By Erin Isaac
With rising awareness and concern about police violence against people of colour in Canada and the United States, and following several recent instances of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) violence against Indigenous persons — including the killing Rodney Levi of the Metepenagiag First Nation in New Brunswick, the RCMP attack on Chief Adam Allan of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta, and an RCMP officer using the door of a truck to run down an Inuit man in Kinngait, Nunavut, not to mention the continued presence of RCMP on Wet’suwet’en land amid pipeline protests and the militarized raids on multiple camps therein earlier this year — some Canadians are questioning the role of the RCMP and its relationship with Indigenous communities.
For many Canadians, this pattern of RCMP violence is surprising and, though increasingly evident as protests about police aggression draw our attention to the systematic oppression that underlies these encounters, this image does not fit with the Mountie’s national image.
At first glance, the RCMP appear as red-coated peacekeepers with broad brimmed hats. It is an image that is hugely influenced by popular media. From U.S. classics, such as Dudley Do-Right, to Canadian television shows, like Due South and Murdoch Mysteries, a specific image of policing—and the Mounties, in particular — serve as a character type in our national psyche.
These are not the most recent offenders, however. That title goes to the hit CBC and Hallmark Channel program When Calls the Heart, which just wrapped its 7th season on April 26, 2020.
The early seasons of the show, set in the 1910s, centre around a romance between Elizabeth Thatcher, a teacher from the big city (Hamilton, ON) who chases new adventures in a small mining town in the west, and Jack Thornton, a Royal North-West Mounted Police (NWMP, later RCMP) constable who is also new in town. While Elizabeth embarks upon storylines leading her to new revelations of self-discovery, often upon reflection after helping a struggling friend or neighbour, Jack investigates minor crimes or chases outlaws who stir up trouble in their quaint frontier town. The show is, taken as a whole, cute in its neat single-episode story arcs and shamelessly romantic presentation of life on the western frontier of Euro-Canadian colonisation.
There is, however, a major problem in the way the show represents the RCMP’s purpose. Continue reading