Racist Settler Policing: Black and Indigenous Targeting

Today marks the day that celebrates the birth of “Canada”. Since we hold that Canada is a settler-colonialist, capitalist, and imperialist nationstate that was founded on conquest and genocide, we are releasing our statement on Canada’s racist settler policing that forms part of its social reproduction as Canada. Instead of joining in the celebrations of “Canada Day” revolutionaries should instead consider what these celebrations are meant to commemorate. We maintain, as we have for years, that the road to socialism in “Canada” requires also getting rid of Canada and everything it stands for. And what it stands for is revealed in the logic of its state, and its state’s armed representatives.

The logic of any capitalist state is to reproduce itself materially, affecting all spheres of daily life. The foundation of the capitalist and settler-colonial Canadian state being white supremacy over First Nations, Black people, and “others” through the reproduction of capital is directly connected to state violence. The conception of “terra nullius” (literally, empty land) and other racist ideas around land ownership and access formed the RCMP and other reactionary police forces. They guard capital, capital that is predominantly white-owned, and attack those who threaten its reproduction. The murders of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Rodney Levi, Chantal Moore, Eishia Hudson, Jake Samson, Morris Cardinal, D’Andre Campbell and a host of other Indigenous and/or Black people who were murdered at the hands of Canadian police are a testament to this fact.

Whether it be the justified response to the Canadian states’ infringement on Wet’suwet’en territory, or the response to the public lynching of George Floyd in the United States, it’s apparent that a significant portion of the masses are increasingly frustrated with the realities of capitalism, imperialism, and settler-colonialism. The statues of capitalist colonizers across the globe have been rightfully defaced, destroyed, and displaced. And although this is mostly spontaneous action, it’s clearly the sign of a political shift that must be more organized so as to eliminate the atrocities of the current order.

Regardless of the liberal agenda to integrate the non-white Canadian population into the police to “better reflect their communities”, this should plainly be seen by the oppressed masses as a ploy to conceal the concrete aims of protecting capital and its reproduction. Systemic racism and national chauvinism are a cancer that cannot be cured by inclusive policing that amount to tokenism, but by revolting against the capitalist-imperialist and settler-colonial state that originated it. The efforts of the state and municipalities to adopt this form of policing will never remove the terror or distrust felt in racialized communities. Like the Herculean trial against the hydra, a many-headed beast, the tactic to prevent it from regenerating is a precise severing of each head (chauvinisms, idealism, etc.). Victory against it is solidified by cauterizing each wound to prevent it from regenerating again: the struggle for revolution aims to “smash the state” for the same reason. In cities and rural communities alike, settler chauvinism is felt; historically one can reference the razing of Africville, a poor Black community, in Nova Scotia. The racialized proletariat and lumpen-proletariat are betrayed by settler workers who uphold white supremacist beliefs that fuel capitalism. We must stay on the revolutionary path to dispel the presence of white supremacy on Turtle Island!

Q: What are examples of the police having colonialist objectives?

In order to grasp the nature of Canadian policing, it is also essential to understand the role that police play in a capitalist and settler-colonial state. According to Lenin in The State and Revolution,

The state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of ‘order’, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between classes.

Therefore, if indeed the state exists in order to facilitate the oppression and exploitation of one class by another, then it makes sense that there would need to be a special body of armed individuals that are trained to enforce a certain degree of order for capitalism and (overlappingly in our case) settler-colonialism to continue. This formation of armed individuals is what we refer to as the police (and also includes the military). It is only with this understanding that we may begin to grasp the repression and police violence that is disproportionately dished out towards Indigenous people, Black people, and other segments of the racialized proletariat.

Now, although the historical reality of chattel-slavery is often emphasized in analyzing the United States, this question is seldom mentioned when discussing the historical development of the Canadian state. Unequivocally, Canada’s development also includes the stain of slavery smeared on its settler-colonial and capitalist fabric. And although the Canadian project lacked the large-scale plantations that would come to define the economies of its southern neighbours, the brutality and exploitation faced by enslaved Africans and Indigenous peoples were excruciatingly similar. Even before the development of the RCMP, British and French settlers had imposed their modes of policing and judicial practices onto colonized peoples. Indeed, while the same plantation system of the US did not exist in Canada, settlers who moved from that system to above the 49th parallel brought their household slaves with them, and the institution of using Indigenous peoples as slaves was commonplace. Moreover, even when slavery in Upper Canada (modern day Ontario) was nominally abolished, Canada was still known to extradite enslaved Africans back to the US and into slavery when their former masters accused them of committing “crimes”. For example,

