• Su Ning Goh

Indigenous Policing in Canada and Australia


There is no stronger representation of a state’s power than in its police force. As the embodiment of a state’s laws, the police have an important role as enforcers. (1) However, this enforcement is imperfect — the individual police officer ultimately decides “what laws are to be enforced under what circumstances”. (2) In an increasingly diverse social context, this subjectivity has the potential to turn into bias. It has been shown that racial minorities have a more negative view of the police as compared to the general population. (3) An extreme example would be the relationship between the police and African-Americans in the US. The repeated cases of police brutality and killing has led to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement (4), which demonstrates the importance of policing in the lives of minorities.

In Canada and Australia, where the Indigenous population comprises 4.9% (5) and 3.3% (6) of the population respectively, the issue of policing for Indigenous people is a significant one. The indigenous population is a particularly disadvantaged minority, given their historical mistreatment. This inequality has persisted, with Indigenous peoples' issues in regards to healthcare, education, employment and so on remaining unresolved by both governments. (7) (8) Statistics pertaining to incarceration rates are particularly alarming: in 2016, indigenous peoples made up 25% of the prison population in Canada and 27% in Australia. (9) Juvenile detention rates are similarly skewed: 40% of children in Canadian youth jails are Aboriginal people, and this is 59% for Australian youth jails. (10)

Why compare Canada and Australia? The statistics mentioned above show us that the problem of policing is similar for both. Furthermore, both countries share similarities in their historical treatment of the Indigenous populations. Colonization through the seizure of land by European settlers and forced assimilation are a shared experience for both Canadian and Australian Indigenous peoples. (11) However, the difference between Canadian and Australian policing of Indigenous people is significantly different. Jonathan Rudin, head of Aboriginal Legal Service of Canada, points to the landmark 1999 Gladue case, which acknowledged that the courts had “failed” the Aboriginal peoples, and called for the consideration of “the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders” in the legal process. (12) This is significant, as it cuts to the core of the problem of policing: the subjectivity of experiences, especially that of minorities.

Canadian indigenous policing is decentralized, while Australian indigenous policing is centralized. The roles that indigenous people are allowed to play, and do play, in the systems are also different.

In Canada, the 1991 First Nations Policing Policy (FNPP) has allowed for the creation and funding of independent police services within indigenous communities. This empowers the First Nations communities in policing themselves — under the guidance of provincial legislation, they are able to develop, manage and administer their very own police force. (13) Previously, the responsibility of indigenous policing fell under the purview of the federal government through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, simply because of the imperialist view that the state had supreme jurisdiction over Indian affairs and reserves. (14) The FNPP not only allows for fair policing in the eyes of the indigenous peoples, but it also brings indigenous communities closer to self-government, thereby countering the historical subjugation of their communities by the Canadian state. (15)

As of 2015, the FNPP covers 455 First Nations communities (16) and has seen a 17% drop in crime rates on reserves under the program (17). It has been reported that under FNPP policing, there has been better response time and greater cooperation between indigenous residents and the police. (18) Even in the Tsuu T’ina Nation, where the police chief is not indigenous, the effect of an aboriginal police force has been evident, with a closer relationship between residents and the police being observed. (19) However, problems do still exist. The issue of funding and shortage of resources has led to the disbanding of 20 police forces between the FNPP’s enactment and 2010. (20) In British Columbia, only one First Nations police force with a total of 2 police officers serves a community of 1500 residents. (21)

In Australia, the issue of indigenous policing was highlighted in the 1987 Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, leading to a push towards improving relations between Indigenous peoples and the police force. However, it stops short at the creation of a dedicated, independent police service, which Canada has. (22) The police is consolidated at the federal and state levels, with state jurisdiction extending over indigenous policing. (23) Indigenous peoples are included in the police system to different extents in different states. In most states, Aboriginal peoples participate in the police force as community liaison officers — they do not have the powers that police officers do (such as making arrests), but fulfill the important role of serving as communicators and advisers. (24) An important way in which the role of communicator is carried out is as a translator for Aboriginal persons who are interrogated by the police. The Australian Federal Police’s Aboriginal Interview Friends program aims to provide Aboriginal detainees with an interpreter, as well as a source of support whom the prisoner can have confidence in, during interrogations. (25) Police aides, seen in South Australia, have roles more similar to full-fledged police officers, and are elected by their communities through public nominations. (26) In the Northern Territory, a rural area where the vast majority of Aboriginal peoples live, the Aboriginal Community Police Officer scheme allows indigenous peoples to act as law enforcement officers and “intermediaries between police and Aboriginal communities”. (27) They are limited in their powers, but this restriction is relatively flexible due to the necessity of enforcement in the rural area where alternatives are not readily available. (28) On the other end of the spectrum, the state of Victoria has no such programs, barring indigenous cross-cultural training for its officers, due to the very small population of Aboriginal peoples in the territory. (29)

Clearly, these are vastly different systems of police enforcement. Evidence of the relative effectiveness of both models remain highly anecdotal (30), while empirical statistics still show that the problem has either persisted or gotten worse. In Canada, Indigenous people made up 20.9% of the prison population in 2010 (31), and this number has grown to 25%. Perceptions of the justice system among Canadian Aboriginal peoples remained negative (32), reflecting that minorities feel intimidated by law enforcement. In Australia, the statistic has hovered at about the same value — in 2010, 26% of the prison population were Aboriginal peoples. (33) Thus, it cannot be concluded which model is the superior one.

It is crucial to bear in mind that the problem of policing in indigenous communities is merely one facet of a whole host of issues challenging indigenous communities. The influence of other factors and policies in other aspects of the indigenous experience has a critical effect on crime rates and the vulnerability of these communities. (34) These different issues are all closely intertwined, meaning that a holistic effort towards the overall improvement of indigenous peoples’ quality of life must be undertaken for fruitful results to be seen. In both Australia and Canada, the indigenous populations are rapidly growing (35) (36). This gives the issue an additional sense of urgency, as governments will face an increasing pressure to rectify longstanding systemic problems and restore dignity to Indigenous peoples.

Footnotes

  1. Remington, Frank J. 1965. "The Role Of Police In A Democratic Society". The Journal Of Criminal Law, Criminology, And Police Science 56 (3): 361. doi:10.2307/1141253.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Peck, Jennifer H. 2015. "Minority Perceptions Of The Police: A State-Of-The-Art Review". Policing: An International Journal Of Police Strategies & Management 38 (1): 173-203. doi:10.1108/pijpsm-01-2015-0001.

  4. Lowery, Wesley. 2017. "Black Lives Matter: Birth Of A Movement". The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/17/black-lives-matter-birth-of-a-movement.

  5. "Aboriginal Peoples In Canada: Key Results From The 2016 Census". 2017. Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025a-eng.htm.

  6. Biddle, Nicholas, and Francis Markham. 2017. "Census 2016: What's Changed For Indigenous Australians?". The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/census-2016-whats-changed-for-indigenous-australians-79836.

  7. Schnurr, Leah. 2017. "Justin Trudeau Vows To Do Better For Canada’s Indigenous People In UN Speech". Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/3761308/justin-trudeau-un-speech-indigenous/.

  8. "Australia Failing To Improve Aboriginal Lives". 2017. Aljazeera. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/australia-failing-improve-aboriginal-lives-170214170102126.html.

  9. Wahlquist, Calla. 2016. "'It's The Same Story': How Australia And Canada Are Twinning On Bad Outcomes For Indigenous People". The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/25/indigenous-australians-and-canadians-destroyed-by-same-colonialism.

  10. Ibid

  11. Public Safety Canada. 2007. "International Comparison Of Indigenous Policing Models." https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/cmprsn-ndgns-plcng/index-en.aspx

  12. Wahlquist, Calla. 2016. "'It's The Same Story': How Australia And Canada Are Twinning On Bad Outcomes For Indigenous People". The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/25/indigenous-australians-and-canadians-destroyed-by-same-colonialism.

  13. Bolin, Chris. 2016. "Indigenous Policing In The Spotlight". The Globe And Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/indigenous-policing-in-spotlight/article32830763/.

  14. "Indigenous Policing". 2017. Public Safety Canada. https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/plcng/brgnl-plcng/index-en.aspx.

  15. Bolin, Chris. 2016. "Indigenous Policing In The Spotlight". The Globe And Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/indigenous-policing-in-spotlight/article32830763/.

  16. "Indigenous Policing". 2017. Public Safety Canada. https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/plcng/brgnl-plcng/index-en.aspx.

  17. Bolin, Chris. 2016. "Indigenous Policing In The Spotlight". The Globe And Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/indigenous-policing-in-spotlight/article32830763/.

  18. Public Safety Canada. 2007. "International Comparison Of Indigenous Policing Models." https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/cmprsn-ndgns-plcng/index-en.aspx

  19. Bolin, Chris. 2016. "Indigenous Policing In The Spotlight". The Globe And Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/indigenous-policing-in-spotlight/article32830763/.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Ibid.

  22. Public Safety Canada. 2007. "International Comparison Of Indigenous Policing Models." https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/cmprsn-ndgns-plcng/index-en.aspx

  23. Ibid.

  24. Ibid.

  25. "Aboriginal Interview Friends Scheme". 2017. Australian Indigenous Healthinfonet. http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/key-resources/programs-projects?pid=2076.

  26. Public Safety Canada. 2007. "International Comparison Of Indigenous Policing Models." https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/cmprsn-ndgns-plcng/index-en.aspx

  27. Ibid.

  28. Ibid.

  29. Ibid.

  30. Ibid.

  31. Covert, Kim. 2015. "Statistics In Context: Aboriginals In Canada’s Prisons". National. http://www.nationalmagazine.ca/Blog/June-2015/Statistics-in-context-Aboriginals-in-Canada-s-pris.aspx.

  32. Ibid.

  33. "4517.0 - Prisoners In Australia, 2010". 2010. Australian Bureau Of Statistics. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/902DD677C4113895CA2577F3000F08F0?opendocument.

  34. Public Safety Canada. 2007. "International Comparison Of Indigenous Policing Models." https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/cmprsn-ndgns-plcng/index-en.aspx

  35. "Aboriginal Peoples In Canada: Key Results From The 2016 Census". 2017. Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025a-eng.htm.

  36. Biddle, Nicholas, and Francis Markham. 2017. "Census 2016: What's Changed For Indigenous Australians?". The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/census-2016-whats-changed-for-indigenous-australians-79836.

References

  1. "4517.0 - Prisoners In Australia, 2010". 2010. Australian Bureau Of Statistics. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/902DD677C4113895CA2577F3000F08F0?opendocument.

  2. "Aboriginal Interview Friends Scheme". 2017. Australian Indigenous Healthinfonet. http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/key-resources/programs-projects?pid=2076.

  3. "Aboriginal Peoples In Canada: Key Results From The 2016 Census". 2017. Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025a-eng.htm.

  4. "Australia Failing To Improve Aboriginal Lives". 2017. Aljazeera. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/australia-failing-improve-aboriginal-lives-170214170102126.html.

  5. "Indigenous Policing". 2017. Public Safety Canada. https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/plcng/brgnl-plcng/index-en.aspx.

  6. "Terminology". 2017. National Aboriginal Health Organization. http://www.naho.ca/publications/topics/terminology/.

  7. Biddle, Nicholas, and Francis Markham. 2017. "Census 2016: What's Changed For Indigenous Australians?". The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/census-2016-whats-changed-for-indigenous-australians-79836.

  8. Bolin, Chris. 2016. "Indigenous Policing In The Spotlight". The Globe And Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/indigenous-policing-in-spotlight/article32830763/.

  9. Covert, Kim. 2015. "Statistics In Context: Aboriginals In Canada’s Prisons". National. http://www.nationalmagazine.ca/Blog/June-2015/Statistics-in-context-Aboriginals-in-Canada-s-pris.aspx.

  10. Ipswich City Council. 2005. "Appropriate Terminology, Indigenous Australian Peoples." http://www.ipswich.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/10043/appropriate_indigenous_terminoloy.pdf

  11. Lowery, Wesley. 2017. "Black Lives Matter: Birth Of A Movement". The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/17/black-lives-matter-birth-of-a-movement

  12. Peck, Jennifer H. 2015. "Minority Perceptions Of The Police: A State-Of-The-Art Review". Policing: An International Journal Of Police Strategies & Management 38 (1): 173-203. doi:10.1108/pijpsm-01-2015-0001.

  13. Public Safety Canada. 2007. "International Comparison Of Indigenous Policing Models." https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/cmprsn-ndgns-plcng/index-en.aspx

  14. Remington, Frank J. 1965. "The Role Of Police In A Democratic Society". The Journal Of Criminal Law, Criminology, And Police Science 56 (3): 361. doi:10.2307/1141253.

  15. Schnurr, Leah. 2017. "Justin Trudeau Vows To Do Better For Canada’s Indigenous People In UN Speech". Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/3761308/justin-trudeau-un-speech-indigenous/.

  16. Wahlquist, Calla. 2016. "'It's The Same Story': How Australia And Canada Are Twinning On Bad Outcomes For Indigenous People". The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/25/indigenous-australians-and-canadians-destroyed-by-same-colonialism.


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