On Wednesday, we watched the scenes from Washington, D.C., horrified and angry as we compared the police responses to Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and to any other protest. We are not shocked but we are angry.
Could something similar happen in Canada as hate groups and the far right continue to grow and organize here and politicians continue to appeal to them? Racism in law enforcement and the armed forces has proven deadly countless times and seems embedded in the very fibre of these institutions.
In 2015, in the United States, an FBI investigation found that white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement agencies was at epidemic levels, and suggested that right-wing and anti-government "domestic terrorists" were using links in law enforcement to gain intelligence, gain restricted access privileges, and ultimately evade capture. The report found that the vast majority of law enforcement agencies across the U.S. had no process in place for screening potential recruits for links to far-right organizations, and often turned a blind eye to those recruits with questionable political beliefs. This weakness in the recruitment system likely exists in Canada as well. Since so much of the alt-right organizing happens online, it should be easy to ask police officers if they are connected to the far right and should such connections be found, they can be reason for dismissal.
According to an article on Open Democracy, the infiltration of police is a systemic effort, coordinated by high-profile far-right figures, and white supremacist activists were taking advantage of this structural weakness in vetting procedures to gain access to police. As far back as in 2006, an FBI investigation recommended that "a nationwide screening procedure be put in place in order to challenge the growing concerns about white supremacist affiliations within local police departments, but this was never implemented."
In Canada, La Meute was founded by two former Canadian Armed Forces members to influence politics and stop Liberal re-election. They are known to have members of police in their ranks and in November 2017 they used their connections with police to gain free access to a Quebec Liberal meeting while counter-protesters were teargassed and arrested. After the protest, the police spokesman stated, "We had a very good collaboration with La Meute. They told us their intentions, their itinerary, where they were headed. The other group [the counter-demonstration] told us they were gathering in front of the National Assembly. But we didn't have the same frequency of discussion with them." The head of security of La Meute during these protests was a former police officer. His knowledge of the police and his connections within the department made him seem cooperative. During the protests, counter-protesters were arrested for carrying the same telescopic billy clubs that La Meute associates were carrying with impunity.
In July 2017, the Proud Boys disrupted a protest of Indigenous activities. Three of the Proud Boys were members of the Canadian navy while the fourth was a member of the Canadian army. The Canadian Forces investigated but no charges were laid and there were no demotions. By August 31 of that year the individuals were back at their regular duties, although they were on probation, which the military maintained was a tough punishment. For The Proud Boys, its members returning to their jobs in the military was cause for celebration. The Canadian Armed Forces can make all the solidarity statements they want: the bigger problem may lie in how they address racism in their ranks.
We must defund the police. We must also make sure that the laws and regulations, jurisprudence and the governing bodies which hold police officers accountable are strengthened. A review of policing regulations across Canada found that, across Canada, current regulations on use of force are not in keeping with international law. In June 2020, I did a cross-country survey of the sad state of independent police oversight across Canada. We must work to close the loopholes which allow police and other law enforcement personnel to do harm with impunity. The CCLA has an active campaign to demand more police accountability.
We must also close the loophole of recruitment and individual racism and racist affiliations among police and armed forces. Otherwise the problem of racism among remaining law enforcement will remain along with its bad actors.
Maya Bhullar is the Activist Toolkit coordinator at rabble.ca. She has over 15 years of professional experience in diverse areas such as migration, labour, urban planning and community mobilization.
Image credit: James Paramecio/Pixabay
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