Occupy Ottawa, conservation officers, and policing networks in Canada's capital city.

AuthorLuscombe, Alex


Images of Occupy participants and their tents saturated news media during the fall of 2011, as protests against corporate greed emerged in cities across the globe. Occupy tactics drew inspiration from civil rights actions in the 1960s. Participants included anti-capitalist, feminist, Indigenous, and anti-state activists. Many people were participating in protest for their first time. For six weeks, Occupy participants set up in parks and on sidewalks. The movement was designed to be minimally disruptive, so as to avoid arrest and maximize duration. Occupiers were more organized than media reporting accounted for, with committees for safety, medics, media, police liaisons, and affinity groups for daily actions. It was this combination of anonymity, in that there was no identifiable leadership, broad non-partisan support, as well as non-violence and consensus-building tactics that made the movement of such deep concern for state authorities. In the United States and Canada, key Occupy movement sites soon faced a series of interventions, ranging from coordinated ticketing to sweeps and forcible removal by police. Occupy Ottawa was one of these sites. Unique to the Occupy Ottawa action was its location on National Capital Commission (NCC) lands, patrolled by NCC conservation officers.

The NCC is an organization responsible for land development and beautification in Canada's capital city, Ottawa. Patrolling parks surrounding Canada's capital in trucks, ATVs, and on bikes, NCC conservation officers regulate a range of conduct. Today, NCC officers are becoming an integral part of policing and security networks comprised of police forces, intelligence agencies, and private security firms. Criminologists and sociologists of policing have yet to explore conservation officer activities, let alone their participation in policing networks. This article explores how conservation officers participate in policing networks in the context of social movement regulation. Contributing to scholarly understandings of conservation officer activities and policing networks, we focus on NCC involvement in the regulation of the Occupy movement that took place in Ottawa's Confederation Park. Just as Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, New York, has been described as a quasi-public space (Schrader and Wachsmuth 2012), Confederation Park is regulated by public and private policing teams, including NCC officers. Thus, the policing of Occupy Ottawa not only prompts reflection on conservation officers' policing but on issues of jurisdiction and the right to the city.

This article has four parts. First, we situate our analysis of NCC conservation officer practices in relation to literature on policing networks. We argue that this literature has neglected conservation officers as an empirical focal point and has ignored access to information requests as a methodological tool for research. After a note on method, there is a reflection on the results of interviews with NCC officers, followed by an analysis of NCC officer occurrence reports, intelligence documents, and other internal texts obtained through Canada's Access to Information Act. We also assess relevant newspaper articles and blog postings. Our analysis demonstrates how NCC officers coordinate with policing and security agents and become involved in monitoring social movement participants, treating them as nuisances to be expelled from urban parks. We conclude by reflecting on what these findings mean for established literature on policing networks and the emerging literature on policing and Occupy.

Conservation officers and policing parks in Canadian cities

Scholars have written about the limited scope of policing studies in criminology and sociology, with a long-standing bias toward municipal police work (Johnston 1992). This holds true for the work of conservation officers too. The role of conservation officers in urban policing is under-explored, conceptually and empirically. Conservation officers are not typically portrayed as engaged in policing cities or as embroiled in contests over use of public space.

As suburban land developments push into the areas around cities (Sewell 2009) and provincial and national parks are created near urban zones, not only does the boundary between city and nature blur, but there are changes in the work of conservation officers. Conservation officers now work in several Canadian cities, where provincial or national parks run through municipalities. They also work around cities, where provincial and national parks comprise the greenbelt that borders municipal jurisdiction. Most existing literature on conservation officers concerns job satisfaction (Eliason 2006) or rural poachers (Eliason 2011; Carter 2006, 2004; Pendleton 1998; Forsyth 1994, 1993). Pendleton (2000) discusses game-warden law enforcement in the United States, but only in the case of national park murders. Insufficient emphasis has been placed on the diverse regulatory activities of conservation officers (Shelly and Crow 2009) and other policing agents in rural and parkland regions. Hermer (2002) has studied the role of game wardens in regulating a broad range of conduct in provincial parks in Canada and state parks in the USA. Yet Hermer does not focus on conservation officers coordinating with private security in suburban areas or conservation officers operating in urban policing networks.

The link between conservation and policing has a long history in Ottawa. Urban planners working with the Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC) in the early twentieth century created parks they believed would increase circulation in the city. In 1899, lands were bestowed on the OIC, which was part of the urban reform movement in the early twentieth century. In 1956, the federally funded NCC took over. In addition to the NCC being responsible for development projects and capital building, it now has a mandate to build a pan-Canadian national identity. While much of the NCC's jurisdiction is in the greenbelt and rural areas, they also own properties in the downtown, next to Ottawa's homeless shelters and to federal properties.

Ottawa has many public spaces that bleed into private property. The NCC's Confederation Park is bounded by a shopping centre on the north, parks and a canal on the east, City Hall on the south, and the Lord Elgin Hotel on the west. Although NCC conservation officers are responsible for Confederation Park, their jurisdiction overlaps with that of other public and private policing agencies from the neighbouring areas. NCC park land is regulated by a network comprised of private security agencies and municipal and provincial as well as federal level police forces (e.g. the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP]). The actions in this network raise questions about how NCC officers' work is organized and the effects for park goers, which we explore below.

To conceptualize the activities of conservation officers, we draw from literature on network policing which conceptualizes how policing agencies coordinate but also compete for status and resources (Dupont 2006; Shearing and Wood 2003). The term policing, in this literature, refers to an array of public and private organizations, from beat cops and bobbies to volunteer civilians and contract private security, and conservation officers. The shape and internal composition of policing networks varies (Dupont 2004). Some policing networks are characterized by routine coordination of policing practices and security provision, while others are more ephemeral. Each node brings to the network its own missions, size, scope, jurisdiction, definitions, rationales, strategies, and resources. In some instances, these characteristics may be complementary. In others, differing nodal traits may be a source of sustained inter-agency tension and contradiction (Larsen and Piche 2009). The question of networks is necessarily an empirical one (Brodeur 2010). Sketches of networks on organizational flowcharts often do not reflect how those networks operate in action.

This shift in analytical focus, from the isolated government agency to a plurality of interconnected state and non-state agents, is founded in the idea that we have entered a new era of policing, characterized by the de-monopolization of state forms (Bayley and Shearing 1996). The field of policing is now described as a loosely connected network of diverse regulatory groups, one of which is NCC conservation officers. Although there are debates about whether this policing proliferation should be described as an anchored pluralism (Loader and Walker 2007), with the state steering a ship propelled by non-state rowers, or whether distinctions between state and non-state, public and private, should be ignored, there is consensus that the policing landscape is one of diverse, overlapping networks. We find the concept of network policing useful for our exploration of NCC conservation officer practices. For our purposes, the network is a distinctive organizational form (Powell 1990) in need of empirical documentation (Dupont 2006). We offer an empirical account of NCC conservation officer work as it regards cooperation with public policing agencies and other interested players in the context of Occupy.

Research on networks in policing studies is on the rise. Of particular interest to scholars are private contract security firms (Lippert and O'Connor 2006; Huey and Rosenberg 2004) and community-based policing models (Deukmedjian 2008; Johnston 2003). Scholars are also concerned about the impacts of policing networks on traditional accountability structures (Loader 2000; Bayley and Shearing 1996). Yet this literature has limitations.

Since the work of Bayley and Shearing (1996), many policing scholars have written about nodes and networks, without empirically demonstrating how networking takes place. Here, as Yar (2011) notes, there seems to be a consensus that policing networks exist...

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