in his legal right to take them.
Perhaps the biggest uproar over the pictures comes from the fact that Brown was involved in the investigation against Canadian serial killer Robert Pickton. However, the investigation and conviction of a despicable murderer has absolutely nothing to do with what an RCMP officer chooses to do in his spare time. There’s no fair reason to assume Brown is incapable of keeping his work and personal life separate.
Assistant Commissioner Beck has stated that he is “personally embarrassed and very disappointed that the RCMP would be, in any way, linked to photos of that nature.” But the RCMP didn’t need to be linked to these photos in the first place. They were the ones who chose to launch an investigation and make this public. Other than wearing a pair of standard issue RCMP riding boots, Brown was wearing nothing that could have identified him as an RCMP officer.
The investigation and negative publicity over these pictures speaks to the larger issue of a person’s online personal life and whether or not that personal life can be governed by an employer.
Obviously what makes Brown’s case different is that sexual photos were involved instead of a Facebook status or a tweet. But regardless of the online content, an employer has no right to regulate an employee’s online presence. If Brown had clearly identified himself as a member of the RCMP in the photos, then this would be a different story and the RCMP would have some ground to discipline him. But when someone posts personal photos like these online out of their own free will, no one has the jurisdiction to discipline them.
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