The RCMP 150th anniversary and the ongoing role of the federal police in the repression of Indigenous peoples

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: The Emergency Response Team, an RCMP unit deployed against Wet’suwet’en land defenders in January 2019, at the RCMP Musical Ride in June 2019. The RCMP stated in 2015 that the ERT had been part of the Sunset Ceremonies in Ottawa for about 10 years.

This coming Tuesday May 23 marks the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

It was on May 23, 1873, that the House of Commons passed the Act establishing the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) that had been introduced three weeks earlier by Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald.

Photo: Macdonald in 1875.

(The NWMP became the Royal North-West Mounted Police on June 24, 1904, then the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on February 1, 1920.)

Lorne Brown and Caroline Brown wrote in their book An Unauthorized History of the RCMP that: “[The NWMP] was designed to keep order in the North-West, to control the Aboriginal and Metis populations, and to facilitate the transfer of Indigenous territory to the federal government with (in theory) minimal bloodshed.”

Photo: North-West Mounted Police near Calgary, 1901.

Mount Royal University professor Sean Carleton writes: “In 1885, the NWMP joined Canada’s military forces in war against different Métis, Cree, Assiniboine, and Saulteaux communities in the west. Afterwards, the police played a key role in forcibly relocating Indigenous peoples onto reserves to help clear the way for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.”

And Steve Hewitt, a senior history lecturer at the University of Birmingham and author of three books about the RCMP, says the job of the NWMP “effectively, was to clear the plains, the Prairies, of Indigenous people. Ultimately, they were there to displace Indigenous people, to move them onto reserves whether they were willing to go or not.”

Much followed.

Journalist Brandi Morin has written in the Toronto Star: “RCMP ripped Indigenous children from their parents’ arms and forcibly took them to attend residential schools designed to assimilate them into the mainstream culture. …Thousands of Indigenous children were severely abused and thousands died attending residential schools.”

Photo: The Scream by Kent Monkman (2016).

(While the RCMP apologized in 2004 and 2014 for their role in the residential school system, they tweeted in 2020 about the “Indigenous children who were sent away to residential schools” and in 2021 the RCMP Veteran’s Association posted an opinion piece that said: “Today’s generations cannot be responsible for the actions of our forefathers.”)

The NWMP/RCMP also enforced the pass system from 1885 to the 1940s to control the movements of Indigenous peoples.

The CBC has reported: “It required all First Nation people living on reserve to get written permission from an Indian agent when they needed to leave their community If caught without a pass, they were either incarcerated or returned to the reserve.”

Now Magazine adds: “For those who experienced it, the system rendered reserves virtual open-air prisons. Because of destroyed documents and because the passes were issued at the pleasure of the Indian Agent, it’s unclear how many people were subject to it.”

Photo: The Pass System.

Significant concerns continue about the present day RCMP.

Mi’kmaw citizen, professor and lawyer Pam Palmater wrote in 2020 that: “The Globe and Mail found that over a 10-year period, more than 36 percent of RCMP killings involved Indigenous peoples. Experts warn that since the RCMP does not collect race-based data, that this number is likely much higher. A 2013 Human Rights Watch report on the RCMP in northern British Columbia documented many reports of physical and sexual assaults by RCMP officers against Indigenous women and girls.”

Palmater adds: “The RCMP’s core values have been grounded in racism and violence against Indigenous peoples since its inception.”

The Globe and Mail editorial board also recently commented: “The only responsible conclusion is that Canada’s national police force needs to be torn down to its foundations, and then those foundations need to be dynamited.”

It is in this historical and present-day context that the Abolish C-IRG coalition is calling for the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) to be immediately disbanded.

This unit, formed in 2017, is used to repress Indigenous land defence struggles on unceded territories in the province of British Columbia.

Photo: The RCMP C-IRG raid on Wet’suwet’en territory, January 2019.

This past March, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission began a “systemic investigation” of the C-IRG. This investigation will include “whether relevant policies, procedures, guidelines and training … are consistent with applicable jurisprudence/case law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

And yet, despite this investigation, the unit has been allocated $36 million by the provincial government of British Columbia to continue its work.

To visit the website of the Abolish C-IRG coalition, click here.

Categories: News Updates


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