EXPLAINER: A Recent History of Police Brutality in Canada

The death of George Floyd in the US has sparked a wave of discussion about the unchecked power of the police – and Canada is no exemption in this regard


The wave of protests following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky — both of which occurred at the hands of police — have sparked global conversations about police brutality and power. Canada has its own history of police brutality targeting people of colour, especially Indigenous people.

As Indigenous journalist Brandi Morin recounts in an opinion piece for the Toronto Star, The North West Mounted Police (the original incarnation of the RCMP) was founded in 1873 to “stop any opposition to its vision of a successful colonial state,” which it did by forcing Indigenous people onto reserves, preventing them from leaving without permission, and taking Indigenous children from their families to attend residential schools where they were forbidden to practice their culture or speak their native languages.

Recently, on June 12, Rodney Levi, a member of the Metepenagiag First Nation, was shot and killed by Sunny Corner RCMP about 30 kilometres outside of Miramichi, New Brunswick. The official story according to spokesperson Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh is that the police responded to a report of an unwanted person at a residence and were confronted by Levi carrying knives. Rogers-Marsh said that a member of the RCMP discharged a firearm after a stun gun was unsuccessfully deployed several times.

A similar story was told by police in Edmunston, New Brunswick regarding the death of a Tia-o-qui-aht woman named Chantel Moore the previous week. According to police, they had received a request to check on Moore’s well-being, and the officers responding to the call encountered Moore holding a knife and making threats.

Both of these accounts have been doubted by those close to the victims. Metepenagiag First Nation Chief Bill Ward characterized Levi as a “very friendly” person who “never tried to harm anybody” and is demanding answers from the RCMP following his death. Similarly, both Nora Martin and Grace Frank, Moore’s grandmother and sister respectively, have said that “there’s no way in the world [Moore] would attack anybody.” They have gone on record to say they doubt the police’s version of events.

Prior to Levi’s death, a week after Moore’s, dash cam footage was released showing RCMP in Alberta tackling and beating Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam. The video and photos of Adam’s injuries were released as part of a motion filed by Adam’s lawyer to have criminal charges against him stayed.

The violence shown in the video has since been condemned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. However, Alberta RCMP’s Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said at a press conference in Edmonton that he didn’t believe there was systemic racism in policing in Alberta or anywhere in Canada. He later retracted the statement and acknowledged “that systemic racism does exist in the RCMP.”