Solomon Mosely or Moseby, a Negro slave, came to the province across the Niagara River from Buffalo which he had reached after many days travel from Louisville, Kentucky. His master followed him and charged him with the larceny of a horse which the slave took to assist him in his flight. That he had taken the horse there was no doubt and as little that after days of hard riding he had sold it. The Negro was arrested and placed in the Niagara Gaol. A prima facie case was made out and an order sent for his extradition. (William Renwick Riddell, The Slave in Canada, 85-86)

It’s also important to note that Mosely was eventually able to escape due to the heroism of some members of the Black community in Niagara. In addition to protesting the release of Mosely, two Black men (Herbert Holmes and a man named Green) were able to jostle the line of police officers transferring Mosely away from the prison, which allotted him enough time to escape. Unfortunately, the two men were killed in action by the pigs, but this is a perfect example of the colonialist nature of Canadian state violence that has extended to the present day. Interestingly, the attempt to recapture previously enslaved Africans was in large part driven by the invention of the cotton gin. This meant that enslaved Africans that were exploited to produce cotton in the United States were now more valuable to the slave owning class since their production output was significantly increased. This is a perfect example of how capitalism was not only built on, but built through chattel-slavery and colonialism; especially given that cotton was fundamental to fueling the domineering British (and by extension Canadian) textile industry. In addition, Britain’s metallurgical industry was foundational for the production of the weapons, chains, and shackles that would be used to repress the enslaved for the reproduction of capital. According to Eric Williams:

The ironmaster’s interest in the slave trade continued throughout the century. When the question  of [slavery’s] abolition came before Parliament, the manufacturers of and dealers in iron, copper, brass and lead in Liverpool petitioned against the project, which would affect employment in the town and send forth thousands as ‘solitary wanderers into the world, to seek employment in foreign climes.’ In the same year Birmingham declared that it was dependent on the slave trade to a considerable extent for a large part of its various manufactures. Abolition would ruin the town and impoverish many of its inhabitants. (Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, 84)

Unsurprisingly, these exploitative practices have adapted and continued into the current neo-colonial era via the exploitation of Africans and African children by multinational capitalist firms.

As previously stated, the police in general and the RCMP’s true purpose is to protect capitalism within the Canadian state to ensure its functionality. Before the BNA Act (British North America Act) that is recognized as cementing confederacy in Canada, the RCMP were the mercenaries of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The HBC essentially “owned” a large swath of today’s Canada. It violently seized land from Indigenous nations to further their trade in furs and fishing. An example is the forced relocation of the Simpcw by one of the precursors to the RCMP, the British Columbia Police. In addition, they committed acts of genocide against the Indigenous peoples, infamously with smallpox blankets in 1892. A little more than a decade later, Sam Stelle, an esteemed RCMP officer, would lead the cavalry unit “Strathcona’s Horse” in the second Boer War. The motivation was to, once again, help to expand the British empire. Canada was eager to do the Crown’s dirty work elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Indigenous nations in “Canada” and Indigenous Black Africans were slaughtered directly and indirectly by Canadian police to further solidify its existence as a settler-state.

Q: What proof is there of racist policing in Canada today?

Although statistics are sometimes an insufficient way to address the violence against Indigenous and Black people in Canada; for the purpose of brevity, we will have to use them here:

While Black people made up only 8.8 per cent of Toronto’s population in 2016, the report found they were involved in seven out of 10 cases of fatal shootings by police during the latter period. It found that Black people (and specifically Black men) were overrepresented in everything from investigations into use of force and sexual assault by police, to inappropriate or unjustified searches and charges.

Recently APTN, while interviewing Senator Kim Pate, reported that the number of Indigenous people over-represented in correctional facilities has reached a historic high. 42% of women in federal prisons are Indigenous. Senator Pate admitted that poverty is a significant factor in how Indigenous peoples are pipelined into prisons; she proposed that a Universal Basic Income could solve this. As we have seen in many welfare states, especially ones following the “Nordic model” of economic policy that is celebrated among revisionists and Social Democrats in North America, welfarism is a capitalist problem solving tool that does not target social issues at their root. This, once more, necessitates revolt. The state news outlet, CBC, made a database available of fatal police shootings between the years 2000-2017 that proves the practice of racist policing in Canada. 37% of fatal police shooting victims in Toronto alone were Black men and 69% in all of Canada were Indigenous men who were killed at the hands of police. The state operates on low wage labour, exploits the proletariat, and when the racialized must eat, they are arrested for committing alleged crimes of drug trafficking and whatever criminalizing excuse the police use to justify murder.

