Police crime and the “Indian Problem”
An image that defines Canadians and their collective identity is the image of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Comack 2012: 66). The RCMP is a Canadian institution that is also often viewed as a respectable institution displaying commitment to communities through “unbiased and respectful treatment of all people; cultural sensitivity; open and honest community” (RCMP 2006). However, with the recent Idle No More movements, there have been an increase in allegations of police abuse and mistreatment, and also an increased in reporting of gendered violence committed against Indigenous women by non-Indigenous males and the failure for our current Canadian government to protect Indigenous women. Governmental crime is used as an umbrella term to capture various forms of crimes committed within a governmental context (Friedrichs 2010: 128). Friedrichs further makes a distinction between political white collar crime and state crime where the latter is defined as “harmful activities carried out by the state or on behalf of some state agency” (Friedrichs 2010: 128). He emphasizes that central to state crime is “the extension or maintenance of power” (Friedrichs 2010: 128). Friedrichs’ chapter on governmental crime calls attention to police crime as a form of governmental crime. With these definitions of state crime, it can be argued that the current Canadian institution, the RCMP, is an extension of this power, an abuse of power, as a form of state-organized crime.
Friedrichs chapter on governmental crime highlights police crime as either state-organized crime or occupational crime. The difference between the two, state-organized crime and occupational crime, are their underlying objectives. For occupational crime, it can be seen as having individualistic, personal motivators involving corruption (Friedrichs 2010: 146). Meanwhile, for state-organized crime it can be seen as originating from within the organization, as if to inherently exist in its mission, vision, and values. Historically, the RCMP had originated out of the North West Mounted Police (NWCP) which was established in 1873 and whose mission was to play an “instrumental role in carrying out the colonial project or ‘civilizing mission’” (Comack 2012: 73). The colonial project is described as the attempted assimilation of Indigenous peoples into Canadian society as “civilized human beings” by removing their children from their homes and forcing the children to attend residential schools, by forcing Indigenous peoples to live on smaller parcels of lands, and by criminalizing the use and practice of their Indigenous languages and cultures. For many Canadians today, this colonial project is often seen as something in the distant past. However, the last federally run residential school closed in 1996 (Comack 2012: 78). With this fact, it can be seen that the colonial project is not a thing of the past.
Consequently, and since the Idle No More movement began in November 2012, there has been a spotlight on the issues Indigenous peoples face on a repeated basis. One particular alarming issue that keeps re-emerging is the gendered violence that Indigenous women/girls face at the hands of non-Indigenous males and also the institutional violence that they experience within the criminal justice system, particularly the violence committed at the hands of the RCMP against Indigenous women/girls. In December 2012, a young Indigenous woman was attacked, raped, and left for death; fortunately, shortly thereafter, the Thunder Bay Police began to continue its investigation into this hate crime (Canada.com 2013). With more than 600 missing and murdered Indigenous women, this incident calls attention to this gendered violence. Then in February 2013, a young Indigenous woman had called Edmonton police to report a rape only to be arrested herself, and later having no adequate assistance to deal with the traumatic experience sat waiting and sitting in blood-stained clothing for 5 days before a rape kit was administered (Cherrington, 2013). In addition to these incidences, a more damaging report conducted by a human rights watch group reported that there were incidences of rape and abuse of Indigenous women/girls at the hands of the RCMP in northern British Columbia (Human Rights Watch, 2013). With the incidences in Thunder Bay and Edmonton, and the report highlighting the treatment of Indigenous women/girls by the RCMP in British Columbia, it is apparent that the mistreatment and abuse of Indigenous women/girls is not an isolated occurrence and is demonstrative of the state-organized crime against Indigenous women/girls as part of the continued colonial project.
One might argue that the current Canadian government has taken steps to increase the safety of Indigenous women/girls by allocating more funds to policing agencies and with his “Tough on Crime” agenda. However, these efforts are not addressing the root cause of the gendered and institutional violence that Indigenous women/girls face. It appears that the system is built to do exactly what it is meant to do: get rid of the “Indian Problem.” In a joint press release by Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) and Families of Sisters in Spirits (FSIS) in response to the continued police injustices, the connection between the Indian Problem and the RCMP’s legacy is demonstrated with this quote, “But what folks don’t know is that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was originally created to control and manage the ‘Indian Problem’, which included using force, violence and coercion against our peoples. This is the RCMP’s living legacy.” While one might say that Indigenous peoples would be better off if they just assimilated into the rest of society, this statement ignores previous assimilative efforts, which have failed to provide any successful results. For example, this can be seen with the residential school system, wherein in Indigenous parents were given a false choice: either let the Indian Affairs agents take your children to the school or face arrest and your children will be taken anyways. The intergenerational effects of the residential school can be seen in the intergenerational trauma passed down from generation to generation. Today, these colonization efforts can be seen through the neglect to protect Indigenous women/girls from harms experienced at the hands of non-Indigenous men and Canadian policing agencies.
Perhaps a part of this colonial project in a present day context is the dominating and controlling of Indigenous women’s bodies through carelessness in investigations of the 600 missing and murdered Indigenous women/girls across Canada and a complete disregard for the current state of Indigenous women/girls by the Canadian government itself. Most significantly, perhaps a part of this ongoing colonial project is the current Canadian government’s actions to withdraw funding of the Sisters in Spirits project, which was documenting the incidences of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada (Human Rights Watch, 2012). The current Canadian government needs to take action to protect these Indigenous women/girls from harms that are experienced at the hands of non-Indigenous men and at the hands of those meant to protect society, the RCMP and other policing agencies. Indigenous women/girls are the life-givers and life-bearers of Indigenous peoples. They are the backbone of the Indigenous existence. If it were not for Indigenous women/girls, Indigenous people would not exist, or perhaps, as mentioned earlier, the system is built to do exactly what it is meant to do: To get rid of the “Indian Problem.”
Canada.com. 2013. “Woman’s abduction, rape investigated as a hate crime.” <http://www.canada.com/news/Woman+abduction+rape+investigated+hate+crime/7791540/story.html>
Cherrington, M. 2013. “She looked down and cried.” The Cat Box: A Youth Worker’s Website. <http://catbox.ca/she-looked-down-and-cried/>
Comack, E. 2012. Racialized Policing: Aboriginal People’s Encounters with the Police. Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing.
Friedrichs, D. O. 2010. Trusted Criminals: White Collar Crime in Contemporary Society. 4th ed. California: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Human Rights Watch. 2012. “Canada: Investigate Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women.” <http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/17/canada-investigate-missing-murdered-indigenous-women>
Human Rights Watch. 2013. “Canada: Abusive Policing, Neglect Along ‘Highway of Tears.’” <http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/02/13/canada-abusive-policing-neglect-along-highway-tears>
Native Youth Sexual Health Network. 2013. “Police (In)Justice: Responding Together to Change the Story” <http://www.nativeyouthsexualhealth.com/policeinjusticerespondingtogethertochangethestory.pdf>