Political Influence gave Police Deviance the “go ahead”

Posted: November 7, 2011 by g. in Cases - Public Order, Vancouver APEC 1997

In 1997, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit was held in Vancouver at the UBC campus. During this summit a protest was held in the name of human rights, in which demonstrators exercised their right to free speech and freedom of assembly. The police, having no regard for these rights, responded to the protest by engaging in deviant conduct. A more detailed account surrounding this incident can be found in my first blog post.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched into the Canadian constitution in 1982. This Charter guarantees fundamental freedoms to everyone. According to the Charter, everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. Also, everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. To view the full contents of the Charter you can click here. During the 1997 Vancouver APEC summit, these fundamental freedoms which are guaranteed by the Charter were brushed under the mat by the police during their dealings with demonstrators. The APEC Commission which was assembled after complaints were made about RCMP conduct during the APEC summit found that the conduct of officers was inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by section 2 of the Charter. This final report could be found here. The question that needs to be asked is, who gave the officers orders to strip demonstrators of their fundamental freedoms? The answer to this question is simple when you look back at the history of similar events in Canada. The RCMP were given orders by the political sphere of Canada to strip protestors of their rights and engage in police deviance if the need arose. However, it is important to note that this accusation of political interference has always been denied by the police and the politicians during this and similar events in history.

The APEC Summit was business as usual. In his article “Hand in Glove? Politicians, Policing, and the Canadian Political Culture“, Wiseman is quoted as saying “behaviour of police and politicians at the APEC summit confirms their long standing view that the state and its police organs engage in systematic repression of democratic voices”. Although, the police and politicians are seen as separate, according to Wiseman, the politician is able to hide behind the veil of the police officer. Essentially, the police is an arm of political administration. During the APEC summit, the politicians used their strong police arm in order to silence the fundamental rights of protestors. Allowing politicians to influence the way police work is done goes against the official paradigm of the police. In the official paradigm or code, police independence is a major feature. According to Punch(2009), the official paradigm is the institutional ideology that an organization is structured upon and the operational paradigm refers to the practices that deviate from the official code. Police conduct during the APEC summit deviated from the official paradigm by allowing political influence to affect their police independence. The police is supposed to be accountable to the government, not directed by it. As stated earlier, if we look back at Canadian history, we can easily find similar instances in which politicians hid under the mask of the police and engaged in politically influenced behaviour. Wiseman states:

“It is hardly new in Canadian history. Police were used by authorities to thwart union-organizing activity among autoworkers in Oshawa, Ontario in the 1930s, in Quebec’s asbestos industry in the 1940s, and among Newfoundland’s loggers in the 1950s. The RCMP’s covert operations targeting the Parti Québécois in the 1970s are well documented.”

“If something goes amiss in the field, as it did, the Prime Minister claims his hands are clean. When the police act heavy-handedly or in violation of the law, a dumb cop excuse is almost always effective in shielding politicians from their responsibility for what happened.”

It is evident after reading “Police Corruption – Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing”, by Maurice Punch that the dumb cop excuse is almost always an effective excuse to shield the police organization and politicians from their responsibility during such events as the Vancouver APEC affair. However, Punch argues that the rotten apples theory is false. The rotten orchards theory is one that holds true when looking in-depth at police deviance incidences. The Knapp commission of 1972 and later the Mollen commission in New York are evidence of that the rotten apples theory or the “dumb cop” theory is false. Instead, “there are no individuals in organizations” like the police according to Punch.

Now we’ll come back to the issue of the police being used as a political tool by politicians. During the Vancouver APEC summit, the strong-arm of the police was used by Canadian politicians. The politicians were the true face behind the mask of police deviance during the event. These politicians promised the Indonesian and Chinese head of states that they would subdue protests that were directed at them. According to the article “Globalization and the policing of protest: the case of APEC 1997” by Richard et al. (1999), the head of states of Indonesia and China expressed their concerns to Ottawa that they didn’t want their leaders to be publicly embarrassed by protests at the Vancouver APEC summit. Indonesian president Suharto was assured by Canadian authorities that they would police the protest in an effective manner. Thus, the leaders of Indonesia and China influenced our Canadian politicians to influence the police to violate the fundamental freedoms of protestors.  In his (1999) article Richard et al. states comments on the meeting between a RCMP Staff Sergeant and the Indonesian APEC delegation:

RCMP Staff Sergeant Peter Montague reports on an advance meeting he conducted with Indonesian APEC delegation: ‘I assured them that if there was a demonstration on a major motorcade route, we wold take an alternate route to avoid potential embarrassment. …They asked me several times to repeat this assurance and I did.’

It is evident by the above quote that the RCMP were willing to do whatever it took to save the embarrassment of the Indonesian head of states. Also, the above quote perhaps suggests that the RCMP were influenced not only by Canadian politicians, but also by Indonesian politicians. To me, this suggestion is very disturbing. The fact that Canadian politicians were influencing the police to act in deviant methods in order protect the reputation of an accused human rights violator is horrific. Maurice Punch explains this type of behaviour in his three level typology of police deviance and corruption. The form of police deviance that was demonstrated at the Vancouver APEC summit was externally driven through state domination. In this case, the police were linked to and influenced by the state (Ottawa) and their goals. During this event, the goal of Canadian politicians, was to save the embarrassment of visiting head of states. As a result of saving this embarrassment, innocent demonstrators were pepper sprayed, they were illegally strip searched and their fundamental freedoms which are guaranteed by the Canadian constitution were violated.

So, after the dust settled in the aftermath of the Vancouver APEC affair, a commission was held and the Ted Hughes recommended many things. A news article that comments on the conclusions of the Inquiry can be found here. The most important recommendation that Ted Hughes gave was in regards to relations between the police and Canadian government. Ted Hughes recommends:

“The Mounties should request “statutory codification” stating how they are independent from the federal government. The force’s officers need to know they must “brook no intrusion or interference whatever” in carrying out their duties.”

In conclusion, although the above recommendation was stated by the head of the Commission, recent history has shown that the above suggestion has not been studied carefully. During the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto, similar events took place in which the police violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of protestors and if you look at that event in detail, you will find that the politicians were again using their arm of the police to crack down on protestors. As Wiseman states in his article, “police power and its use for political and other unlawful purposes is as strong – and as wrong – as ever”.


Punch, Maurice (2009). Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing. Devon: Willan Publishing (Routledge)

Bronskill, Jim & Bailey, Patricia (2001). APEC report slams RCMP, Ottawa: Police conduct, meddling by officials called `inappropriate’. The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from   http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.kwantlen.ca:2080/pqdweb?index=0&did=224999331&SrchMode=2&sid=2&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1319713272&clientId=6991 on October 26, 2011.

Ericson, Richard & Doyle, Aaron. Globalization and the policing of protest: the case of APEC 1997. British Journal of Sociology. Dec 1999, Vol. 50 Issue 4, p589-608.

  1. I plan on using this document in my thesis about Police Corruption in the Third world. I wish to give credit to the author of the text. It would be very appreciated if you can send to me an email with an appropriate APA reference based on the author of the publication.

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