Did police use booze checkpoint to target elderly women at euthanasia meeting?
Wellington police may have used an alcohol checkpoint to gather information about elderly women attending euthanasia meetings.
The women had been attending an Exit International meeting on a Sunday afternoon early this month in the Lower Hutt suburb of Maungaraki.
As they left, about 4pm, all were pulled over at the checkpoint and – before being asked to blow into the machine – were made to give their names and addresses, and show their driver's licences.
In the days that followed, at least 10 of them received visits from police officers, asking questions about their association with Exit, a pro-euthanasia group.
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The claims have been confirmed by multiple women at the meeting.
Wellington barrister Douglas Ewen, a specialist in human rights, said it could be an abuse of police powers if it could be proven they used the guise of a checkpoint to get details for an issue unrelated to road safety.
Similarly, the act of stopping cars for a purpose other than road safety could be seen as "arbitrary detention", and therefore a breach of the Bill of Rights.
"If a power is conferred, it should be used for that purpose," Ewen said.
Stephen Iorns, another barrister, said police were allowed to request drivers' name and addresses at checkpoints, but it was unusualfor those details to be requested ahead of a breath-test.
He agreed with Ewen that, if police were using a checkpoint to gather details for an unrelated purpose, it would probably be an abuse of power.
Voluntary Euthanasia Society president Maryan Street said that, if the women's claims were even half-correct, "there is something seriously wrong with the deployment of police resources".
Police were obliged to investigate crimes, but the women at the meeting were merely preparing for their own deaths, which was not illegal, she said.
"NOW I KNOW WHY"
A Lower Hutt Exit member said she was surprised to be stopped and asked for her licence.
"Although it is a requirement to carry a driving licence when driving, I have never encountered such a check before," she said.
"Now I know why this one was instigated."
The following Saturday two plain-clothes police officers knocked on her door asking about her association with Exit.
"I attended the meetings to show solidarity, but had no interest in committing suicide at present.
"The policeman doing most of the talking then asked, 'So you don't have a bottle of Nembutal hidden away?', to which I replied, 'No'. We then passed on to talk of other things.
"During the brief discussion ... they said they were investigating the activities of the leader of the group. They did not explain further what they meant by this."
SLEDGEHAMMER TO KILL A FLEA
Exit International director Philip Nitschke said his organisation had 10 members who had been visited by police, and "more who were subjected to the post-meeting roadblock set up at the bottom of the Maungaraki hill".
Another woman, who was at the meeting but left late and missed the checkpoint, got a visit from police afterwards. She described the checkpoint as an "appalling thing to do" and described Operation Painter as "a bit like having a sledgehammer to kill a flea".
Police have been asked who requested the roadblock, why the roadblock was in the spot – at the bottom of Dowse Dr, just west of the Dowse interchange – at the time, and whether anyone stopped was over the limit.
They were asked whether it was standard procedure to seek identification before a breath test, and whether the checkpoint was part of Operation Painter, in which several elderly women have been visited by police asking about their involvement with Exit International.
Police said the questions would have to be asked under the Official Information Act, which allows 20 working days for a response.
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