The glaring issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) is another clear depiction of Canadian settler-colonialism. The sheer number of Indigenous women who are missing or have been murdered, in conjunction with the Canadian states’ inaction (besides empty words) are a clear sign of fundamental problems that require revolutionary change to be uprooted. Realistically, if white settler women were three times more likely to be killed by a stranger as is the case for Indigenous women, the outcry would more than likely be three times as loud relative to what it is currently for Indigenous women.

Wet’suwet’en

One of the most recent and glaring examples of Canadian settler-capitalism is the attempt of Coastal GasLink and TransCanada (now TC Energy) to a build a pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory. According to the Unist’ot’en Camp:

The TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline would run approximately 670 kilometres across Northern B.C. It is part of a recently-approved $40 billion fracked gas project LNG Canada that is the single largest private sector investment in Canadian history. LNG Canada is a fracked gas processing facility run by five companies, of which Royal Dutch Shell is a 40% owner. The NDP provincial government announced tax breaks for this LNG project even though the biggest driver of climate change in the province over the coming decades will be from the LNG industry.

Additionally, apart from Royal Dutch Shell’s 40% stake in LNG Canada, the other capitalist firms involved include: Korea Gas Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation, PETRONAS, and PetroChina Company Limited. Interestingly, PetroChina Company Limited is a Chinese state-owned capitalist enterprise; an extension of the China National Petroleum Corporation. This fact should be a clear example to disprove the revisionists that want to claim that China is somehow still a socialist state that is interested in the liberation of the proletariat and the nationally oppressed. This point may seem like a digression, but ultimately, emphasizing the role of the international capitalist class in the infringement of Wet’suwet’en territory should have major implications for the necessity of global solidarity for the liberation of Indigenous peoples and the global proletariat.

Now, although the attempt of the capitalists and the state (which of course includes bourgeois politicians) to infringe on Wet’suwet’en territory goes back decades, here we will be focussing on the more recent incursions.

On December 31st 2019, the B.C. Supreme Court granted Costal GasLink an injunction “calling for the removal of any obstructions including cabins and gates on any roads, bridges or work sites the company has been authorized to use.” Shortly after this injunction was issued, the hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en agreed to meet with the state, wherein the talks failed after two days. It’s at this point on February 6th 2020 that the RCMP fully invaded Wet’suwet’en territory in order to facilitate the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. It was also at this point that a large swath of protesters correctly decided to set up blockades on railways across the country in solidarity with the people of Wet’suwet’en. During this dispute, police and RCMP from all parts of Canada where blockades occurred began harassing and arresting protesters who were protesting in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people. The pigs, in typical fashion, were adorned with the most sophisticated military equipment to valiantly defend the interests of the global capitalist class and the colonialist/imperialist states that defend and facilitate those interests. Unfortunately, due to the reality that the capitalist class still holds state power and has a monopoly on violence via the settler-capitalist police and military, Coastal GasLink has continued on with the construction of the pipeline through unceded Wet’suwet’en land.

The bottom line is that regardless of the Canadian state’s hollow calls for “reconciliation” with Indigenous nations and their “recognition” within a liberal notion of multiculturalism, as well as claims to combat climate change, Canada’s nature as a capitalist and settler-colonial project will undoubtedly determine the policies and activities that will be enacted.

Lessons and Actions

As was initially noted, a large section of the masses on a global scale have correctly decided to rally on the side of the exploited and oppressed in opposition to police violence and state repression. Many have also been able to correctly link this violence to the realities of capitalism, neocolonialism/colonialism and imperialism. This is evident in the tearing down of colonialist statues, riots, and the earlier blockades in the case of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders. With all of this in mind, it’s also apparent that many opportunists, politicians, and even capitalists have claimed to support these movements to varying degrees. Therefore, it’s within this morass of movementism and spontaneity where Maoist revolutionaries must seek ways to expose and isolate the opportunists and capitalists from the section of the proletariat (both nationally oppressed and not) that are seeking concrete revolutionary change.

The bottom line is that, whether we’re discussing Indigenous self-determination in “Canada” or Black liberation globally, we must emphasize that we will continue to be crushed by the capitalist state insofar as we stick to a short-term style of mass work and activism. At the end of the day, so long as the bourgeoisie controls the state apparatus, and maintain their monopoly on violence through the police and the army, we will continue to ultimately be flattened. If the proletariat and oppressed nations continue to shy away from this hard truth, our actions will continue to be futile and reformist. For even though there have been calls to “defund” and “abolish” the police, the demands have either been purely reformist (in the case of defunding), or largely idealist (in the case of abolition).

