For Black people in Canada, the police do not equate to safety.
The police are sites of terror. Police officers survey, harass and brutalize Black communities with impunity. In Canada, Black bodies are disabled by the police ( – see case of Dafonte Miller), stripped by the police (– see case of Audrey Smith), and are routinely destroyed by the police ( – see case of Andrew Loku, Jermaine Carby, Chevranna Abdi, Anthony Griffin, Ian Price, Abdirahman Abdi). The prevalence of police violence in Canada is a grim reminder that anti-blackness is not confined to the United States but is, in fact, a global trend. To truly understand the practice of policing Black life in Canada and to properly situate the push for abolition, it is important that we understand how policing in this country is deeply informed by Canada’s settler-colonial identity.
Canada is a settler-colonial state. Let’s start there.
Formalized through violent Indigenous dispossession (i.e. theft) and built by the hands of enslaved Africans, the country’s imperial ambitions have always taken precedent over the interests and well-being of Black and Indigenous peoples. To maintain this settler-colonial project, that is, to ensure the ongoing vitality of white supremacy and capitalist expansion, the police become an important – in fact necessary – force to survey, control and detain people and communities deemed threats to the colonial project.
“The system of policing in Canada was not designed to protect us. Period.”
In her book, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, Robyn Maynard writes that “Canada’s first policing body, the North-West Mounted Police (now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP]), created in 1873, played an important role in the Canadian government’s arsenal toward quelling Indigenous rebellion and protecting the economic interests of White settlers”. To this day, Canadian police serve the same purpose – to defend White property and White people while oppressing Black and Indigenous communities.
Hiring more Black cops will not end police violence because it does nothing to radically shift the inherent function of police.
This is a deeply rooted systemic issue that requires systemic responses. The system of policing in Canada was not designed to protect us. Period. This truth becomes more definitive each time a Black person is harassed, brutalized, and murdered by Canadian police. We can look at the death of Andrew Loku, a 45-year-old Black man from South Sudan who was in crisis when police showed up at his residence and murdered him within 19 seconds of entering his home. Or we can take the more recent case of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Afro-Indigenous woman who fell to death from her balcony apartment when police arrived at her home to perform a wellness check.
While it is not new – Black folks have been talking about this from time – the recent discourse around reimagining community safety without police has received a significant amount of media attention, and some Canadian politicians have even taken time to address the topic. However, we are smart enough to know that lip service does not solve systemic issues; the colonial state will not voluntarily abolish the very system that birthed and maintains it. So, we must continue to do the work of resisting the system of policing and reimagine a world where the police are obsolete. We must support communities and organizations that are presenting alternatives to policing. We must demand that funds be redirected from the current police budget and into community services (e.g. mental health services, education, housing, after- school programs etc). Still, we cannot stop there. We must also demand a radical shift of power from the police to Black communities. Black people, not the police, should be the ones creating strategies for ensuring healthy and safe communities.
Our fight does not end there either. We need prison abolition. We need free education. We need affordable housing. We need maximum and minimum salaries in order to reduce class inequalities.
Living in a world without the police is possible, we just have to continue demanding it.