Canada’s violent national police force

‪The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have killed yet another First Nations man. Canada’s national police force violates rights with impunity.‬ In any other country, it would be rightly accused of being the arm of state violence. This force’s main function is systemic racism against Indigenous peoples. It includes numerous killings, beatings, and other forms of violence.

‪The RCMP was created to “pacify” First Nations on the prairies, based on the model of Britain’s colonial police in Ireland.

The RCMP has been used to overthrow First Nations governments (earlier this month, I published some documents on their forcible invasion of the Six Nations government in 1924). The RCMP is the form in which Canada has forcibly destroyed First Nations government and rights since Canada was created.

My first encounter with RCMP officers was when they cleared a crowd of protesters with mass pepper spraying, chokeholds and other forms of violent coercion to keep a promise made by the foreign minister of Canada that Indonesian president (and mass murderer) Suharto would not have to see protesters.

My second encounter with an RCMP trainee was when one told us as we arrived in Regina, Sask.: “watch out for the Indians, they’re all dirty and they all steal.”

The RCMP killed a Mik’maq man yesterday. They managed to take down the white man who embarked on Canada’s largest ever mass killing this year alive. But they shot the Mik’maq man, Rodney Levi.

This comes a week after the police killing of another First Nations woman in New Brunswick, Chantel Moore. She was shot as local police (not the RCMP, in this case) carried out a “wellness check” on her. Obviously she’d have been better off if they had left her alone. In police jargon, “wellness” can sometimes mean shooting.

The incident prompted an appeal from Quebec Indigenous women’s groups to the federal minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller (who boasts that he can speak Mohawk).

In both cases, allegedly carrying a knife was a death warrant. Police do not shoot white people for holding knives. But they’ve shot two First Nations people in one province in a little over a week. New Brunswick has had one death from Covid-19. Meanwhile, police have killed 2 Indigenous people in New Brunswick. New Brunswick does not have an independent police oversight body to investigate police actions.

Six Indigenous people in Canada have died from the pandemic. Nine have been killed by police, according to journalist Robert Jago.

RCMP officers in Fort McMurray recently carried out a violent beating of Athabasca Chipewyan chief Allan Adam. This is pretty standard RCMP violence in the prairie provinces. The RCMP are not the killers of Cree man Colten Boushie, murdered in northern Saskatchewan with impunity, but they are routinely accused of violence and other human rights violations against First Nations people. The normalized racism of Saskatchewan comes through clearly in Tasha Hubbard’s powerful film nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up. But it’s nationwide. The systemic racism of Quebec and Ontario, for instance, is more subtle but just as insidious. Even though Quebec’s premier denies its existence.

Racism pervades my field, academia. This week, the entire Indigenous Advisory circle of Canada’s Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences resigned over the award of the Prix du Canada for best book to a work that Metis scholars call harmful (they say white Quebecois are falsely claiming Metis identity and rights).

My own university issued a statement on Black Lives Matter recently, and has ignored criticisms of the statement.

I research state violence against civilians in other countries. I’ve heard people tell me stories of violence that haunt my dreams. It is easy to see the way repressive and liberal states alike use the police as a means of violence and coercion.

The RCMP’s human rights record is, in global perspective, as bad as some of the worst dictatorships. It comforts white people and makes them — us — feel protected. Despite its record, polls show high trust in the RCMP.  But it is systemically racist against Indigenous people.

When Canada’s army was in Somalia in the 1990s, members of the Airnborne section beat and killed a Somali teenager, ripping aside the mask of racism. Canada’s government stalled, but was finally forced to admit that the Airborne was too racist to keep. They abolished it after enormous pressure.

Let’s think about whether it’s time to abolish the RCMP, too.

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