By Myisha Siddique
In 1873, Canada established the first iteration of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP): the North West Mounted Police. The invention of law enforcement in this massive, resource-rich country existed to quell opposition and revolution against its vision of a colonial state. The police’s main targets at this time in Canada’s history were First Nations People, fugitive slaves, sex workers, and miscellaneous minorities involved with labor movements. First Nations children were separated from their biological families and re-assimilated into the colonial state via the residential school system, while adults were displaced to reserves. Black people, through the use of ‘fugitive wanted ads’, were subjects of discrimination and public surveillance even before the police was founded, predisposing them to be labelled as criminals by the justice system. Often, freed slaves were portrayed as dangerously counterculture, and were fed back into the labor system through ethically unjust but systematically upheld methods of keeping indigenous people in prison. Other minorities, like the Irish population, were often arrested for their connections to anti-establishment movements. Minority women of all groups, especially Black women, were often charged with illegal sex work, whether or not such claims were true.
Nearly 150 years later, Canada’s public attitude towards the use of excessive force in policing has evolved and striven to recognize the grimy history of its treatment of minorities. There is a cavernous gap between its international branding as an exceptionally tolerant country and the reality of the relationship between BIPOC and law enforcement organizations like the RCMP. Since 2000, police killings and the use of excessive force in Canada has risen by 20%. The first account of all uses of deadly force against Canadian citizens was published less than 5 years ago, in 2016. This document only mentions cases where officers were formally charged. In 2020, Black Torontonians are 20% more likely to be killed by the police, while First Nations People across the country are 30% more likely to be incarcerated. Information about the precursors of racism and excessive force in the Canadian police system is not difficult to find, but is chronically absent from the country’s educational systems. The recent protests in the USA have encouraged the Canadian public to reassess systemic racism in the Canadian police force. The topic appears more frequently than ever on Google, CBC, and other news sources popular in Canada. People are waking up to a reality many BIPOC citizens have experienced since Canada was founded: systemic racism exists in this country and it impacts how minorities are treated by the police. People are asking this critical question loudly enough for the government to acknowledge it, and for advocates for police reformation/abolishment to feel represented: Is policing in Canada still impacted by systemic racism in 2020?
Considering only the facts and statistics relevant to police brutality in Canada, no is an unbelievable response. In Canada, an official national record of the number of people killed during encounters with police does not exist. Police departments do not routinely release detailed statistics about the use of excessive force against citizens routinely. When such statistics are shared with the public, they do not highlight the victims’ race, ethnicity, or any other key details which could shed light on systemic biases. This is a fact which reflects the police system’s brokenness, and the lax attitude the police force has towards rectifying a history of police brutality against minorities. CBC’s 2020 update on the state of police brutality in Canada shows that police killings have been rising steadily from 2000. Black and indigenous people overall, compared to their groups’ size in the country’s population, are disproportionately represented in their Deadly Force database.
Citizens dealing with mental health and substance dependency issues are also disproportionately impacted by police brutality in Canada. The majority of cases include victims who can be characterized by both of these categories: BIPOC who struggle with mental illness, drug addiction, or both. This shows that Canada may not only have a problem with systemic racism in the RCMP and police force, but also minimal resources to help those in need of rehabilitation, therapy, or social workers. From 2007 to 2017, more than one-third of those fatally shotby the RCMP were First Nations People. They make up 5% of Canada’s population. In the city of Toronto, Black people make up roughly 8% of the population. 37% of police brutality victims from 2007 to 2017, and are 20 times more likely to be shot non-fatally. These are the only two groups in Canada who are shot at a higher percentage than their representation in the country’s population. In a 2020 report, it was found that 68% of police brutality victims suffered from mental illness. The majority of shots are fired by the RCMP, which was discovered to quell indigenous identity. The second deadliest federally funded organization is the Toronto Police Service, which serves the city with Canada’s highest concentration of Black people. The Canadian government disproportionately funds the police compared to other social services like public transportation and social work. In Toronto, the police service makes up the largest chunk of the city’s operation budget at $1 billion. Right now, many Canadians are calling to defund the Canadian police and RCMP to redistribute funds to other causes in critical need of funding such as social work, public transport systems, and education.
These facts and statistics highlight the systemic racism which continues to impact BIPOC communities in Canada. Although the use of police brutality to quell minorities’ concerns and cultural expression is an important part of its history, it is often absent from the country’s public schools and police academies alike. For more resources about Canada’s history of police brutality, see here: