Content warning: Police violence, racism
On Nov. 26, bystander video footage surfaced documenting two cases of police brutality against Black youth in Quebec. Pacifique Niyokwizera, an 18-year-old Black man, was waiting outside of a nightclub when five police officers brutalized him. In the same video, the same officers are seen committing a violent act against a young Black woman. Neither of the two teenagers were given a reason for their arrest or detention.
Despite the 461 fatal police encounters in Canada between 2000 and 2017, police brutality is usually seen as a distinctly American problem. In reality, this violent culture transcends borders as it is inherent to the roots of policing––and is therefore institutionally reinforced. When a system is erected to surveil and brutalize racialized people, the only way to fix it is by abolishing it altogether.
As of Dec. 7, the instigators of the violent, racist abuse against the two youth have been suspended with pay. But even this outcome was a contested one. Marine Fortier, the president of the Quebec City Police Brotherhood (QCPB), expressed her surprise at the suspensions and said she hoped that the decision was not politically motivated or influenced by external opinions. However, the QCPB itself is far from a neutral party: The use of the word “brotherhood” suggests an environment of insular protection between officers as opposed to accountability. To make this atmosphere of shielded camaraderie even more disturbing, consider that it is usually past officers who are tasked with investigating incidents of police misconduct. That Fortier politicized such a negligible disciplinary action as paid leave reveals that the institution of policing—and the culture that protects it—is irredeemable.
Quebec cities show no signs of changing their policing systems, except by funnelling in more money without any increased accountability. Regardless of Valerie Plante’s carefully curated image as a progressive candidate and politician, her platform in the recent municipal election involved no real intention to address Montreal’s rampant policing problem. In fact, it was almost exactly the same as that of her opponent Denis Coderre, who sits to the political right of her: Both favoured expanding the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM)’s already exorbitant budget. That said, even if Plante were to come out in favour of police reforms, such as the implementation of body cameras, they would not be able to fix the issues inherent to policing. Instead, such policies would provide a more inflated budget to the SPVM. Despite its surface-level appeal, reform is not enough.
Colonial governments established the police with the explicit intent of suppressing rebellions amongst enslaved people and violently displacing Indigenous people from their land. Contemporary policing still reflects this legacy as it continues to control racialized bodies. Headlines detailing BIPOC individuals being brutalized or killed by police officers continue to dominate news cycles, and Canadian police continue to suppress Indigenous communities defending their land and sovereignty—recently exemplified by the RCMP’s invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory. Making small tweaks to a fundamentally flawed institution will not result in long-term change—there needs to be a complete overhaul of policing as we know it in Canada.
Mobilization for police abolition has tempered since the summer of 2020, when the police murder of George Floyd sparked widespread global protests as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. A Black person should not have to be violently murdered and then martyred to spur calls for change. Especially considering resistance from politicians, there must be sustained demands for abolition for meaningful change to occur.
But reposting graphics on one’s Instagram story only to call the police on unhoused Indigenous individuals is not productive. In fact, it is violent. In addition to political mobilization, the abolitionist project must be internalized; individuals must change the way they think and act in their everyday lives and interactions with others. Abolition must be multifaceted and also involves abolishing one’s “inner police.”
Beyond this, demands for change must coexist with a real effort to reduce the demand for police intervention. Student organizations that deal with mental health and safety should make efforts to move away from calling the police for crisis intervention; instead, they should liaise with social workers—though that is also a profession that needs to be decolonized. In conjunction with mutual aid and community-based coalition building, supporting local activists and initiatives is crucial. No more BIPOC “martyrs,” police abolition now.