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RCMP 150: a history of racism and violence

John Bell

June 6, 2023
On May 15, the broken body of a 15-year-old Quw’utsun Mustimuhw girl was found behind a Super-8 Motel in the Cowichan Valley, on Vancouver Island. Passers-by found her buried under a pile of wood pallets and garbage. She died soon after.
The case was investigated by the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment. Their initial finding: “police told the Cowichan Valley Citizen that investigators believed there to be no criminality involved in the death….”
This would have come as no surprise to Indigenous people, but they weren’t having it. They organized and pressured the RCMP to take the investigation seriously. The cops upgraded the death to “suspicious” and say they are awaiting results of their tests. Meanwhile this child joins the disgracefully long listof Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. 
On May 23 Prime Minister Justin Trudeauissued an official statement “celebrating” the 150th anniversary of the RCMP.
“For a century and a half, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has served and protected Canadians. Today, we thank all RCMP employees, past and present, for their dedication, relentless commitment, and significant contributions to our country.
“The RCMP is one of the most respected police organizations in the world – and remains committed to becoming a more modern, inclusive, accountable, and trusted police organization for all Canadians.”
The statement goes on to acknowledge, sort of, the fact that the RCMP’s history is full of violence, genocidal racism, corruption and downright incompetence. But these are blemishes to be soft pedaled and brushed aside. “As we mark this milestone anniversary, we acknowledge that while the errors of the past cannot be forgotten, they can be learned from. The RCMP will continue to support healing and reconciliation, as it continues to keep our communities safe now and into the future.”
At this point it is worth noting that, when the Trudeau government recently redesigned Canadian passports, the nation’s right wing collectively shit their pants.  Evidently changing the illustrations in the pages of the document – images that I must confess I did not even know existed – was an egregious example of Trudeau “rewriting history”. This of course is just partisan nonsense.
However, when Trudeau actually does indulge in wholesale rewriting of history, as in his distorted and dishonest tribute to the RCMP, not a single peep is heard.
So let’s have a quick peek at the RCMP’s real history.
Born out of colonial racism
First off, the only thing 150 years old is the name. The actual force was created in 1873 as the North West Mounted Police, a para-military force designed to conquer Indigenous and Metis nations in the west.
The people who had lived and sustained these lands since the beginning organized resistance and in 1869 declared an independent nation, and created a provisional government headed by Louis Riel. This is portrayed in conventional history as the “Red River Rebellion”. The name is a distortion; there was no “rebellion”. It was resistance.
NWMP uniforms were modeled on British military styles. Their role was to enforce colonial rule, like their cousins in the Royal Irish Constabulary, suppressing legitimate independence movements.
Conquering the west was an urgent priority. The creation of a continental state depended on connecting the newly created province of British Columbia to the industries of the east, and that meant a railroad. Building a railroad through other people’s lands is a bit of a problem and requires violence and coercion. Hence the creation of the NWMP. And if this new “army” enforced the arbitrary border with the US, and its dreams of “manifest destiny” and northward expansion, so much the better.
The NWMP job one was enforcing the growing federal government’s genocidal policies, forcing Indigenous people on to cramped reserves, outlawing their ceremonies, customs and beliefs. 
So the “creation” of the RCMP in 1923 was really a rebranding, to downplay the force’s military roots and play up its policing role. But the leopard doesn’t change its bright red tunic. Whole books catalog the ineptitude, corruption, sexual abuse and racist violence of the Mounties over the years. 
Mounties were regularly used to undermine union organizing, sending spies into workplaces in a crusade to expose “communists” (i.e. anyone who stood up to the boss). In 1933 RCMP thugs murdered 3 unarmed coal miners in Estevan Saskatchewan, striking for union rights. In the 50s the RCMP colluded to smash the socialist led Canadian Seaman’s Union, create a company-friendly union in its place, installing an American gangster named Hal Banks to head it up.
In the 1950s and 60s the RCMP led the slaughter of sled dogs, part of an effort to force Inuit people into communities designed to establish Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.
In 1971 RCMP agents stole dynamite and used it to frame FLQ activists as terrorists. A year later they burned down a barn belonging to the mother of an FLQ member, fearful that activists were going to ally with the Black Panthers. Through the 70s the RCMP conducted over 400 illegal break-ins and set off bombs to discredit the nationalist movement in Quebec.
It got so bad, and the RCMP so discredited, that the feds took away the RCMP’s role in national security and spying, and created CSIS. 
Along the way the RCMP has been busy:
  • Unleashed a pepper spray assault against peaceful protestors at the APEC summit in 1997
  • Framed Alberta farmer Wibo Ludwig who was complaining about his land being poisoned by a gas well owned by Alberta Energy. On company instructions they exploded a bomb and tried to frame Ludwig.
  • Violently suppressed Seewepmc people from celebrating their Sun Dance on their traditional land in 1995. Over 400 Mounties, with backing from the army, were sent against a handful of Indigenous people who took up arms to defend their rights.
  • Deprived innocent Canadians of Muslim descent of their rights and sent them overseas to face torture, all in the name of a “war on terror”. Mahar Arar, the best known, fought for years to clear his name and win compensation.
  • Sent militarized police and snipers to attack Indigenous land defenders in Elsipogtog in New Brunswick (pictured)
  • The ongoing assault against Wet’suwt’enpeople defending their own territory against a pipeline project. 
  • Currently covering up its criminal ineptitude in dealing with the deadly mass shooting in rural Nova Scotia in 2020, that left 22 dead.
The idea that the RCMP is “respected”, or something to be celebrated is ludicrous. We need to know its real history, not the whitewashed version that Trudeau is peddling. And we need to stand in solidarity with Indigenous nations that once again find themselves in the RCMP’s crosshairs.
Defund - Disarm - Disband the racist RCMP!
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