Monday, 6 January 2014

Racialized Policing: Aboriginal Peoples Encounters with the Police

I had a long conversation with Elizabeth Comack about her book Racialized Policing Aboriginal Peoples encounters with the Police near the anniversary of the Manitoba Justice Commission from 20 years ago.  In this wide a far ranging conversation we discussed the beautifully romantic sounding star light tours and the myths and realities surrounding these events. The culture of policing and the creation of the other. Police reproduce the order of the day and even when Aboriginal people become part of that police culture the blue becomes thicker than blood. It feeds into another controversy surrounding another blogger James Jewell and his opposing point of view on racism within Police services in Canada and Winnipeg. Is there racism within police services in Winnipeg; is the violence perpetuated against women in the sex trade based on the individual life choices on the part of those women or is it based on ethnic origin and they have little role to play except as victims?

To Learn More (podcast)

Ouellette, Robert-Falcon. (Director) (2013. Aug 20). At the Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research. Racialized Policing: Aboriginal Peoples Encounters with the Police.  [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from  
Ouellette, Robert-Falcon, dir. "Racialized Policing: Aboriginal Peoples Encounters with the Police." At the Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research. N.p., 20 Aug 2013. web. Aug 20, 2013. < ›


  1. PART 1
    After listening to the interview between Dr. Ouellette and Dr. Comack I reflected on the stories I have heard from family members that served in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). All of my family members are Caucasian, and the two that served in the RCMP can have nothing negative said about their characters. They served and protected their communities well, always viewing justice with blind eyes. These two men who served in the RCMP would never have engaged in starlight tours. I have heard them discuss stories from their days as RCMP officers, stories including their experiences with Aboriginal peoples. Not all of their stories were negative but many were. They claimed to have been shown no respect and that there were plenty of cases of violence and abuse when they were called upon. They also talked about the increasing level of weapons they were confiscating, but that was not isolated to the Aboriginal community.

    Statistics Canada reports that “Aboriginal people are much more likely than non-Aboriginal people to be victims of violent crime and spousal violence. Aboriginal people are also highly overrepresented as offenders charged in police-reported homicide incidents.” Their research has also shown that “crime rates are notably higher on-reserve compared to crime rates in the rest of Canada.” The report believes that these statistics are at least in part due to the fact that “Aboriginal people are younger on average; their unemployment rates are higher and incomes lower; they have lower levels of educational attainment; they are more likely to live in crowded conditions; they have higher residential mobility; and Aboriginal children are more likely to be members of a lone-parent family.” There are many factors that increase the likelihood of crime, but these factors are not limited to the Aboriginal community. It would be ridiculous to state that Aboriginal people are naturally more inclined to engage in crime. But I think it would be safe to say that because of the poverty that many Aboriginal people are exposed to, they often engage in crime at higher rates compared to other demographics. (

  2. PART 2
    One area of crime in the Aboriginal community that I find particularly troubling is the increasing number of Aboriginal gang members. A CBC article titled “Native gangs spreading across Canada” explores this problem. The author of the article interviewed people working in the Aboriginal community. RCMP Sgt. Merle Carpenter explains in this article that “gangs are brought on by poverty.” With such a large aboriginal population, Winnipeg is “the epicenter for native gangs, outfits like the Indian Posse, the Manitoba Warriors and the Native Syndicate.” A study released by Dr. Mark Totten found that aboriginal gang violence has reached epidemic levels. Totten found that aboriginal women “are often traded among gang members and, as part of their initiation, are made to have sex with numerous gang members at the same time.” These troubling stories are not the fault of the aboriginal people, but it is evident that there needs to be great social change to ensure that on one has to live in such devastating conditions. Higher levels of education would lead to more employment opportunities and higher wages. I have heard it said before and I agree that education is the best way to fight crime. (

    I enjoyed listening to the interview between Dr. Ouellette and Dr. Comack. I am sure her book “Racialized Policing: Aboriginal People’s Encounters with the Police” would make an excellent read. While I do find it troubling that people could lie about starlight tours, such as Evan Maud did, I do believe that starlight tours had been, and very well could still be a great problem in the justice system. It is troubling to know that these starlight tours took place, and it is also troubling to think that people would lie about such an experience, as they could ruin the careers of those in question. I believe that our police have the technology required to both protect themselves and others from further starlight tour incidents. Police were able to clear their name in the case involving Evan Maud in part because “the police cruiser’s global positioning system showed the vehicle never left the city during the officers’ shift in question.” If a police vehicle has a GPS then officers would not be able to leave their designated area without having a valid reason. After listening to the interview and doing some research of my own I think it is clear that the only way to alleviate crime in the aboriginal community is through education. (

  3. The last sentence of this blog discusses the idea that police services in Canada may discriminate against female Aboriginal women based either on life choices or ethnic origin. I chose to read into this topic a bit more by reading the article from Amnesty International Canada called: “Stolen Sisters” a report on nine women including Helen Betty Osborne who was abducted on November 12, 1971.