In regards to defunding, we must emphasize to the masses the reality that “policing” is fundamental to the maintenance of Canadian settler-capitalism and imperialism (via the police, army, and private mercenary security firms). The simple point is, the complete removal of prisons and the police/military apparatus are out of the question for the capitalist class as a whole. They could never completely remove the very things that enable them to maintain the semblance of “order” required to exploit human labour and Indigenous land (the environment). If it wasn’t for the reality that the capitalist state was armed and organized, they never would have been able to colonize and coerce the exploited proletariat and Indigenous nations in the first place.

Another point is that capitalism inherently produces inequality and poverty, which leads some sections of the proletariat into activity that harms the capitalists and sometimes the proletariat as well. These actions are considered crimes in the eyes of the capitalist state insofar as they harm the reproduction of capital. Something as simple as petty theft is a perfect example of why police are justified as necessary for the capitalist state. If this trend were to be more widespread, then capitalist profits would cease to persist. They undoubtably need to control the impoverished masses that the capitalist system itself produces.

We should also criticize the notion that social workers and the way they function under capitalism are fundamentally good or neutral in regards to the settler-capitalist project. Even when we look at how Indigenous children are disproportionately represented in Child and Family Services where they’re often taken away from there homes and families, it’s evident that it isn’t merely the police that enforce Canadian settler-colonialism. Racist practices undoubtedly permeate every aspect of Canada, so merely replacing the police with social workers still doesn’t get to the root of the matter whatsoever. Even if the bourgeois state chose to replace police with social work policing (which seems highly unlikely since the bourgeoisie needs its police to protect its dominance), we can imagine social workers––funded by the still existing settler-capitalist state––would need to draw on some form of coercion if that state still existed and thus was interested in reproducing its dominance. Here, it is worth recalling that scholars such as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Patrick Wolfe, and others have pointed out that unofficial settler-colonial militias (in the form of filibusters, scalp-hunters, mercenaries, and the like) formed the core the colonial garrison responsible for violent expansion, mixing with the much smaller “official” repressive bodies. Such settler militias have not disappeared; their faithful white supremacist descendants would be more than happy to rally as a community to violently assist “social work” policing.

In addressing the abolitionist sentiments, this aim is closer to a revolutionary goal––and the slogan that arose from the US mass revolts, “Abolish the Police”, should thus be supported as the expression of the masses in revolt––but it still can fall back into reformist practices due to its idealism. What this sentiment sometimes fails to recognize (though other times, to be clear, it does seem cognizant of this) is that in order for prisons and police to be “abolished”, we would have to be transitioning to a completely different mode of production and exchange (socialism/communism) where the contradictions of capitalism are completely removed or at least significantly mitigated. On the one hand, in order to remove these contradictions there needs to be more than a spontaneous movement and mass revolt; there needs to be revolutionary vanguard organization, theoretically united, that has deep roots in the masses and thus can channel the revolt into the overthrow and smashing of the bourgeois state. Such an organization does not exist, as yet, in the US or Canada, though there are many groups (including ourselves) that seek to develop such an organization. On the other hand, the question of the state and the transition to communism plays a key role.

This transition to communism (the transition from capitalism to communism being socialism) would entail the necessary repression of capitalist forces that do not simply lay their weapons down and disappear once socialism is established and the old state smashed––or, to use the abolitionist language, abolished––something, again, that can only be done through the systematic and programmatic organization of the mass movement according to the vanguard party, the people’s army, and the united front. These are insights we have inherited from the world-shaping revolutions of the past. Hence, the history of the communist movement in the past century contains key lessons, and one of the most pressing ones is that capitalism and its cohorts do not disappear overnight, even if you have a revolution. Counter-revolution is always a threat. The history of the USSR and China in the socialist era also show us that a capitalist class can even develop within the proletarian party itself, hence the necessity to repress said forces – and yes, sometimes with violence. History shows us that reactionary forces are more than willing to blackmail, infiltrate, and literally kill any anti-capitalist revolutionary movement and its leadership.

Consequently, the notion that prisons and police can simply be “abolished”, has already led revisionists such as Angela Davis to be correctly criticized by many Black people for suggesting that even reactionary police shouldn’t be thrown in prison for the violence they’ve perpetrated towards Black people. In her famous work Are Prisons Obsolete? (which still, despite our criticisms, possesses useful insights) Davis also uncritically lauds the Netherlands for adopting decriminalization for certain activities regarding sex work and drug use. This is not to suggest that the decriminalization of certain things has no place in the path towards socialism/communism, or that we can learn absolutely nothing from those policies. Rather, we have to analyze the role that the Netherlands plays in the global imperialist system to have a better grasp on how to assess their policies as an imperialist country. As mentioned previously in the section on Wet’suwet’en, Royal Dutch Shell owns a 40% stake in the LNG Project that is fundamental to the pipeline that Coastal GasLink is attempting to build through Indigenous territory. Unsurprisingly, Royal Dutch Shell has its headquarters in none other than the Netherlands! Therefore, the Netherlands as a state concretely benefits from the plundering of Shell. And even before the defense of Wet’suwet’en territory was an issue that reached international headlines, a depiction of Shell’s role in the division of the world by monopoly capitalism goes all the way back to Lenin’s work on imperialism.[1] Additionally, the decriminalization of sex work in the Netherlands hasn’t removed the atrocities associated with the human and sex trafficking industries that especially exploit women and minors.

