A08(b) - The Politics of Policing, Crime, and Victimhood in Canada
Date: Jun 5 | Time: 08:45am to 10:15am | Location: SWING 210
Chair/Président/Présidente : Leigh Spanner (University of Alberta)
Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Colleen Bell (University of Saskatchewan)
Session Abstract: Despite the strong influence of institutionalism across the discipline of Canadian political science, police organizations and issues of “criminal justice” have long remained at the margins of analysis. This omission is curious given that police organizations are a central institution of the Canadian state and processes of state making (Soss and Weaver 2017). Moreover, the “political” analysis of crime, policy, and policing holds the potential of contributing to stronger and more robust understandings about the relationship between institutions, power, and crime and criminal justice (Riddell 2015)
It is in this context that this panel explores what might be gained by examining the politics of policing, crime, and victimization from a “political science” perspective. In particular, this panel asks: what can we learn by squarely focusing on police, crime, and victimization within political science? To what extent has the discipline of political science addressed these issues? And, how have policies and rhetoric around policing, criminality, and criminal justice worked to reproduce (or resist) systems of colonial, racialized, heteronormative and patriarchal oppression? Through the investigation of three different areas of “criminal justice” politics – police public relations and community engagement, the criminalization of marginalized people, and political rhetoric about crime – this panel explores the ways in which crime is framed, policed, and resisted in Canada.
The Dog That Didn’t Bark: Comparing Dog Whistle Politics in Canada and the United States: Kelly Gordon (McGill Universtiy), Debra Thompson (University of Oregon) Abstract: While the rise of “dog whistle” politics can be traced back to the post-Civil Rights era in the United States (US), dog whistling has taken on new relevance and prominence in a post-Donald Trump landscape (Lopez 2014). What the 2016 Presidential election cycle demonstrated, for instance, is that repeated blasts about criminals, welfare cheats, and illegal aliens can turn many blue states red and, at least in part, propelled Donald Trump to the White House.
However, it seems as though there are limits to what these racialized discourses can accomplish in Canada. After running a 2015 election campaign that mobilized various dog whistle about “old stock” Canadians and “barbaric cultural practices”, the Conservative Party of Canada were voted out of office. Critics accused PM Harper’s electoral campaign of being negative, cynical, and intentional stoking fear around Muslims and Syrian refugees (Feschuk 2015).
This paper seeks to understand why dog whistling operates so differently in conservative politics in Canada and the US. Drawing on the critical discourse analysis of three sites of conservative crime discourse (bill c-10, bill c-36, and the contemporary Conservative party’s platform on criminal justice), this paper argues that while dog whistling in the US typically focus on the vilification of non-whites, in a Canadian context discussions about race are more likely focus on the victimization of marginalized and racialized communities. In particular, we argue these findings both hold the potential of resonating differently with voters and deeply challenge our assumptions about conservative discourse and ideology in North America.
Framing Gendered and Racialized Public Safety: Towards Understanding Police Public Communication about Gendered Violence: Bailey Gerrits (Queen's University) Abstract: Police have incredible authority to selectively make visible types of gender-based violence (GBV), demarcate real and so-called false claims, define police legitimacy in responding to violence, and, at times, racialize GBV. For example, in its 2015 report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), the RCMP included serial killer “johns” who targeted Indigenous sex workers in the category of “known to the victim.” Downplaying racist exploitation of Indigenous women and girls and over-representing intra-Indigenous GBV, the RCMP report advances a particular narrative about the relationship between MMIW and ‘public safety’. In contrast, the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) has excluded sexual assaults when the survivor knows the assailant in their online statistics and crime map since 2008, spatially underrepresenting the phenomena of police-reported sexual assaults. The WPS’s crime map bolsters the myth that only strangers rape women, obscuring the high prevalence of sexual violence perpetrated by friends, family, boyfriends, husbands, etc. Despite its undoubted effect on public discourses, police communication about GBV is an understudied facet of police authority. To fill this gap, this paper will draw on interviews with civilian and non-civilian police communication officials and discourse analysis of a sample of public police communication about GBV from four police forces in Canada to understand how police frame GBV and explain differences across police forces. It is likely that racializing gendered violence is a key, yet unspoken, component of police strategic communication and the differential and localized representation of gendered violence works towards legitimizing the role of the police.
Policing Queer Publics in Canada: Alexa Degagne (Athabasca University) Abstract: Canadian police organizations have regulated lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and communities through surveillance of LGBTQ neighborhoods, organizations and businesses, and the criminalization of queer sexual behavior in private and public spaces. Police presence in queer spaces did not stifle LGBTQ community building. Rather, riots and protests against police surveillance, criminalization and abuse are depicted as critical and galvanizing moments as queers and gender-non-conforming people collectively resisted the regulatory bodies of the state. In the 1980s, LGBTQ communities secured safe spaces in the face of police harassment in the forms of the creation of new LGB organizations, the building and/or expansion of gay neighbourhoods, and the initiation of Pride parades.
Over the past decade, however, the relationships between LGBTQ people and police organizations have shifted as particular LGBTQ community members and organizations have argued that the criminal justice system is the best means to protect LGBTQ people against discrimination and violence. Yet I argue, particular LGBTQ citizens, who have access to marriage rights and economic privilege, are using police intervention to protect their lifestyles, private property, businesses, neighbourhoods and economic standing. As a result, queer public spaces are constrained while queer private spaces are reserved for the privileged few who have access to private property and domestic life. This paper analyzes police organizations’ expanded presence in queer publics in the forms surveillance of historically LGBTQ neighbourhoods, and intervention in queer public space, such as pride parades and community organizations.