Published in The Media Co-op | July 23, 2011
Biting a chunk out of the common adage that a few “bad apples” in the police are responsible for misconduct, Winnipeg Indigenous leader Leslie Spillett pointed to an inherent “culture of oppression” in Canada’s police forces at an international conference on policing.
Spillett outlined the history of Canada’s various police forces – originally designed to control and displace First Nations, she said, and to protect corporate interests – at the major International Copwatching Conference in Winnipeg, July 22-24.
“There is abundant evidence the Canadian state is still prepared to use lethal force against Indigenous people,” said Spillett, who directs Winnipeg community development organisation Ka Ni Kanichihk. “The ‘one bad apple’ account explains violence as an aberration of policing.
“It denies a culture of oppression inherent in most policing culture.”
Spillett spoke on the opening night of a weekend of panels, workshops and speeches hosted by Winnipeg Copwatch – a police misconduct monitoring group which films police on the streets – which has drawn neat 150 participants from organisations and movements across the continent.
Pointing to a pattern of well-publicised incidents against Indigenous people in Canada – including the killings of Dudley George, Matthew Dumas, JJ Harper as well as Saskatoon police’s infamous ‘midnight rides’ which abandoned Native people to die in winter outside the city – Spillett suggested the pattern cannot be understood as isolated incidents or prejudice, and recalled that Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was instrumental in forcing children into Indian Residential Schools from the 1840s until they closed in 1996, and imprisoning parents who resisted.
“Why was this particular tactic [midnight rides] used exclusively on Aboriginal people?” she asked. “Answers can only be found in analysis of colonialism past and present.
“We can’t reform the systems – they were someone else’s vision. But we can use different systems of justice, of right relations. We know they work.”