As the RCMP prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary this year, Indigenous land defenders call for it to be abolished

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo of RCMP raid on Wet’suwet’en territory, November 2021, by Dan Loan.

“Who’s the first to show up when we’re peacefully defending our land rights or water rights? It’s probably going to be the RCMP, and they’re not going to look like the RCMP riding around on their red coats and horses. They’re going to look like the military: heavily armed, armed vehicles, snipers, camouflage, fatigues, you name it. That’s how they relate to Indigenous peoples, even today.” – Mi’kmaw lawyer Pamela Palmater

Toronto Star journalist Allan Woods reports: “Days into 2023 — the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s 150th year — the questions swirling around the force are dark and existential.”

Woods notes various controversies within the RCMP including that David Brown had said the RCMP is “horribly broken” and questioned if “the fabled ‘paramilitary model’ of leadership ingrained in RCMP culture was the best way to run a modern police force that was accountable to the federal government and to the public.”

Brown convened the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP that issued its final report in December 2007.

The current commissioner of the RCMP is Brenda Lucki, who was appointed by the Trudeau government in April 2018.

Woods notes that in January 2022 Lucki was “successfully sued in Federal Court over lengthy delays in responding to the recommendations of a public complaints commission.”

Federal Court Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagne said Lucki had breached her duty under the RCMP Act by not submitting a response to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission’s interim report on the spying allegations “as soon as feasible.”

This relates to the RCMP monitoring Indigneous and settler-ally activists opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline.

This past summer it was also confirmed that the RCMP has used spyware for years, though Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has assured the public that it is not the Pegasus spyware (that has been used against PBI accompanied human rights defenders in Mexico).

Woods also comments: “If Commissioner Lucki is fortunate, she will outlast those calling for her head, make it to 2024, and complete the six-year term that seems to be the average for the country’s top Mountie. That would give her time to see through part of a strategic plan that charts the force’s path to the future.”

This refers to Vision 150 and Beyond.

That document notes that one of the RCMP’s “three core responsibilities” includes “advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada”.

(A poll conducted by EKOS Research Associates in April 2022 found that 42 per cent of respondents disagreed with the statement: “The RCMP is advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples of Canada.” Only 33 per cent agreed.)

The Vision also includes an “environmental scan” conducted in 2020 that identified “six mega-trends that will help to frame areas the RCMP must consider when developing its strategies and plans.” The mega-trend on “protecting human rights” notes “Canada’s Indigenous Peoples are experiencing rights issues for land and water”, while the mega-trend of “climate change” says “Indigenous land represents 80% of Earth’s Biodiversity”.

Vision 150 and Beyond also states: “From the creation of the Northwest Mounted Police in 1873, the history of the RCMP and the role it played in colonization has been interwoven with First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples.”

(Musqueam activist Audrey Siegl says: “Since its inception, we’ve never been safe in ‘Canada.’ The RCMP was created to quash the Indian rebellions. The police were created to protect and serve the colonial state.”)

Vision 150 and Beyond makes no reference to the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) that has been deployed against Indigenous land defence struggles, including the Wet’suwet’en resistance to the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline.

Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson Sleydo’ has stated: “The RCMP are occupying our territory for the sole purpose of protecting industry and ensuring extractive projects proceed unhindered. …We want to live free on our lands, without the constant threat of violence by C-IRG, who are illegally occupying Gidimt’en territory.”

She has also called for the C-IRG and RCMP to be abolished.

Mi’kmaw lawyer Pamela Palmater has also stated: “Canada through the RCMP continues to violently oppress and dispossess Indigenous peoples. Peaceful land defenders, water protectors, and Indigenous rights advocates are vilified, criminalized, surveilled, suppressed, and incarcerated at ever increasing rates. This stands in stark contrast to Indigenous lands defenders’ goals of protecting the lands and waters for our future generations.”

Palmater has argued: “The only way we are ever going to stop RCMP racism and brutality against Indigenous peoples is to declassify, deconstruct and defund the institution itself.”

Both K’asho Got’ine negotiator Daniel T’seleie and Dene Nahjo founding member Dëneze Nakehk’o have also called for defunding the RCMP.

The Act establishing the North West Mounted Police (NWMP), the forerunner of the RCMP, passed in the House of Commons on May 23, 1873, and an Order-in-Council formally and legally brought the NWMP into existence of August 30, 1873.

As the RCMP begins to announce events to celebrate its 150th anniversary, including Sunset Ceremonies in Ottawa from May 19-23, deep concerns continue to be expressed about the organization along with calls for it to be abolished.

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