Corporations and the ultra rich have been quietly influencing police departments across the country through large donations, and now the Government of New Brunswick wants to let the same thing happen here.
Bill 53, currently before the Legislature, would create a Municipal Police Assistance Fund to allow police forces across this province to access private funding to purchase equipment and finance policing initiatives.
Individuals and corporations will be permitted to make contributions to this fund, providing yet another avenue for New Brunswick’s wealthiest corporations and families to exert their influence.
This is a bad idea. In communities across Canada and the United States where such funds exist, people have been sounding the alarm.
One investigation of Canadian police foundations by The Tyee found that the Vancouver Police Foundation’s “corporate partners” have given more than $3 million to that department allowing them to buy new equipment including a military-grade armoured vehicle and start a new drone program. One real estate tycoon is donating $1 million to the Vancouver Police Foundation, raising serious questions about the kind of influence such money could buy.
The same investigation also found that oil companies in Alberta are major donors to Calgary’s police foundation. And that some of these donors’ top staff serve on the foundation’s board, providing an opportunity for these corporate elites to rub shoulders with top police brass.
It is not uncommon for these foundations to host fundraising galas with corporate sponsorship and access to police chiefs and political leaders. Sponsors of these galas across the country have included large banks, oil companies, and even manufacturers of lethal weapons.
Proponents of these foundations argue that they provide the ability for the community to help police with budget shortfalls. But policing is a public institution. Relying on private donors to fund policing is a slippery slope towards privatization, and more importantly, it raises legitimate questions about police impartiality.
The Chair of the Saskatchewan Police Commission raised these concerns in 2016 in response to similar legislation there, saying that even if donations to the foundations were kept anonymous, in a small city people would likely know where the money is coming from, and it could create the impression that certain individuals were buying preferential treatment from police.
Moreover, these foundations often lack transparency with no requirement for public disclosure. The proposed legislation in New Brunswick, in fact, is designed to shield the fund from public scrutiny requiring only that the government provide an annual report on the fund to the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police, not to the public.
Policing already disproportionately harms communities that are marginalized, poor, and racialized. For example, police routinely target the homeless serving them with fines they cannot pay, forcing them into prison for non-payment. Police in New Brunswick use the practice of “carding” – stopping individuals and checking identification without grounds to detain or arrest the person – despite overwhelming evidence that the practice is racist.
Just last year, RCMP in New Brunswick shot and killed Rodney Levi of Metepenagiag First Nation merely days after an Edmundston police officer shot and killed Chantel Moore – a 26-year-old woman of Tla-oh-qui-aht First Nations (British Columbia). These killings prompted a nationwide outcry with calls for an investigation into anti-Indigenous racism in New Brunswick policing. Calls that continue to go unheeded by the Premier.
May 25 also marks the one-year anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd in the United States, which renewed international calls for the defunding and abolishing of police forces, and a reimagining of community safety.
At a time that New Brunswickers are calling for reallocating police spending towards essential social services, the Government wants to provide police with access to even more money to spend on lethal weapons and military-grade equipment which will disproportionately be used against marginalized, poor, and racialized communities.
We know that police foundations make it easier for corporations and the wealthy to influence policing. We know that these foundations raise serious concerns about accountability. We know they increase the militarization of police forces, harming marginalized communities.
There is no doubt about it – bringing them into New Brunswick is a bad idea.
Aditya Rao is a human rights lawyer in Fredericton and tweets at @aditrao.