The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was a clear indication that the fundamental principle of public policing – that law enforcement personnel would act in the interests of citizens - was rather tenuous. Precipitated by a breakdown in labour negotiations in the building and metal trades, 30,000 Winnipeg citizens went on strike, including members of the Winnipeg City Police. Encouraged by the social elite of Winnipeg, the Federal Government intervened, using the Royal North-West Mounted Police (RCMP) and the military, and savagely ended the strike (Mitchell). The Criminal Code was subsequently amended by Parliament as a result of this strike. Section 98 declared that any organization advocating the use of violence to bring about "governmental, industrial or economic change" was illegal. Worse was the provision that suspects were presumed to be guilty "in the absence of proof to the contrary" (Christopher MacLennan 14).
The aftermath of the Strike precipitated a dialectical politico-social process during the next three decades that was both disturbing and liberating. The most disturbing was the practice of both federal and provincial governments to use the power of the state through various police forces to silence criticism and curtail and suppress basic democratic and human rights by incarceration, deportation, and other extreme measures. What was liberating was that the harsh responses from various governments towards their own citizens exposed the fragile foundations of democratic freedom in Canada and legitimized the birth of civil liberties and eventually fundamental human rights legislation (Christopher MacLennan 12-32).
Even though the police were compelled to act on behalf of their political masters, there were ramifications and social consequences for being party to the suppression of many civil liberties. Many of their actions between 1919 and 1945 set them further and further apart from ordinary Canadians. During the next several decades, police personnel no longer represented the ethnic mix and composition of their communities. Police forces were slow to change their recruitment practices, even during the latter part of the twentieth century, when there were few police officers who were members of visible minorities. As recently as 1986, visible minorities composed 6% of the population but only 1% of police officers in Canada. The figures for First Nations were only slightly higher (Ewins 366). Thus, it is not surprising that the chasm between the police and the community was slowly widening. The ramifications of this division would become clearly evident in the period after World War II.
Citizens and the Police 1946-2004
Changing Public Attitudes
The citizens of Canada have traditionally held a favorable and positive view towards their local police. The majority believe the police perform their duties reasonably well. They are approachable, respond to calls appropriately and provide information on crime prevention. Victims of violent crimes, young people, and citizens in some regions of Canada are sometimes less positive, and members of visible minorities are particularly critical of the police. However, the majority of Canadians generally maintain a fundamental respect for the police as law enforcement authorities. Furthermore, surveys tend to give police forces consistently high ratings (Grant 399; Johnson and Sacco; "People love the police." Edmonton Sun October 4, 2004, 5; Ramsey)
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