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Police, capitalism and Indigenous oppression

Brian Champ

December 14, 2022
Winnipeg police ignored calls to investigate a series of reports of missing Indigenous women and girls even as a serial killer walked the streets of the city. It is just the most recent example of racist policing that is foundational to the police services in the Canadian state. 
This isn’t an accident. From the very beginning the role of police was to oppress indigenous people and to violently carry out the colonial project.
Origins of police in the Canadian state
One year after confederation, the Dominion Police became the first federal force, operating in the established colonies of eastern Canada. In 1873 the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was formed to assert Canadian dominion in the west and to ensure the completion of the trans-Canada railway to the Pacific. 
NWMP waged war against First Nations and the newly formed Metis nation led by Louis Riel. Defeated peoples were crowded onto reserves to allow the exploitation of natural resources. The reserve system later provided the inspiration for South African apartheid.
The new police prevented U.S. Military incursions across the border. In 1896 the NWMP was deployed for similar purposes to the Klondike during the gold rush and later went to fight for the British during the Boer War in South Africa, earning the addition of "Royal" to their name in 1904. After the RNWMP crushed the Winnipeg General Strike with violence in 1919, the RCMP was formed a year later by merger with the Dominion Police. 
The RCMP today proudly identifies its founding with the brutal settler colonial origins of the NWMP in 1873 as they prepare for their 150 anniversary "celebration" in 2023.
This is fitting since their settler colonial legacy continues to this day.
Present day oppressors: C-IRG 
In 2017, the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) within the BC RCMP was formed "to provide strategic oversight addressing energy industry incidents and related public order, national security and crime issues." While they claim its mandate is for police responses that are "consistent, standardized and impartially administered", in reality they are a private army for CGL, TMX and other megaproject developers to run roughshod over unceded Indigenous territory. 
Although the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the sovereignty of the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs over their unceded territories in 1997, the RCMP has enforced injunctions by lower courts that rely on the approval of Wet'suwet'en band councils, despite the fact that they have no jurisdiction over the pipeline route. 
This has led to: RCMP invasions into Wet'suwet'en territory for the past 3 years to violently arrest and remove Indigenous land defenders and their allies from the path of the CGL pipeline.
Cops enforce “exclusion zones” that block access to the land for Wet'suwet'en people, media, guests, medicine and supplies. They harass and intimidate Wet'suwet'en people in their own homes and communities; they spy on land defenders and allies. 
This year the intimidation and harassment campaign has been escalated so much that members of the Gidimt'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en on June 22 filed a notice of civil claim against the RCMP, stating: “The police tactics used on Gidimt’en territory have had no lawful purpose or basis. They have been unreasonable and excessive, discriminatory on the basis of race, malicious and an abuse of police powers. They represent an effort to suppress lawful activity and the assertion of Indigenous rights and title,”
On the APTN Nation to Nation (N2N) podcast, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks explained: “They seem to be unrestrained in what they can do, there seems to be no limit to the violence, the harassment and what they perceive as their duties.” 
The existence of the C-IRG unit, their seemingly unlimited and flexible budget, and the willingness of the BC NDP government to continually use them to suppress Indigenous people on their own land, for the benefit of oil and gas industry profits, demonstrates that the state is not neutral. 
Bodies of armed men 
For Marx, "the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another". To create this "order" based on class oppression, a public power is formed, consisting of "not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds". In 1819, the "Peterloo massacre" occurred when cavalrymen armed with sabres charged a crowd of 50,000 workers demanding Parliamentary reform in Manchester, killing 18 and injuring up to 700 people.
The next year, police forces armed with less lethal truncheons were formed to suppress demonstrations and strikes without as much bloodshed. 
The particular role of the RCMP in policing Indigenous bodies, communities and lands to make way for colonial settlement, extractive industries and infrastructure megaprojects has been shaped by the needs of the Canadian ruling class. A federal paramilitary police force was needed from the very beginning, and they were armed to the teeth, authorized to use deadly force in particular against Indigenous peoples. 
Whether armed with guns or not, police forces protect the property and interests of the capitalists.
Capitalism as a system uses the tools of racism, homophobia and sexism to divide and conquer. It’s no accident, then, that these same tools are used by those institutions charged with propping up the capitalist state. Well documented cases of police violence point to the overwhelming brutality required in order to keep capitalism safe for the wealthy. If you look at prison statistics in the US and Canada, it’s overwhelmingly poor, Black, Hispanic and Indigenous people who are incarcerated.
Wealthy criminals who steal millions from ordinary people are dealt with lightly, because they are protected by the system that they serve and perpetuate.
Police also routinely break occupations, strikes and protests. Anyone who has been on strike will recognize that the police are not neutral in these situations. The state does not preside neutrally over society, but is fundamental to propping up the class divisions and the rule of the wealthy few over the rest of us. 
Defund, disarm, disband
The demands to defund the police that gained momentum with the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 after the death of George Floyd should be supported. But the anti-Indigenous, anti-Black and anti-working class nature of the police cannot be reformed out their ranks: they are not the result of aberrations, or a "few bad apples", but are the expected and desired result for the capitalist class they serve. 
True justice for Indigenous peoples, Black communities and workers will start by disarming and dismantling the police and smashing the state that keeps the mass of people "in their place". To do so will require a socialist revolution based on the self emancipation of workers in alliance with the self-determination Indigenous nations to supplant this destructive and unjust system.
Every assertion of Indigenous sovereignty against the Canadian settler colonial project and every strike by workers contains the seed of revolution. Building solidarity for these struggles and the connections between them is the urgent task of socialists in so-called Canada today.
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