RCMP were part of the Canadian colonial project

Benevolent history a common lie we tell ourselves

Recently, from their abuse of power, there has been increased debate regarding the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Unfortunately, what is focused on reflects the dearth of critical material on the history of Western Canada and the role of the Mounties in colonizing it.

The official story goes that Canada wanted to establish “law and order” in Western Canada and “protect” it, so they sent the police.

But to establish order the antithesis of law, pure violence, is needed. I say “violence” because the opposite of law is not lawlessness; law presupposes a level of lawlessness in itself. To impose a British law on a population that did not even speak the language and discipline them if they resist was lawful lawlessness, which was utilized to obtain more land.

In simple words, the land was “valuable” for the Canadian government because it allowed them to gain a monopoly on power and resources in the region. They wanted the West to be able to finish the imperialist puzzle and expand from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, east to west.

History is always written in blood. States, particularly colonial ones, are established by violence and a will to power that buttresses other indigenous populations. With the end goal being domination, the means can alternate between physical violence and more subtle forms that go unnoticed.

For instance, it is a form of symbolic subtle violence when the history of the police up to this day is portrayed as something inherently good, when in reality the RCMP, like other British police forces in other colonies, were created to establish and further colonial sovereignty.

Sovereignty does not rise from a vacuum. It is forcefully instilled in texts and actions, which are based on the denial of indigenous peoples’ history and actions. Violence creates a space for law.

In theory, Western Canada came to be included within Canada illegally. But through biased history and complete denial of the other, the colonization of Canada was made to seem legal by relying on fake treaties and broken promises. Canada’s native people were told, if you sign, you will prosper. Arguably, those who signed, forcefully or willfully, and those who didn’t are in the same boat today, ravished by colonization.

This brings me to my second point. By putting violence against Aboriginals in the forefront, one can understand how the Mounties were able to pave the western Canadian frontier for settlement. The RCMP were part of a colonialist project, not human charity.

The fact remains that on the wide and open frontier, far from the eyes of the people, the RCMP had the power not only to prosecute someone they suspected, but also charge them. While this might seem horrific from a democratic perspective today, this is how they dealt with crime on the frontier. It is enough to say here that having such unique power raises the capability to abuse it.

However, there is hope. Within this challenge lies great opportunity, but this does not involve building a better RCMP for the future.

Given the history and present realities of colonial policing, the Mounties, like other federal police/military forces, must be disbanded. Canadians today can do away with the Mountie.

This is the geniunely “just” and fair approach for aboriginal peoples. It is a shame to colonize people. It is a double shame to continue colonizing them in denial.

The only reason the RCMP continues to exist, despite the recent criticisms, is because of the deep investment the Canadian government continues to put into this false history.

Fadi Ennab is a Master’s student in sociology at the University of Manitoba.

Published in Volume 64, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 28, 2010)

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