Thursday, December 24, 2020

Ubyssey interview on UBC security and defunding the police.

In late November, 2020 I was interviewed by the Ubyssey about the external review of UBC's security force and the place of the RCMP on campus. The article was published in December of 2020. The interview took place over zoom. What follows is the interview transcript behind my quotes in the article.

[00:00:02.270] - A.H.

And I'll just be recording on my phone.

[00:00:06.270] - Charles

I think it saves both an audio and a video file, but I'll only keep the audio file. I'll delete anything else.

[00:00:13.590] - A.H.

Thank you. I appreciate that. So basically, for this story that I'm writing, I'm doing a follow up to the 2016 Campus Security External review. There's a whole document of recommendations and stuff. And one of the kind of recommendations was that UBC should kind of establish a relationship with the RCMP because there's currently no agreement with Campus Security and RCMP. And so now that there's this new external review happening, and in light of the racial profiling incidents that happened on campus, I'm just trying to write a story about that.

[00:00:53.560] - A.H.

So that's why I wanted to talk to you about this.

[00:00:55.170] - Charles

Right? Well, just one quick thing. That was a surprise to me when I first learned about this. The RCMP just can't necessarily come onto campus unless they're invited or called on or believe that there is a crime or something that is being engaged because UBC is private property. So how does that work? And this was brought to my attention as long ago as 1997, when the No to APAC protest protest was going on, and when students were being arrested for doing such things as painting the pavement and I walked up to an RCMP officer who was on the ground photographing something.

[00:01:46.910] - Charles

They had a fire truck up above, and they're photographing the paint, the chalk lines actually over by the flagpole by the rose garden. And I asked him, what are you doing here? And they said, well, we've been asked to investigate a crime. And anyway, to make a long story short, they basically said they were invited in by the University of British Columbia. And the agent who invited them was this campus and security. Then it was security and parking. It was all one unit. And he explained to me that they really can't enter campus because it's private land unless there is some particular reason to go through here.

[00:02:24.760] - Charles

And so it's kind of interesting, because for most of this year since the Pandemic and the University was shut down, I can't go to my office unless my Department head, who has authority granted through the Dean's office, gives me permission to enter my office and to enter my office. I've had to go through a whole procedure, a set of rules and stuff. I'm just thinking of the one case at [Buchanon Tower]  and the issues that are around there that the prof who gave permission really didn't have the right to, as far as because,  I don't know what the full story is.

[00:02:58.100] - Charles

But if that had been in the building that I operated in, I couldn't just give my graduate students permission to enter the anthropology sociology building. In fact, because I have no inherent right to do that, because as an employee, I don't have a right to access or enter my building if my employer decides I can't operate that even though we all operate under the notion UBC is this big public park that we can all roll through and use it our own. It's a public good, and it is owned by the public, the province of British Columbia, in that sense.

[00:03:31.640] - Charles

But we're a Crown. We are a constitutional monarchy. And unlike the US where it is the people who are essentially the government in Canada, we're subjects of the Crown, which is the kind of ironic. And, of course, as an Indigenous person, one knows this very much, of course, being placed as wards of the state that relation to the fiduciary responsibility the Crown to deal with Indigenous communities. So there's a kind of interesting thing when non Indigenous people confront the fact of the Crown or the private landlord basically saying, you don't have a right to be here.

[00:04:02.270] - Charles

There's always a kind of wistfulness in that kind of you look at that and you go, yeah, that's just the way life has been. And imagine if it's your is, in fact your land and you can't go on to it, you have to sneak by because some outsiders stake claims and now brings the police in to protect them. Anyway. That's a little bit beyond your story. But when you mentioned about the relationship with the RCMP, I could help but think at one level because this is like a big house of the yard around it.

[00:04:37.290] - A.H.

Yeah. I'm glad that you brought that up because for the Savoy incident, it was campus security only. I believe there was no RCMP involvement, but rewind to 2019 with Shelby McPhee. That was when campus security and RCMP became involved. And that was like a whole thing.

