Canada needs guardian police not warrior police

ABOVE: Commissioner of the RCMP Brenda Lucki and Alberta Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki both said that there was no racism in policing in Canada until the Prime Minister stated there was. Twenty-four hours later, both officers exclaimed that indeed there was racism. ABOVE RIGHT: Chief Allen Adam being assaulted by the Alberta RCMP. 

The death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police has had an immediate and profound impact on how the public view the police. At no previous time in our history has the death of a man provoked such a strong outpouring of criticism against the police not just in the United States but from around the world. Now for the first time, people are demanding accountability. The tragic death of Mr. Floyd is not the first time a black man has been murdered by police in the United States. Every time this has happened there have been wide-scale protests and calls in the United States for police reform. To a large extent this is due to the posting of video footage on social media that captures the violence and police misconduct for the world to see. Some Canadians may think that this kind of police violence only happens in the U.S. but this is not the case.

Canada has had numerous examples where police have killed Indigenous people and mentally ill people under horrific and questionable circumstances. Despite this, the Canadian public and particularly the politicians in this country have been mute on the topic of police reform and accountability. Its sad, but it’s the reality. Consider the horrific and brutal deaths by police of Abdirahman Abdi, Paul Boyd, Peter Degroot and Michael Macisaac to name just a few of the people who have been wrongly killed by Canadian police. Despite these shocking incidents at the hands of police, none led to mass public demonstrations or cries for justice from either the public or politicians. It is naïve to claim that our police are different from American police because the evidence shows that Canadian police are becoming more and more like their American counterparts.

To illustrate how totally out of control Canadian police are all we have to do is look at the vicious and brutal attack on Chief Allan Adam by Wood Buffalo RCMP in a Fort McMurray parking lot, as reported on June 6, 2020. This assault was captured on a dashcam video and shown recently on news media across Canada. Following this incident, the RCMP held a press conference in which the RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said ‘he did not believe there was systemic racism in policing in Canada or in Alberta. His comments were followed days later by the Commissioner of the RCMP Brenda Lucki who told the press that she didn’t know what systemic racism means. These comments are shocking beyond belief.

The reason there is racism in Canadian society is because we have people in positions of authority like Zablocki and Lucki who are so out of touch with reality that you have to wonder how they ever got their positions. When the contently ignorant and bigoted people running our national police force refuse to accept a  fact staring them in the face, it is a sign of a deep sickness and disconnect from the public they are duty bound to serve and protect. Days later the Prime Minister stated there is systemic racism in Canada. Lo and behold right after this pronouncement was made both Lucki and Zablocki announced that there is systemic racism in policing. So what happened? What kind of people are we hiring and promoting in policing that would deny there is racism in the RCMP and then do an about face days later? Some people would say it speaks volumes about the level of incompetence in RCMP management. Then again, these comments come from a leader who apologized mere months ago for dancing around in blackface, yet then with incredible hubris, had the temerity to do a photo opp 'take a knee stunt' on Parliament Hill for the cameras without changing one law or policy in Canada to address the racism. It is truly unbelievable. 

How can we have a Commissioner of the RCMP in this day and age make such a stultifying comment? Many observers believe Lucki got the job as Commissioner of the RCMP not because of her qualifications but because Trudeau wanted to make the claim that he named the first woman to head the RCMP. The problem is, he picked the wrong woman for the role. Then we have the dim-witted Zablocki. As Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP in Alberta he would have seen the video of the beating of Chief Adam before he made obtuse remarks. That he is the Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP shows just how dysfunctional, out of touch and incompetent the management is at the RCMP.  Zablocki reflects a level of cultural ignorance that permeates most police agencies in this country. Both Lucki and Zablocki should be given the boot.

People are fed up with this kind of ignorance in policing and much of  the blame for this lies with politicians at the municipal, provincial and federal level. It seems that since the people who are killed by the police won’t be around to vote at the next election that their deaths don’t matter. What other conclusion can you draw? We have a Prime Minister who caters to political correctness and vapid photo opps, who thinks he has actually achieved something by going to Parliament Hill and taking a knee. If Mr. Floyd’s death didn’t generate the massive outpouring of rage that it did there is no doubt that Trudeau would have said nothing. 

