From Chicago to Regina, police behavior is a danger to students.
Recently, the Guardian revealed that Chicago police had been running a secret interrogation compound. Arrests are kept off the records and people are denied access to basic constitutional rights. Brutal interrogation techniques are used to extract confessions and many feel that they have been wrongly convicted. Some have compared Chicago’s tactics to those found at Guantanamo Bay, and here’s why: Chicago police detective Richard Zuley worked at both the Chicago facility and Guantanamo Bay.
More famously, the Ferguson protests and riots last year displayed the ability of American police to militarize. After a white officer was accused of executing a black youth, Ferguson became a war zone; police wore military fatigues, carried assault rifles, and used military grade tear gas canisters. Some journalists covering the events were more afraid of police than the rioters. Peaceful marches by citizens were met with police aggression.
I could go on and on about the militarized police state of America, yet how does this affect me as a student at the U of R? As an International Studies major, I find myself studying civil liberty violations and abuses of power worldwide. America and Canada are close allies and share information and policy freely. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) mirrors the NSA (National Security Agency). America’s war on terror has become Canada’s war on terror. Our government is attempting to increase law enforcement’s ability to monitor personal information and control the movement of ordinary citizens, including students.
You might say ‘but if you’re not a criminal, then you’ve got nothing to worry about!’ It’s not quite that simple. My concern is that police would abuse these new powers. In 2011, an RCMP constable took an intoxicated Aboriginal woman from her prison cell to his home and tried hitting on her (euphemistically put). The authorities punished him in 2014 with a reprimand and lost seven days of pay, a slap on the wrist. When RCMP members are allowed to police their own, it furthers distrust in the communities they serve.
Although Canada likes to flaunt multiculturalism, systematic racism is still prevalent.. This, of course, includes Saskatchewan and Regina. If you’re Indigenous, a case of ‘mistaken identity’ (read: racial profiling) could have you thrown in the back of a police car; exactly this thing happened to Simon Ash-Moccasin. When he ran into Regina police downtown at night, the police met his questioning of his rights with aggression. Furthermore, he later discovered the complaint process can be largely ineffective: some call it “walking while Aboriginal.” Let’s not forget the famous ‘starlight tours,’ a black mark on Saskatoon’s police force.
Should we fear our police forces? Is that what keeps us from breaking the law? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the law, not afraid of what police might do to us? I understand that police have a difficult job and that they’re only human: humans make mistakes. We also sometimes hold law enforcement to superhuman standards. Yet when situations like this occur, I feel like police are acting less than human.
I am also concerned with the ability of citizens to pursue peaceful protest and speak their mind. Sometimes I become worried that questioning the government and institutions at the wrong place and time will put me at odds with law enforcement. After graduation, I plan to live and work in Japan, a country with a zero-tolerance policy for criminal records. A wrongful arrest could leave me barred from the country. It may be a selfish concern, but I also know people that are far more vocal on these issues than I am. When illegal detainment and police militarization happens so close to Canadian borders, should I be concerned?
Perhaps I should. When First Nations bands protested fracking in New Brunswick in 2013, they were met by police in military fatigues, pepper spray and sniper rifles. Bill C-51 could make such protests illegal. Environmentalists could be tagged as terrorists, all while law enforcement protects the interests of corporations rather than citizens. This isn’t the first time bills like this have been put forth, nor is it likely to be the last.