Although questions of how to deal with “crime” under socialism are certainly still crucial to examine for the movement towards communism, we should differentiate between general crime that might be committed by the masses, and crimes that involve an attempt to re-establish capitalist, imperialist, and settler relations of production and exchange. Certainly, these lines of demarcation may overlap at times, but this may be an important distinction to make when having these discussions.

Taking all of this into account, perhaps it would be more fruitful for Maoists and revolutionaries to combat police concretely by seeking ways to invigorate the most exploited and oppressed communities to defend themselves. The only “reforms” we should seek are the smaller stages that can get us closer to building revolution and a protracted people’s war, i.e. to use reforms in a non-reformist manner. It does not suffice for Maoists to vehemently say “we need to build a revolution” as a response to reformist policies and practices without engaging with and producing concrete alternatives for the masses. For that reason, this intervention will conclude by encouraging Maoists and revolutionaries to seek out concrete ways to mobilize the oppressed masses towards defending themselves and their communities against police violence. This may include:

  1. Facilitating the beginning stages of political and physical/tactical training necessary for ourselves and those in the community who are able and willing to defend themselves and others.
  2. Creating some form of “people’s councils” as a means for the community to determine collectively (whether through electing people or otherwise) whether police may enter particular communities or areas.
  3. Using current initiatives as a means for monitoring police activity.

Given that conditions are relatively different across the country, it is up to the ability of comrades to carefully investigate their context before deciding to act on any of the above suggestions. Comrades should carefully consider what they and others are capable of pursuing before deciding to launch any such initiative.

Conclusion

Maoists and revolutionaries need to accept the reality that the conditions in Canada are not identical to those in the United States. For although anti-Black racism is certainly prominent in Canada, the historical basis for that racism is not entirely the same. The vast majority of Black people in Canada are largely immigrants from the African continent or the Caribbean. While the latter immigrants are indeed those whose experience is bound up with the global slave trade, it is not one that was generated by a plantation system within “Canada” as such. Taking that into account, we cannot easily adopt the narratives and arguments of Black people who are exploited in the US due to the plantation system and implant them sloppily to Canada. One significant exception might be Black people in Nova Scotia, who are descendants of chattel-slavery intimately bound up with the Canadian state, but even that would require its own analysis that requires further development. With that said, perhaps comrades should find ways to reach Black proletarians by emphasizing the role that Canadian imperialism often plays in Africa and the Caribbean and linking that to the racism and chauvinism they concretely face here. This critique also extends to other immigrant communities that may sometimes adopt myths around Canada’s saviour complex that ignore the concrete role it plays in the global capitalist-imperialist system.

The only way to achieve the destruction of the settler-capitalist state apparatus and the police violence and exploitation it facilitates, is by building a long-term strategy towards people’s war. A protracted people’s war that aims to establish socialism/communism is in complete opposition to the overestimation of capitalist forces that is characteristic of reformists/revisionists, and the underestimation of capitalist forces by adventurists who fail to meticulously strategize before taking militant action towards liberation. Given that the Canadian police and the military are extremely organized towards protecting capital, we must by necessity become extremely organized in order to destroy said capital and its settler-colonial and imperialist methods.

Recognizing and understanding the failed history of communists in Canada to adequately address questions around settler-colonialism and Indigenous exploitation and oppression are also important for moving further towards solving this question. Having a generally correct line on ending settler-colonialism by assisting Indigenous peoples on their path to self-determination is merely a first step, but it is in no way a substitute for the effective mass work that is integral to reaching this aim. Chauvinism and racism of any kind have no place in our party and should be purged by all means. Attempting to build a future towards socialism/communism is impossible without the liberation and self-determination of Indigenous peoples, and thus the destruction of capitalism that also generates anti-black racism, so we are tasked with unravelling the contradictions that come out of these complex historical webs that must be severed at all costs.

[1] See Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism under the section “The Division of the World Among Capitalist Combines” for his analysis on the competing oil trusts which includes what he refers to as the “Anglo-Dutch Shell trust”.