Andrew Crosby & Jeffrey Monaghan. Policing Indigenous Movements: Dissent and the Security State (Halifax & Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2018).
By Yale Belanger
Dating to the events at Oka in 1990, Indigenous activism and resistance strategies have come to be popularly linked with large-scale and potentially violent events characterized by protests and blockades, and eventual police (or in the case of Oka, military) intervention. When the action dies down it is simply assumed that the opposing parties retreat to neutral corners in anticipation of future episodes. But as Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan argue in Policing Indigenous Movements, police action does not necessarily end with a protest’s conclusion. As the authors contend, long after the protests have petered out an extensive RCMP-led campaign of surveillance persists that is pursued in partnership with numerous government departments, local and provincial policing agencies, and corporate partners.
Policing Indigenous Movements is a fairly short monograph the core of which is four case studies bookended by an introduction and conclusion. Beginning with a brief description of Project SITKA, a secret RCMP report about Indigenous activism published in 2015, the introduction presents a summary of the literature on settler colonialism, Canada as “security state” reinforcing the federal government’s efforts to end the war on terror, the reliance on policing institutions to reproduce order, and thoughts on decolonizing the security state. The authors catalogue Canada’s reliance on surveillance to both monitor and aid with controlling Indigenous activism, while contending that the latter in its various iterations represents a legitimate response to state intrusion onto Indigenous lands in search of resource wealth. The four case studies examine events that unfolded at Barriere Lake, Ontario, in British Columbia related to the Northern Gateway pipelines project, across Canada in relation to the Idle No More movement, and at Elsipogtog, New Brunswick.
The authors establish an analytical framework that reads as follows: taking the lead from government officials fighting a war on terror, the RCMP, with the support of private corporations, recognized forms of Indigenous resistance to settler colonialism as criminal acts, which justified Canada’s relentless, albeit questionable, attempts to undermine Indigenous self-determination and development in the name of national security. That Indigenous peoples have been subjected to government surveillance dating to the creation of reserves in the 1870s reinforces this position. The authors must therefore be applauded for taking this critical step toward improving the public’s understanding of the evolution and reliance on clandestine public surveillance efforts. This is a chilling revelation that all Canadians should take seriously. Unfortunately, after establishing this oppositional framework, the writing takes on a prescriptive tone. I don’t believe that this was the authors’ intent, but when combined with a writing style that lacks nuance a blunt assessment noticeably influenced by the David vs. Goliath framework results. There are additional concerns that demand attention; methodology being one. For instance, although the authors identify one of their key aims as producing an empirical narrative, no measurement guidelines were noted. This is a critical oversight for a work deploying primary resources – in this case, previously restricted government documents acquired through the federal Access to Information and Freedom of Information Act at the provincial and municipal levels. Further to this, clarity was not provided concerning document selection criteria (i.e., how were the 69 documents listed in the bibliography chosen from the “thousands” of documents acquired?). I have similar concerns about the six interviews that were conducted. In sum, a methodology section (even included as an Appendix) would have helped to clarify how the documents were selected; whether the documents and interviews were coded; and if they were, who conducted the coding; if more than one person was involved, how inter-coder reliability was established; and whether a critical discourse or content analysis was formally employed.
Returning to document selection, the choice to not revisit Project SITKA in the conclusion is a case in point. Utilized to establish the book’s central argument concerning the security state’s growth and its reliance on portraying Indigenous activists as criminals and potential terror threats, the authors do not return to nor do they evaluate Project SITKA’s conclusion that “the overall nature of protest culture associated to Aboriginal public order events in Canada is passive, with no intentional criminal nexus” (RCMP, 2015, 23) or its recommendation that the RCMP move “away from utilizing terrorism/extremism language to identify protest tactics that are specifically criminal in nature” (ibid., 24). While the report clearly confirms the authors’ assertion that Indigenous movements are at times considered criminal activities, even if “criminality is not the driving force behind protestor participation” (ibid., 24), Project SITKA’s conclusion and the cited recommendation in particular appear to challenge their frequent assertion that RCMP surveillance of Indigenous movements is driven exclusively by counterterrorism needs. Policing Indigenous Movements further argues that Canada’s self-imposed authority permits the security state to legally convert all Indigenous activists as social movement actors into potential terror threats. Upon further review the RCMP document clearly establishes separate categories of criminality with the ostensible goal of distinguishing the most noteworthy threats while downgrading the vast majority that fall below this threshold to the level of social movement actors and/or activists. These and similar tensions demand additional analytical reflection.
No doubt those critical of my summary will endeavour to remind me that Policing Indigenous Movements is about Canada’s ongoing surveillance of what police officials have deceptively labelled as Indigenous threats to national security, and that the aforesaid criticism misses the point. They are likely to conclude that we should never appear to apologize for the security-state’s immoral activities. Nor should we allow minor methodological issues to obscure larger concerns regarding the security-state’s proliferation. In this instance, when stating one’s intention to produce an empirical analysis one must remain cognizant of the aforesaid and other similar methodological concerns and that facts do indeed matter. Producing grounded, coherent analyses must take precedence over messaging, which in this case unfortunately did not occur for the narrative won out in the end. These criticisms aside, Policing Indigenous Movements offers some important insights that should act as a wake-up call to anyone who remains convinced that covert government surveillance of the public writ large is an acceptable practice that results in the state’s equitable treatment of all citizens.
The book’s intended audience is combined academic and public. The writing is accessible to non-specialists interested in exploring Canada’s contentious relationship with Indigenous peoples. And Policing Indigenous Movements would be of particular interest to under-graduate students attracted to Indigenous studies, notably the relationship between Canada’s justice system and Indigenous peoples; decolonization studies; and the history of Indigenous-settler relations, in particular the role of legislation and more specifically law enforcement and surveillance as essential nation building tools.
Yale Belanger is professor of Political Science at the University of Lethbridge (Alberta) and a Member, Royal Society of Canada, College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists.
RCMP (2015). PROJECT SITKA: Serious Criminality Associated with Large Public Order Events with National Implications. Canada: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada. https://warriorpublications.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/project-sitka-report.pdf Last accessed 13 September 2018.