The RCMP has been in a state of crisis for years. When officers were coming forward with allegations of harassment and misogyny, Trudeau's response was to pay out victims with $150 million of taxpayers money and then name a female Commissioner who stated after being appointed that, "Don't ask me how to fix the RCMP, because — first of all — you're telling me it's broken," said Lucki. "I am here to tell all of you . . . we're not broken." This despite a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit against the force by hundreds of female constables, and decades of complaints about systemic racist treatment by the RCMP towards Indigenous people. Not one of the RCMP predators responsible for the misogyny was ever charged criminally or held accountable. Trudeau paid off the virulent pandemic in the RCMP just like he has with COVID-19.

In recent weeks the nebulous phrase ‘defund police’ has become the battle cry for bringing an end to police violence. This term is a misnomer. What people are really calling for is a massive overhaul of the role of police in society. What is clear is that policing has not evolved with the demographic and cultural changes that have transformed society in the 21st century. There is a total disconnect between the police and the public because current methods for policing society are simply not compatible with the values of our modern society.

As the Office of the Independent Police Review Directorate indicated in one of their annual reports, over 80 per cent of all complaints against police are related to police conduct. Many police officers simply do not possess basic communications skills and as a result they lack the ability to defuse conflict and when its necessary de-escalate potentially violent encounters. In a study of New York City police many years ago it was found that in over forty percent of police citizen interactions there was no violence until the police arrived. How police speak to people and whether they use profanity or talk down to them in a condescending way is often the pivotal point between obtaining compliance or increasing aggression.

If government’s want to do something useful they need to stop offering quick fixes to address the problem. It is myopic and misleading to think that by providing police officers with body cameras that this will somehow change how police interact with citizens. In fact, a randomized study which evaluated the effects of police body-worn cameras on a sample of 2,224 metropolitan police officers in Washington DC (2017) showed that it did ‘not’ lead to either a decrease in civilian complaints against the police or a significant decrease in the use of force by police. The idea that you can somehow redress the police disconnect with society by offering more tools for their arsenal is completely misguided and misinformed. So what can we do to actually make a difference to the way police operate in todays environment? For starters we need ‘smart policing’.

For example, in 2014 the Macdonald-Laurier Institute published a report titled ‘The Blue line or the Bottom Line of Policing in Canada.’  The report asked the question ‘Why are we spending so much on policing? The report points out that police associations capitalize on the public myth that the bulk of what police officers do is related to crime fighting and law enforcement but nothing could be further from the truth. Research evidence shows that police spend less than 20 per cent of their time dealing with crime and law enforcement issues and over 80 per cent on order maintenance functions such as manning construction sites, responding to noisy parties, traffic enforcement and even enforcing bicycle regulations. Police training on the other hand is the exact reverse. Eighty per cent focuses on firearms competency, tactical training, use of force scenarios and crowd control while the remaining 20 per cent includes training in areas such as communications etc. The point is that the bulk of service calls police receive from the public has nothing to do with anything remotely connected to crime. 

The evidence is clear. A lot of services currently downloaded on police could be done more cost effectively.  As the Macdonald-Laurier Report points out there is no reason why civilians couldn’t be involved in lifting fingerprints, collecting DNA evidence, court security, prisoner escort, finance and human resources, transcribing interviews and conducting background checks. In short, what the report makes crystal clear is that we need an alternative service delivery model for policing because the one that we currently have is overly expensive, inefficient and in the 21st century some may argue anachronistic. 

As a society we need to redefine the role of police so that their skills and qualifications are related to the jobs we task them with.  It doesn’t make any sense to expect police officers who have less than twelve weeks training to effectively address the multitude of social problems being faced in our towns and cities.

We must change the police demographic and reallocate order maintenance type functions away from the police. We need a different and professional service delivery model that is staffed by people who have the knowledge and expertise in the areas of mental health and drug addiction. We need to build a police service that reflects the values and diversity of the population from which they are recruited and we need to make it mandatory that all persons applying to join a police service have a Bachelor of Arts degree with a specialization in disciplines such as social work, psychology, criminology and law. We need to ensure that police do what they are hired to do and that is meet the priorities of the community by working with them not against them. And most importantly, we need to end police brutality whenever and wherever it occurs in this country by imposing prison terms on police officers who commit violent acts against citizens.

By reallocating the order maintenance functions currently being provided by police to ‘civilian experts’ (Macdonald-Laurier Institute report), police can then concentrate on the most serious problems and threats confronting our society such as organized crime, human trafficking, child abuse, terrorism and gang violence. By making such changes we would be utilizing an evidence and knowledge-based approach for policing in the 21st century. In my opinion this is long overdue.