As recent events in the United States, Canada and elsewhere demonstrate, society has a cop problem. Police forces everywhere act as if they are above the law—they lie to justify their actions, they disproportionately target Black and Indigenous peoples, and they seem to care more about protecting property than people.
Interestingly, this is also a description of imperialist foreign policy. The experience of people from the Congo, Haiti, Algeria, Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Angola, Brazil, Ghana and dozens of other countries trying to establish economic and political independence mirrors that of North America’s Indigenous and racialized communities who are asserting their rights to political, social and economic equality. The Freedom Riders, Black Panthers, Black Lives Matter, the American Indian Movement, Idle No More and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were met with demonization, violence and repression, as were the struggles for independence and social change in the countries just mentioned.
Finally, after centuries of struggle, defamation, murder and countless other forms of oppression the majority of Canadians and Americans seem to now support equality for all their fellow citizens and have turned against the forces of repression as witnessed by thousands of demonstrations against police brutality over the past three weeks.
But what about our fellow citizens of the world, not just those in our own country? What about the brutality and repression inflicted upon them? We need to understand the common struggle and link them. This is not abstract. Training and funding police elsewhere is part of Canada’s pro-corporate, pro-empire, white supremacist, foreign policy.
Alongside the US, Canada has funded, equipped and trained the neo-Nazi infiltrated National Police of Ukraine (NPU), which was founded after the anti-Russian Euromaidan movement overthrew Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. A former deputy commander of the far-right Azov Battalion, Vadim Troyan, held a series of senior positions in the NPU, including acting chief. When a policeman was videoed in early 2019 disparaging a fascist protester as a supporter of Stepan Bandera, the National Police chief, National Police spokesman, Interior Minister and other officers repudiated the constable by publicly professing their admiration for Bandera, an infamous ultranationalist who carried out murderous campaigns against Poles and Jews during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine during the Second World War.
Since 2016 between 20 and 45 Canadian police have been stationed in Ukraine to support and advise the NPU. Foreign affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced another $2 million contribution to the Ukrainian police in March.
Elsewhere, Canada has spent tens of millions of dollars over the past 15 years on building a force to take up the Israeli occupation’s security burden in the West Bank. Between a dozen and two dozen Canadian police, military and border service agents have built up a Palestinian security force designed to protect the corrupt Palestinian Authority (PA) from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.
Part of a US-led initiative, the Canadians train Palestinian security forces to suppress “popular protest” against the PA, the “subcontractor of the occupation”. A heavily censored 2012 note from former Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs, released through an access to information request, explains that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.… most notably in security/justice reform.”
What’s more, since playing an important role in violently ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in 2004 Canada has built up a repressive Haitian police apparatus to enforce its anti-democratic policies. The Canadian government has financed and trained police forces which have terrorized Port-au-Prince’s slums and repeatedly shot at peaceful protests during the reign of the coup regime.
Much to the delight of the country’s ultra class-conscious and often racist elite, Canada has ploughed over $100 million into the Haitian police and prison system over the past decade and a half. Since 2004 Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state. The country’s army, created during the 1915–34 US occupation, was disbanded by Aristide in 1995.
In recent years the Canadian government has trained and funded police forces responsible for protecting the repressive neo-Duvalerists ruling Haiti. During the popular uprising against President Jovenel Moïse between July 2018 and November 2019 the police killed dozens. Amidst this violence, Canadian officials repeatedly praised the Moïse government and the Haitian police.
In the struggle against racism and police violence we need to enlarge our circle of those who deserve our support to the entire world. The “cop problem” we face is intimately tied to wealthy, generally white, minorities imposing their will on the majority. Reforms of the police are doomed to fail until we overthrow the unjust global economic order that requires force to maintain minority rule.
Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.
Gary Engler is journalist and novelist from Vancouver. He worked as a journalist for 20 years, including time as both a writer and editor at the Vancouver Sun.