Power maintains power in politicians’ reticence to overhaul policing

    Apr 28, 2021

    OTTAWA—The Derek Chauvin conviction may not be the victory it’s purported to be, given that within 24 hours of the verdict, police in America gunned down six Black people as a show of dominance. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to the verdict was exceptionally mealy-mouthed (he essentially said that systemic racism is bad, which is such a grave understatement, it comes off as mockery), given that he’s had a year to respond to anti-Black racism and has only delivered half-measures.

    Trudeau thinks he can solve anti-Black racism by side-stepping police overhaul; his actions demonstrate his belief that economic measures will usurp the need for police accountability. He is so very wrong.

    Meanwhile in Canada, premiers in B.C. and Ontario are facing backlash from their constituents for instituting increased police power—without an increase in requisite oversight—to enforce a new round of COVID-19 measures. After giving police the power to conduct random police checks of both motorists and pedestrians, the premier of Ontario quickly backpedalled, saying that cops “and other provincial offences officers still have the authority to conduct those checks but only if they have ‘reason’ to believe the stay-at-home order has been breached,” as reported by The Toronto Star. So, basically the same thing.

    B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth stated that new travel restrictions for British Columbians “will be enforced through police checkpoints set up at the borders between the three regions during times associated with leisure travel. Farnworth promised to allocate provincial funds to ensure already-stretched police departments have the resources to staff such checkpoints,” as written in the Vancouver Sun. And there-in lies the insidiousness of these politicians’ backdoor effort to increase police reach in the time of Black Lives Matter and police brutality protests: increased powers and funding without a comparable increase in civilian oversight.

    But then, there isn’t any effective oversight in policing, and governments keep increasing their funding, either to expand their influence over vulnerable communities or to give them the authority to police themselves.

    That’s what Budget 2021 did for the RCMP. I wrote about this recently in The Globe and Mail: “Last week, the federal budget provided the organization $75-million over five years and $13.5-million ongoing to ‘take action, with steps to combat systemic racism’—in short, more money for the police to police themselves.” While the Liberals pretend to make police reforms that they missed putting in the budget, they distract us with dalliances with police accountability that end up increasing police funding, such as the ruse of body cameras. Chauvin had a body cam. It didn’t prevent him from murdering George Floyd. Researchers with the Government of District Columbia found, “Having police officers wear little cameras seems to have no discernible impact on citizen complaints or officers’ use of force, at least in the nation’s capital.” So then why did the Trudeau government give the RCMP $238.5-million over six years, and $50-million ongoing, to set up and maintain this regime of surveillance?

    Louise Matsakis of WIRED magazine quoted Harlan Yu, the executive director of Upturn, a non-profit focused on progressive technology policy, “Body-worn cameras simply haven’t served the interests of communities in most places, and primarily should be seen as a policing and surveillance tool.” Despite there being not much evidence based in this policy-making, the Liberals sold us garbage and dressed it up as change in the form of a gossamer level of accountability.

    Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, sponsored petition E-3242, which seeks to elevate cops to a protected class, on the same level as the racialized and ethnic groups they target. The language of this petition reads, “there are vocations, most notably police officers, that single them out as an identifiable group and that individuals and organizations are targeting that vocation for the sole purpose of implying ‘that those individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect, and made subject to ill-treatment on the bases of group affiliation.’” What a slap in the face. And the Liberals leave marks.

    Black lives don’t matter as much as blue lives in the Liberal Party. Or the NDP, for that matter.

    Recently, Jagmeet Singh was called out by Jessa McLean, candidate for party president with the following tweet:

    She was referring to an official NDP position that supports establishing dedicated hate crime units within local police forces: “We will begin work immediately to ensure that all major cities have dedicated hate crime units within local police forces.” This will invariably come with increased funding. No one asked for this.

    You’d think the party with the racialized leader would know better, but power knows how integral the police are to maintaining their power, racialized or not.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.