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Behind the veil of police support | Naomi Sayers

Thursday, June 25, 2020 @ 11:34 AM | By Naomi Sayers

Naomi Sayers %>
Naomi Sayers
In 2014, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) presented evidence to Canada’s standing committee on justice and human rights. That evidence was in support of then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s bill, now law, to reintroduce laws disguised as helping the exploited in prostitution. That law, known as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), recriminalized certain aspects of prostitution after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that previous similar laws were unconstitutional.

This means that the police are tasked with helping the exploited leave prostitution through the criminalization of their lives. If you do not like it, that is too bad, was the message of Sen. Don Plett, who acknowledged that harming prostitutes (a legal term) was the aim and that women shouldn’t be in prostitution anyways. Plett stated very clearly, “Of course, we don't want to make life safe for prostitutes; we want to do away with prostitution.” Of course, police don’t help the exploited; their role is to enforce criminal laws is what organizations with good intentions often forget in these conversations to defund the police.

On June 23 NWAC released its three recommendations on the issue of addressing police violence. Their three recommendations — body cameras on police officers, non-violent apprehension of suspects and increasing policing powers in other areas (namely, mental health or social workers) — only seek to reinforce the colonial state, which is nothing new for NWAC as evidenced in 2014.

NWAC’s recommendations align with other calls elsewhere and by others. These recommendations, however, miss the larger calls for accountability and transparency over policing agencies, namely through limiting their access to funding sources.

NWAC and other organizations like it generally refuse to question the validity of the police because often they work closely with police and other state partners, up to the point of supporting increasing criminalization like NWAC did so in 2014. Supporting these laws includes having access to funding.

Following 2014 and assent of PCEPA, many organizations and stakeholders who supported PCEPA could also apply for funding to support exit strategies and today, that same fund now prioritizes training to policing agencies in interacting with victims of crime (ignoring that police sometimes are the source of the harm).

The intimate connection between funding and increasing criminalization reveals itself when we begin to ask who gets access to funding to support their community-based initiatives and who does not. This is the key inquiry behind the larger calls to defund the police: Who has access to these funds and what are the terms to access the funding?

On NWAC’s recommendations, it is best if it took a step back and looked at the harm its own organization has created by supporting these past laws.

When I worked in a strip club during my time in post-secondary school, I remember the undercover police officers would come inside my work and stick out like a sore thumb (they have a certain gait), and moments later, more police dressed in uniform would bust in the door, demanding the lights be turned on. They were not wearing police cameras at that time, but I can only imagine the humiliation and vulnerability created by recordings today, all in the name of protecting victims.

And I worry even more about those who are held in psychiatric facilities with the suggestion that policing powers should be increased for other professions. I worry about the risk of more Indigenous youth who die by suicide at higher rates will only be whisked away from their community to a nearby psychiatric hospital miles away from their community. Residential schools with another name.

For the calls on non-violence apprehensions, let us remember that non-violence is already the standard, unless everyone else is admitting to the fact that it is not.

Naomi Sayers is an Indigenous lawyer from the Garden River First Nation with her own public law practice. She is also an adjunct professor at Algoma University, teaching primarily on Indigenous rights and governance issues. She tweets under the moniker @kwetoday.

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