A few weeks ago, the Mirror started a series on the future of policing in the city. We have covered the city’s RCMP budget and where that money goes as well as the actions underway at a provincial level and how those are affecting the local detachment.
This week we will look beyond the call to defund the RCMP, and how tackling charges of colonialism and racism in the force must start at the community level and go deeper than just taking away some of the force’s funding.
Part three of a series
Nick Chowdhury is the a co-chair of the Strathcona Community Health Network’s Urban Indigenous Housing Committee. His career has exposed him to the various social determinants that help build community, and he also sees many of the things requiring change. One of those, he said, is the way the RCMP functions in Canada. As a member of many social organizations, he was asked how those organizations would benefit from an influx of money in the event the police were defunded in Campbell River.
“I can’t help but think if the problem we’re talking about is racism, violence and poor outcomes for people of different races coming into contact with RCMP, taking money away from them doesn’t fix that problem,” he said. “Considering repurposing funding, there’s a lot of potential opportunity there, but I feel concerned that defunding the police won’t fix the problem… If there’s systemic racism and a problem with racism among the people that are the police, cutting their budget or erasing their budget doesn’t really fix that.”
To Chowdhury, a more important and effective course of action would be to address the issues in the community and build a stronger world for everyone. That cannot come at the expense of any one group, he explained, and removing resources from the RCMP will not solve the problems within it.
“By taking things away, as a parent with a child that’s so commonly the thing we want to do. It takes a lot for a parent to work within a conversation and change that relationship to have a positive impact on that behaviour,” he said. “When you take away choices, you’re not improving the situation. You’re likely to see more repeated behaviour. If you cut the budget by a certain percentage, and things are going to be allocated to social programs or citizen communities, it doesn’t fix the behaviour.”
Those in the position to make changes to the RCMP and policing in Canada are not about to abolish it. The institution of the RCMP is in its 100th year, with roots that go back further.
Throughout its history, there have been mistakes made, and those extend into the modern era. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, who sits on the province’s committee in charge of reviewing the Police Act, said they will consider the modern problems as well as the historical context that has gotten the force to the point it’s at today.
“As an institution, it is an old institution, but it continues to exist today. It carries a lot of baggage from its past into its present, and it is presently operating in our province,” Olsen said. “I think making sure that we have a very strong voice in how our communities are policed, the level of accountability, transparency, they absolutely need to be there and we need to be able to ask the tough questions.
“We need to be able to get answers from that. if we don’t have that kind of access, then there’s a real problem.”
All of these options point to a force that is more connected with the community and is working on building trust with the people it is protecting.
“You could argue that question first, is that [a decolonized RCMP] a thing? It was our colonial arm of authority,” Chowdhury said. “If you put the right people with the right resources and connections in place, that could be a reform to an act that would represent reconciliation and touch on decolonization. I don’t think you could say it reaches it ever, because it’s working within the system itself, the broader colonial system.”
Chowdhury continued: “I think a change is needed… The simple fact of the matter is when you look at the system more closely, you look at methods, guidelines and allowances for use of force to gain control of a situation and then line that up with a number of poor outcomes that are defendable because they were within the means allowed.
“As long as the right boxes are checked and the right answers are provided, everything’s OK,” he added.
Those “right boxes” are the cultural sensitivity training and other training programs that RCMP currently go through. Both Chowdhury and Olsen agree that those could be changed to be more meaningful and to incorporate a more accurate representation of the people living in B.C.
“I would like to see a system-wide approach to things like cultural awareness,” Chowdhury said. “Putting a check box in place in a process where it says ‘every person in this detachment has taken a cultural sensitivity test.’ How do we know that? We don’t know that from a checkbox, we don’t know that from an online training seminar or forcing people to go to training sessions. We know that by seeing a change in the community… We’d know that from statistics that show better outcomes for people that are being placed under arrest and not seeing glaring headlines about someone being shot to death.”
How that comes about is unknown at this point. Olsen pointed out that with the history of trying to implement reconciliation in Canada and B.C., there have been more missteps than successes.
“We’re going to get it wrong more times than we get it right,” he said. “But it’s how we approach this and how we learn from it.”
When it comes down to it, where a community chooses to put its money is indicative of its priorities. Chowdhury’s thoughts are that if the people Campbell River want to have a police force that benefits the majority or people, that work needs to begin at the individual level.
“When I think about reconciliation… I look at myself before I can question or offer advice to others about how they should be approaching it,” he said. “Part of why I enjoy the work that I do so much is that I realized at one point, I used to sit there and ask ‘why don’t they fix this?’ And I realized that anyone of us can be part of that ‘they’ and it turns the ‘they’ into a ‘we’.
“Why don’t we do something about this? Why don’t we do something about racism? Why don’t we do something about people struggling in and out of homelessness? It’s like there’s been a generation or two that has been too much ‘why don’t they,’ and not enough ‘why don’t we.’
“To reform the [Police] Act and change the system by that reform, it would be an improvement for all. I don’t think there’s a way that that could be done or have improvements only for one group of people.”