Will defunding fix the issue of racism in the RCMP?
By Craig Allan, Staff Writer
This month has seen an explosion of emotion and pent-up frustration over racial injustice in the world. A problem many feel is in the past is seen by others as very much a contemporary issue. The death of George Floyd has led to protests that have not been confined to the United States’ borders; now, Canadian law enforcement are under the microscope, like with the death of Chantel Moore in New Brunswick when police were called to do a wellness check. Now “Defund the Police”—a movement which some have defined as calls for police budget reduction and money relocation to other services (e.g., community engagement and mental health resources)—is growing in Canada. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau already declaring his opinion that there is systemic racism in the RCMP, what is the next step forward for Canada’s police force? To discuss this, I consulted John Cater, a recently retired RCMP officer of 27 years and program coordinator of the Douglas College Criminology Department; Zachary Goldman, a UBC student who has organized protests for various social justice issues and thinks that the police force should be abolished; and Staff Sergeant Janelle Shoihet, the Senior Media Relations Officer for the BC RCMP.
With John Cater, I discussed the Douglas College Criminology Department, which is teaching students to enter a policing field that may be completely different than it was only a few months ago. He pointed out to me that the faculty has been tracking what has been going on with the issues regarding police interaction in Canada. “We want to offer students current, contemporary, critical, and challenging situations.” He also said he is quite confident that the faculty is “engaged… they’re reading, they’re researching. We’re talking about these things all the time.” He also stated that he has had conversations with people outside of his circle about these issues, and is using these conversations to help establish an overall education structure that will help students navigate what could be a very large change in Canadian law enforcement.
When it comes to the claim of systemic racism in the RCMP, my correspondent Staff Sgt. Shoihet directed me to the official statement from the commissioner of the RCMP Brenda Lucki and added: “I have sought the views of a wide variety of people, including members of both our Indigenous and Diversity Advisory Committees, Indigenous leaders, as well as active and retired Indigenous members. I value all the feedback I’ve received, because it is a critically important part of our learning journey.” For Goldman, he believes that you would have to be a fool to argue that there is not systemic racism in Canada’s policing infrastructure. He also states that, “The police, and the RCMP in particular are rooted in a history of colonial expansion that sought to clear the land of its original inhabitants and replace them with settlers. Every function of the police that has followed stems from that original purpose and is designed to uphold it. Therefore, I would question why we even need the police at all. Every service that the police currently provide could be better facilitated by a different organization.” Despite this opinion, Goldman does admit that he does not have a personal opinion about how or what other services could better provide care in the multiple areas the police currently serve.
When it comes to the type of calls that RCMP officers are asked to assist in, they have been criticized for not being suitable for the issue. In a question about the uniform requirements of RCMP officers, Goldman said “Regardless of the gun, the officers committed violence against unarmed persons. The problem is with the police itself, not with the tools they may or may not possess.” However, Staff Sgt. Shoihet pointed out that violent interactions between police and citizens are extremely rare: “The RCMP responds to an average of 2.8-million calls for service each year. Applications of intervention account for one in every 1,064 RCMP calls for service, or 0.1 percent. That means that 99.9 per cent of RCMP occurrences are resolved naturally or with communication/de-escalation.” She also mentioned that interventions have been going down significantly over the last decade with 2019 marking the lowest point of intervention in that span with only 0.073 percent of cases ending in such a fashion.
The death of George Floyd has led to an outpouring of anger from communities who do not believe that police officers serve in their best interests. Unlike Goldman, I do not believe the police force needs to be abolished, but I do believe that they need to change. Police officers should not be doing wellness checks or being liaison officers connected to the RCMP. We need to start looking at paring down the way we use the police to better everyone including the officers. I also believe the RCMP needs to be more open with the public on how they operate. In preparing for this article, I tried to get an interview with the media relations person for the Coquitlam RCMP. However, when they got back to me, they said that the media relations person only talks about case facts and not issues like systemic racism in the RCMP. This is where they directed me to Staff Sgt. Shoihet and the RCMP E-Division. As much as I appreciated Staff Sgt. Shoihet’s contribution, I did feel it was a bit too generalized. I want to know how the police can be better in my community, not just countrywide.
As part of my discussions with Cater, he said that while the mental health of police officers is getting better, as they are now more willing to open up to therapists about their jobs, still he says “Policing is a very difficult and challenging career.” Policing is difficult, but if we don’t look at how we can adapt the police force to today’s new reality, and properly deal with the allegations of systemic racism, then things will only continue to get worse. For the government officials who can get things done, they need to do more than just kneel with protesters. They need to come up with a plan, and they cannot, we cannot, afford to wait any longer.