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Our kinder police forces

How accountable are Canadian police?/Thivierr
How accountable are Canadian police?/Thivierr

Don’t expect Canadian police officers to turn their backs on you.

Author: Jason Chestney

Do Canadian police have the same problems as their American counterparts? I don’t think so. This belief stems from several different factors, the first being the political differences between Canada and the United States. This has to do with Canada’s constitution, which delegates policing responsibilities to provinces. If police use excessive force, provincial governments end up suffering political costs. Therefore, they force Canadian police to be more restrained compared to American police.

Unlike the United States, where the Ferguson incident did not persuade either the federal or Missouri governments to significantly improve police accountability, Canadian police brutality can have severe consequences at both provincial and national levels. If police use excessive force, their respective provincial governments could quickly turn on them. I think that Canadian police chiefs at all levels realize this. Therefore, in cases such as the 2010 G20 protests or Toronto teenager Sammy Yatim’s shooting, police chiefs moved quickly to minimize fallout by suspending officers involved and launching investigations. This minimized any long-term tension between police and the public, unlike Ferguson. I believe Canadian police forces view that protests only escalate if they intervene with Ferguson-style force.

I also find Canadian protests to have a different nature than American ones. Whereas American protests seemed to be centred on excessive police violence, Canadian protests such as Idle No More or the Quebec student movement focused more on political issues rather than the police. Even when the police did intervene, such as in Quebec, the protests didn’t shift focus to the police actions; it remained the tuition hikes. The police actions ultimately served as a stepping-stone for a successful anti-Charest government campaign. The fact that these protests, particularly Idle No More, remained peaceful removed the desire for police to intervene with force and suffer public criticism.

Even in Saskatchewan, the last famous incident of police brutality was the 1935 Regina Riot. What motivated that event was not the police, but the Depression.

I also think popular perceptions of police reflect the difference between Canadian and American police, especially the RCMP. It has become part of Canada’s national identity. Despite recent corruption probes and sexual discrimination towards female members, the force remains well-regarded; there exists little of the mistrust exhibited in America.

Practically, Canadian police are less likely to use excessive force simply because they do not have access to the same heavy equipment that their American counterparts do. While Canadian police do have armoured cars and the capacity to arm themselves to the paramilitary level, they have none of the surplus military equipment that American police departments were supplied with for free. Therefore, I believe that this heavy equipment emboldens American police to act with greater brutality than Canadian police

. I think the best comparison between Canadian and American police forces would be to contrast the American response to Ferguson with Canadian response to the Oka Crisis in 1990. While the Americans used a heavy police presence to try to break up the Ferguson protests, the Quebec provincial police recognized that they could not deal with the armed First Nations populace and called on the Canadian military to resolve the crisis. Even the military units were not willing to use heavy-handed tactics to avoid casualties on both sides. Canadian police forces’ reluctance to use excessive force is why I believe that Canadian police brutality is not of equal degree to American police brutality.

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