Courtesy of SFU School of Criminology

by Gurpreet Kambo, Peak Associate

Modern life (particularly news discourse) has become like the never-ending climax of a post-apocalyptic film. One persistent, dramatic arc is that of policing and all the adjacent discourse that surrounds #blacklivesmatter, police brutality, and Indigenous rights movements. The frequent deaths of young black men at the hands of police have rightfully caused a crisis in North American policing in a way that we have never seen before.

In response to these recent controversies, Carleton University’s criminology department announced in August that they are cutting ties to police. More specifically, they are cutting student co-op placements with police and affiliated organizations, and creating four related student scholarships. Carleton’s criminology department should be commended for their proactive actions in supporting communities that are frequently and disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.

The academic field of criminology has long been associated (and frequently direct partners with) police departments. The statement from Carleton’s criminology department reads: “Criminology itself has been complicit in being an education stream for police and for corrections for many years.” SFU criminology has also partnered with the RCMP for recruitment, co-op, and internship opportunities, something that has caused controversy on campus. Like Carleton’s criminology department, SFU criminology needs to take a cold, hard look at where they’re implicitly staking their ground politically by being in a partnership with police departments.

Though much of the recent debate on policing has been fueled by extrajudicial killings in the US, in Canada, policing has also come under some well-deserved scrutiny. In particular, the shameful historical and modern treatment of Indigenous communities by police should cause Canadians to reevaluate the institution of policing in Canada. The RCMP was conceived by Canada’s first prime minister, literally to control and displace Indigenous peoples. They fulfilled this purpose very well, from forcing Indigenous peoples onto reserves to taking Indigenous children and putting them in residential schools. However, this legacy continues to this day, as seen in the countless Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, or the RCMP’s use of force against the ‘Wet’suwet’en.

As the discourse related to systemic racism and policing has heated up, especially after the murder of George Floyd, many organizations across North American society have sought to make statements and reevaluate their ties to police organizations. It’s a testament to how much of a sudden shift there has been in societal attitudes that corporate America, and others who you’d never expect to wade into politics, have made statements against systemic racism and police brutality. For example, Lego decided to stop marketing it’s police lego sets, Nintendo made a statement about the death of Floyd, and the TV show Brooklyn 99 rewrote its upcoming season to reconsider how it portrays police. The bar is low for Corporate America, and much of it has condemned police brutality. Yet SFU criminology continues to partner with police. Normally, one does not expect Corporate America to be more progressive than academics in advocating for social reform.

SFU has emphasized reconciliation as a core part of its identity as an organization. New SFU President Joy Johnson has also said that it is an important part of her vision for SFU moving forward. Former SFU President Andrew Petter also recently made a statement condemning racism and systemic discrimination. For SFU criminology to so brazenly invite and partner with the RCMP, given its history with Indigenous peoples, flies in the face of SFU’s commitment to reconciliation. It is well past time that SFU criminology fixed that, and reorient themselves towards lifting up Indigenous and marginalized communities, rather than enabling institutions that oppress them.