Racialized Policing

Aboriginal People’s Encounters with the Police

By Elizabeth Comack  

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Policing is a controversial subject, generating considerable debate. One issue of concern has been “racial profiling” by police, that is, the alleged practice of targeting individuals and groups on the basis of “race.” Racialized Policing argues that the debate has been limited by its individualized frame. As well, the concen- tration on police relations with people of colour means that Aboriginal people’s encounters with police receive far less scrutiny. Going beyond the interpersonal level and broadening our gaze to explore how race and racism play out in institutional practices and systemic processes, this book exposes the ways in which policing is racialized.

Situating the police in their role as “reproducers of order,” Elizabeth Comack draws on the historical record and contemporary cases of Aboriginal-police relations – the shooting of J.J. Harper by a Winnipeg police officer in 1988, the “Starlight Tours” in Saskatoon, and the shooting of Matthew Dumas by a Winnipeg police officer in 2005 – as well as interviews conducted with Aboriginal people in Winnipeg’s inner-city communities to explore how race and racism inform the routine practices of police officers and define the cultural frames of reference that officers adopt in their encounters with Aboriginal people. In short, having defined Aboriginal people as “troublesome,” police respond with troublesome practices of their own. Arguing that resolution requires a fundamental transformation in the structure and organization of policing, Racialized Policing makes suggestions for re-framing the role of police and the “order” they reproduce.

“This book delves deep into the psyche of society’s attitudes towards racism, towards the racialization of issues, of social structures, and, importantly, of the police. It exposes the human element of justice, the attitudes and subconscious generalizations that culminate in differential justice, differential treatment, and the imbalance of socio-economic and criminal circumstances between peoples of Canada. Whether the abuse is racism, sexism, or discrimination on any other abhorrent ground, it takes a leap of faith to make the right connections between these and the behaviours of the police, and further still, the courage to expose it. This is a task that we are all challenged with if we value the aspiration of a free and democratic society.”

— From the Foreword by Donald E. Worme, QC, IPC

  • EPUB
  • ISBN: 9781552665671
  • March 2012
  • $24.99
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  • “Comack is clear in presenting her work that it is not about police bashing but about examining the system … [she] raises the issues, examines them carefully, and leaves disquieting truths. And those truths are upheld in today’s news.”

    — Shari Nanine on the AMMSA website, January 2013 (full review)

  • Comack’s work helps us to understand and make sense of the challenges faced by Indigenous peoples when trying to navigate the justice system within Canada, from dealing with the police to dealing with the courts.

    — Erica Neeganagwedgin (Athabasca University), Labour/LeTravail (full review)

  • “This is a compelling book and I recommend it without hesitation. The book is simply the best on the market that breaks the ‘Northern taboo’ by talking frankly about the issues of race and racialized police in Canada.”

    — Dr. Liqun Cao, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, in the Canadian Criminal Justice Association’s Journal of Criminology, January 2013 (full review)

  • “… a disturbing read about racism and racialized policing. She looks at how racial profiling and individual racism are significant issues and must receive attention, but also makes the argument that we all need to broaden our gaze to look at the ways in which race and racism play out in institutional practices and systemic processes. This is one of those books that you must go out and get. You won’t be disappointed.”

    — Christine McFarlane, Shameless Magazine, Issue 24

  • Copping it Out — John D. Whyte, Literary Review of Canada, July/August 2012

  • “Elizabeth Comack’s Racialized Policing arrives at a moment of heightened concern and awareness over the troubling relationship between Aboriginal people and police forces across Canada. … [it] is a timely suggestion that the structures of criminal justice should be called in to question and subject to demands for a new path forward.”

    — Ted McCoy, University of Calgary, in Socialist Studies (Volume 9(1), Spring 2013) (full review)

  • Racialized Policing would make for a great introductory text for undergraduate criminology or sociology courses, but is also an important read beyond academia, especially for settlers who, as Comack emphasises, are an important part of this project of decolonisation.”

    — Tia Dafnos, PhD candidate, York University, Toronto, in the International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies (full review)

  • “Comack’s theory of systemic racism implicates even those who think that racism has nothing to do with them, especially those benefitting from the “order” maintained by racialized law-enforcement agencies. Comack calls for “reframing the problem and re-envisioning the strategies for resolving” them. Sounds like a call for the larger society to come forward.”

    — Carol Schick, Canadian Dimension, November 2012 (full review)

  • With all the impartiality of her academic training, wielding her analytical tools with impassive rigour and precision, Elizabeth Comack documents the violent, and, too often, murderous, ways in which Canadian police forces establish “Peace, Order, and Good Government.”

    — The Mainlander (full review)


  • Forward by Donald E. Worme
  • Race and Racialization
  • Racial Profiling versus Racialized Policing
  • Colonialism Past and Present
  • The Shooting of J.J. Harper
  • “Starlight Tours”
  • Policing Winnipeg’s Inner-City Communities
  • The Shooting of Matthew Dumas
  • Racialized Policing and Reproducing Order
  • References


  • Elizabeth Comack

    University of Manitoba

    Elizabeth Comack is a distinguished professor emerita in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Manitoba. Comack’s work in the sociology of law and feminist criminology has been instrumental in setting the course for Canadian scholarship. She is a member of the Manitoba Research Alliance, a consortium of academics and community partners engaged in research addressing poverty in Indigenous and inner-city communities. Comack is the author or editor of 13 books, including Coming Back to Jail: Women, Trauma, and Criminalization; “Indians Wear Red”: Colonialism, Resistance, and Aboriginal Street Gangs (co-authored with Laurie Deane, Larry Morrissette, and Jim Silver); and Racialized Policing: Aboriginal People’s Encounters with Police.

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