Paralyzed and Divided Undergovernance

AuthorKent Roach
74 |
Paralyzed and Divided
As discussed in the last chapter, Canadian police are subject to more aer-the-
fact accountability than ever. At the same time, police misconduct persists
and is increasingly captured by cameras. One explanation for repetitive acts
of overpolicing and underprotection is that police are too oen le to govern
themselves without clear or rm political direction. e police defend self-
governance on the basis that they are independent from political direction
in all operational matters. ey rely on legal arguments and their expertise to
fend o what they claim is “political interference.” Nevertheless, as SusanEng,
a former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, has aptly noted, the
police do not listen to all equally because “the police subculture makes a dis-
tinction between the people they serve and the trouble- makers — the people
they do things for and the people they do things to.
Politicians have much to lose when they take on the police. Pierre Tru-
deau was able to recover from widespread RCMP illegalities in the wake of
the  October Crisis and the run-up to the  Montreal Olympics with
exaggerated claims that politicians in a democracy should neither know about
nor direct police operations. His son, Justin Trudeau, took a similar approach
when he argued, “we are not the kind of country where politicians get to
tell the police what to do in operational matters when asked to respond to
nation-wide protests of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in . In February
, he similarly argued that “it is not the place of the government or the pol-
iticians to give directives or orders to the police services. ey do their work
independently” in response to the occupation of Ottawa by those protesting
Paralyzed and Divided Undergoernance | 75
pandemic restrictions. In contrast, John Sewell was a one-term mayor of
Toronto in large part because he wanted to take responsibility for policing
policies. Canadian politicians have emulated Pierre and Justin Trudeau rather
than John Sewell. Hence, “few politicians have been willing to pay the polit-
ical price for challenging police budgets.” Susan Eng wrote this in , but
her comments are still true today even in light of police defunding demands.
Forty years aer the McDonald Commission on RCMP illegalities rejected
Pierre Trudeau’s exaggerated claims of police independence, the proper and
limited ambit of police independence from government direction remains
uncodied in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and many other police
acts. It is more broadly dened in other policing laws to cover “operational”
and “day-to-day” matters. Both the police and elected ocials appear to like
allowing the police to assume responsibility for operational or day-to-day mat-
ters. Such a state of aairs gives the police more autonomy. It also allows elected
ocials to escape responsibility for policing policies, which will almost always
oend someone. e result is well captured in what one Canadian police chief
told two leading scholars of police governance, “Unless I’m looney, I’m okay”
with the police board that is supposed to govern his police service and be his
boss. Another Canadian police leader discussed the possibility of giving polit-
icians “both barrels to the chest” by going to the media and claiming political
interference. ese comments, including the violent imagery in the last com-
ment, sum up Canada’s dangerous democratic decit in policing one that
essentially allows the police to govern themselves.
Another factor that contributes to the undergovernance of the Canadian
police is divided jurisdiction over all forms of policing. e provinces enact
policing acts. ey set and enforce adequacy standards, whereas local police
boards establish police policies and local councils approve police budgets.
When the now-retired mayors of both Calgary and Edmonton showed
some attraction to policing innovations in , Alberta’s minister of justice
sternly warned them that the province could intervene and even take over city
policing if reallocation of dwindling revenues led to a breach of provincial
adequacy standards. When Toronto City Council tried to inuence the poli-
cies of the Toronto police in June , it had to ask the province to give them
powers to review line budget items in the more than  billion a year that it
provides to the Toronto police. It also unsuccessfully asked the province to
remove the ability of the police to appeal cuts to their budget to the province.
Other than in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, Can-
adian local councils lack the power to make direct changes to policing policies.

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