    The report goes into great depth describing the incidents surrounding the nine missing women but also discusses violence against women in the sex trade and racist violence against Aborignal women. One statistic that I found surprising in this article was: “Indigenous women between the ages of 25 and 44 with status under the federal Indian Act are five times more likely than other women of the same age to die as the result of violence” (p 14). If I were to consider the likeliness of one of my close friends or even myself, dying as a result of violence I wouldn’t really even consider it as likely, it is scary to think that young women only a few years older than me are so much more likely than I to die from violence.

    The risk of violence is heightened in women who work in the sex trade industry because of the social organization of these workers and the convenient opportunities for men acting violently towards them (p. 16). What I didn’t know before reading this article, was that women face arrest charges if they come forward with crime because they were participating in an illegal transaction (p. 16). It is no wonder why the young women do not come forward when they are admitting to a crime they can be charged for. I think something needs to be changed in this system so that women feel they can come forward about violent acts towards them even though they were participating in the sex trade when the crime was committed.

    The police officers who were interviewed by Amnesty International insisted that they handle all cases the same regardless of race, but the authors refute that in order to provide a standard level of protection they need to consider that Aboriginal people may have more specific needs which need to be addressed. Thus the article is trying to tell us that it is not enough to provide the same service to everyone, those at higher risk need a greater level of help from police, and I think that should be something that is obvious to service providers in this country.

    The article concludes by shifting focus to the government officials who need to recognize their own role in this matter. With women going missing, and when we can identify who fits into high risk categories, I feel that the missing piece is the action in this issue. Action needs to start with government organizations and laws and needs to filter down to the streets where service providers and police offers are following through with the actions needed to save these women. Without that action, I unfortunately cannot see change occurring in the near future.

    Stolen Sisters

  4. In the interview with Elizabeth Comack, she expressed concern about the idea of racial profiling because it often shifts blame to the individual. In many cases of police violence against Aboriginal people, including the infamous star light tours, it is simple and convenient for those in charge to dismiss the actions as the work of a few “bad apples.” I have heard the same argument used to describe US soldiers accused of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Furthermore, this story of a few perpetrators is exactly what the public wants to hear. Suggestions that law enforcement agencies practice “racialized policing” are troubling and create the opportunity for conflict and controversy. Rather than deal with these disturbing issues, members of the dominant groups of society (which are never the victims), would rather sweep the issues under the rug. I do agree with Comack that racism is still a systemic issue, not only in police forces, but medical and educational institutions as well.
    Comack describes the police as maintaining the status quo of the colonial order. This idea is also closely related to the practices of the modern educational system in North America. In his article “Against School,” John Gatto provides a scathing condemnation of the modern American school system. Drawing parallels to the work of earlier scholars, such as Alexander Inglis, he demonstrates that schools function to weed out the unfit, teach children to conform to society, and remove all critical judgement. Additionally, there is substantial evidence that schools focus on Eurocentric materials and instructional methods since this is how the dominant class learns. This idea of school as a way of reinforcing class structure is referred to as the correspondence principle and is maintained through the use of the hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum consists of information or social norms which children learn in school even though they are not included in any curriculum documents. An example of one of these subtle lessons is the way in which students are taught to respect authority. In many regards, the way students are taught to respect their teacher is the same way they are expected to treat a boss or superior in the workforce. Overall, we can see that educational institutions, as well as other state-run agencies actively work to maintain class structures by favoring the dominant groups in society and making sure others are denied social mobility and equitable treatment.


    Gatto, J. T. (September, 2003). Against School: How public education cripples our kids and why. Harper’s Magazine, 319, 32-40.

    Robson, K. (2013). Sociology of education in Canada. Toronto, ON: Pearson.

  5. The most concerning part of this conversation with Elizabeth Comack is the section where “Starlight Tours” are discussed. Although it is not said in the conversation whether or not these are still going on (many of the interviews conducted by Comack for her book include the experience of interviewees with Starlight Tours), this is an absolutely sickening and corrupt practice of police forces in Canada. In regards to Winnipeg, there is a lot of public racism directed towards Aboriginal peoples in the city and it would not surprise me at all if many of these views were held by those employed by the Winnipeg Police Service. We must also take into account the use of intimidation used in the practice, as well as with the practice of “Red Zoning.” If we look at these practices through the lens of Zimbardo’s mock prison experiment, we can conclude that persons in uniform are very likely to act differently than they would if they were not in that role (Zimbardo, 1973).

    However, this does not explain why people of color, especially Aboriginal and Black peoples in Canada, seem to have more unwanted contact with police forces in Canada. There has to be a racist element to accompany this phenomenon, as Elizabeth Comack asserts during the interview. Gorham (2004) asserts that there is a systematic racism rooted within the Canadian justice system, which in turn would trickle down to the police forces. As a future history teacher, and just like Comack states in the interview, a lot of these sentiments echoed in the justice system and exhibited by police officers patrolling the streets stem from the racist policies enacted early in Canada’s history. It is the job of teachers, history teachers in particular, to help students understand why these attitudes exist today and to be part of the solution of combating these racist ideals that have been alive and well in Canada for so long.

  6. this is often your opportunity! there'll not be a stronger time to urge employment during this trade. create it doable to search out employment within the offshore oil business. Avoid the four common mistakes the majority create once craving for employment offshore, for more information click here emplois marketing à Montréal.