Public trust in Canada’s police declines due to increasing militarisation of the force

As reported in June by Policing Insight, the website specialising in the field of security, University of Waterloo doctoral student Tandeep Sidhu reveals that Canadian society’s trust in its police is steadily declining.

One of the main causes according to the researcher is the persistent militarisation of the police. For example, police tactical response unit vehicles using the latest high-tech equipment share all sorts of similarities with military vehicles.

Along these lines, several police investigators find the increasing use of these tactical units in incidents that are considered routine or commonplace to be disproportionate. An example would be the use of these teams in incidents involving people with mental health problems. In late 2020, a retired Mississauga resident was shot and killed by police during a mental health crisis. The intervention was carried out by the Peel Regional Police Tactical and Rescue Unit.

It is worth mentioning that the interactions between tactical units and citizens often end up in violent confrontations. These teams base their actions on military-style weapons, such as assault rifles, stun grenades, battering rams and other specialised equipment similar to that used by the military.

According to Sidhu’s research, Toronto’s Emergency Task Force (EFT) began adopting equipment very similar to Canadian Armed Forces infantry and U.S. Special Forces troops in 2016. The author finds it worrying that law enforcement, which should be guarantors of the preservation of people’s rights and lives, adopt attitudes and equipment belonging to units specialised in fighting wars.

This increased militarisation means that police units are using more and more military technology and tactics on the civilian population. Tactical police units are often involved in raids at night or in the early hours of the morning, when family members or children are also at home.

Tandeep Sidhu believes that the trauma caused by the actions of these police units in cases of mistaken residences or encounters with people who are not involved in criminal activities cannot be underestimated. Some citizens interviewed by the doctoral candidate report having suffered from nightmares, insomnia, or being in a state of constant hypervigilance.

Equipping the police as if they were military units tasked with fighting wars undermines public confidence in the police, mars the very communities the police purport to serve, and moves away from community-based policing models.

By adopting military technology and tactics, the police treat cities and communities as if they were war scenes and civilians as enemies. The implicit message of this militarised equipment is that the civilian population is a threat and war tactics are needed to respond.

Like other police practices, the use of tactical units disproportionately affects racialised people, those living with mental illness, and those from economically marginalised communities.

Tactical officers have also been deployed in response to Indigenous movements over land rights. This illustrates the police’s extensive dependence on heavily militarised reactions across various situations beyond criminal incidents.

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