This iconic line from Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard sums up the Trudeau government’s flirtation with the advancement of social issues: from marching in Toronto Pride in 2016 while Black Lives Matter-Toronto protested for more inclusive spaces for queer people of colour and against police marching in Pride, to last Friday’s exposition of “taking a knee” as a performative act of solidarity with the Black community during Ottawa’s protests. Too bad he took space and attention from the Black woman who was speaking on the podium. Whether this was intentional or not is irrelevant. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as a former drama teacher, knows the power of a moment and as usual, he used it for himself. Again, he used the Black community to promote his image, just like he did at the teepee protests on Parliament Hill during the Canada 150 celebrations three years ago.
Much like this government, corporate Canada and public institutions have created a culture of window-dressing, fake smiles, and bullshit corporate messaging, using ill-communicated word salads with ether dressing. It is in this context that many employees all over the country received the most poorly articulated Pollyanna messages of hope and unity in the midst of the second week of global protests against police brutality.
It’s time to stop the performative allyship.
Performative allyship is when people—who do not belong to the marginalized community they claim allyship with—adopt the label of an ally to that community without actually doing anything for the community. This is harmful to said community because they are being used for that ally’s vanity project. We saw this with the pink pussy hats of the Women’s March and most recently, the Democrats kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence (the amount of time police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck) in Kente cloth to introduce their new anti-police brutality legislation.
This performative Liberal government is the government we deserve, since we are a nation more concerned with the vanity of an issue, rather than the issue itself. And what did we get from all that political grift? A promise to discuss the use of body cameras for the RCMP and other police forces with provincial premiers. Seems like everyone forgot the use of body cameras has never stopped the police from killing unarmed Black men, especially when they can turn them off at any time. Body cameras are just another Band-Aid “solution” to make it look like the government is responding—they are not.
Should I be popping bottles to celebrate this end to the status quo?
Instead of expanding our horizons to rethink how we define safety, criminality, and the purpose of policing, what we’re getting are half-baked plans from yesteryear masquerading as change. Body cameras are the solution to a problem for police—in that they are intended to increase accountability and transparency of police actions to regain public trust—not as a solution to increase the safety of Black communities or to prevent extrajudicial killings by police officers. And even within these parameters, the results are mixed.
In March of last year, George Mason University conducted one of the largest reviews of research to date on the topic of BWCs (body-worn cameras) and the results were interesting, to say the least. The researchers at George Mason found that “BWCs have not produced dramatic changes in police behaviour, for better or worse.” Additionally, “it is not clear from available evidence that BWCs improve citizens’ satisfaction with police encounters, as might be expected if BWCs were having substantial effects on police behaviour.”
So much for evidence-based decision-making. I guess evidence is only relevant when supporting this government’s confirmation bias and marketing.
Meanwhile in the United States, the Democrats just introduced a sweeping police reform bill, the Justice in Policing Act, drafted, in part, with Black lawmakers. While it stops short of defunding the police, the legislation “would require local police departments to send data on the use of force to the federal government and create a grant program that would allow state attorneys general to create an independent process to investigate misconduct or excessive use of force,” NBC News reported. The new “bill would make it easier for people to recover damages when police departments violate their civil rights and, for the first time, would make lynching a federal hate crime.”
Neither the bill, nor its construction by Black lawmakers, would happen in Canada—we have neither the ambition nor the personnel to make this happen. As we dither with mediocrity dressed up as excellence in this country, municipalities in the United States are moving forward with plans to defund the police, which involves reallocating funding from the police to invest in communities of colour. New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis are all moving towards these community-based definitions of health and safety. And I’m here for it.
We defunded education for years, why can’t we defund the police?
The time for this Liberal government’s habit of selling our activism back to us as unseasoned chicken and telling us it amounts to change is over. Therefore, until these Canadian “leaders” get off their knees and get on to producing legislative and political change that is tangible, they can keep their platitudes and faux acts of solidarity.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.