Mistakes and Misconceptions: THW Ban Police Unions (HHIV 2017)

The round 1 motion of the 2017 Hart House Inter-Varsity tournament proposed a ban on police unions. During the 15 minute prep time, judges shared their thoughts on where they expected the round to go. Kieran (Hart House Debater) predicts what he thinks the main arguments will come from:

I think we’re going to see two arguments from the government team:


  • Unions make police too powerful.
  • Police are essential.


If this is where the round goes for gov. then it will be interesting to see how they deal with the contradictions if they run this case and how opp. deals with them as well as they come up.

For the judges, they felt that for debaters to do well in this round, they needed to have an understanding for not only what a union is, but why a police union is so unique and important. Logan from Marianopolis University stated, “the key to this round is knowing police culture, having a strong grasp on current social tensions and why this is relevant.” There was general expectation for this round to see examples from the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality towards minority groups.

After the round, judges expressed the most common problems that came up were poor comprehensions of what purpose unions serve. Ben Levy, Hart House debate president, stressed how the biggest issue in his round was the lack of focus on a principle or value from all teams. The round fizzled out to rough descriptions of racism in the status quo with no clear conception of what unions actually do.

Assuming both sides are arguing something feasible, there should have been more explicit values articulated. It was unclear what values or principles both sides were trying to get across and that’s what this was debate about.

In the RFD, Ben shared some pointers on how to help debaters vocalise what unions do and explained that in the case of police unions, their role is to communicate and serve as a voice for police when it comes to dealing with management and handling other frustrations. Unions, in a more general sense, represent labour that is not represented and help balance a power asymmetry between employers and employees. Additionally, a clearer characterisation of police officers would have greatly benefitted the debate. A simple example of this is acknowledging that police officers might not come from the most privileged backgrounds as people assume.  

At the end of the round, here were the main questions left unanswered:

  • What differentiates police unions for others?
  • How much and what kind of additional power do unions give to police? To what extent would this be taken advantage of?
  • Why should unions then still be in place despite this possibility and the fact that police are a vital public service?
  • Does the aforementioned consequence outweigh police who may be disadvantaged and that would greatly benefit from unions to prevent abuse towards them?
  • And is this a big enough impact, even though unions might further hurt minority groups?