[00:04:56.950] - Charles

And then that crazy white couple who got bent out of shape and assumed, and I don't even think they were attached to the conference, where one person was and one person wasn't. The whole thing sounded really well, besides the unfortunate and the inappropriate aspect of it, the whole instigating element seemed just completely bizarre. And the whole untold story sitting there wondering what is going on with those two people that just seemed so shocking in the banality of their stupidity.

[00:05:30.410] - A.H.

Let's talk about that. When you hear about how that kind of escalated to campus security being called RCMP being called, what do you think about the actions of the cops and the security units there?

[00:05:42.050] - Charles

I was at the conference myself, and so it was bubbling all around. People were talking about it, and it was really strange. You think it's such an over response in one level. I mean, some of the tweets that I had and I was looking through one. And there's one of these angry white guys downtown yelling or something, and it's not like I want the cops to beat them, the shred out of them. [But the cops just stand there and do nothing] But on one level, I'm thinking if it was an Indigenous group doing that, that wouldn't have happened [there would have been violent police action.]

[00:06:16.790] - Charles

And so you kind of get this juxtaposition where there's a disproportionate force applied. And so you think, how many times do we have to go down this path? Repeated over and over and over and over again, because on one level, the conference event around the Congress caused emotional upset and disruption for the people, the person involved who was falsely accused and brought in that way. But there's many people who don't have the kind of middle class position and clout and this actually can cost them their lives and their health.

[00:06:58.690] - Charles

So we need to really I think think about how we do that and whether training makes a difference. I'm not sure. Right now everyone talks about training people. And so I'm not quite sure if training really does actually make a difference. I have a friend who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York in the CUNY system. He works with police officers. He's an anthropologist, he works with police officers. And he actually points out that changes in management structure and types of policing tactics that are deployed from management can change the adverse effects, the impacts on black and people of color in the city of New York.

[00:07:42.320] - Charles

And so he says, irrespective of the cognitive bias the individual officer might hold depending upon the type of policing techniques, strategies the police force uses, can have radically different outcomes. Avi Bornstein is the man's name who's written about this. And he's worked with police officers. But he recently did a dissertation research in Palestine, looking at the implication of the Green Wall and the effects of violence in that area. 

[00:08:23.580] - A.H.

I think it's interesting, completely unrelated. But on the implicit bias thing I was reading online and I saw this article, and I think it was Scientific American or something that says, like implicit bias training aren't actually shown to have any long term effects. 

[00:08:40.830] - Charles

Many years ago, I got asked to teach a course up in Kitamat for SFU's business program. They had people working for one of the local industries up there. And these are people who wanted to move up management. So they were funding a business degree for these people who are at the lower echelons of management. And they figured, great, we'll have them do one elective, and that's going to be a First Nations content course. So I figured this is quite an opportunity. I'm going to do this really good course with detailed research, the best information you can find, talking about the history well researched, unassailable.

[00:09:16.310] - Charles

So I filtered out all the more radical stuff and the weaker stuff. And I thought good training will make a difference. And that course was a real kind of epiphany for me. It really was brought to head when one guy who was one of the trades foreman's came up to me and he said, "I don't f'ing give a damn about all this hippie history stuff. They lost the war. We're in charge."  and the 'They' were Indians and the war, I don't know what that war was, but his whole point was I realized that he didn't care.

[00:09:53.220] - Charles

He didn't even care about the content of the information. I could be right for he cared. He wasn't changing his attitude because this is the way it is. And so it seems to me that just training people and advice doesn't work. You need structures that compel people to act in particular ways. And that's I think the sad reality is some people are going to resist those structures, and some people won't .By and large, as long as they're not, like super onerous or massive violations of people's sense of dignity. It's pretty good.

[00:10:32.920] - Charles

But what dignity is lost to treat, say, Indigenous or black people fairly when facing a social problem or an issue when there's a conflict. The only thing he's lost when you apply violence or when that young woman up in Kelowna was dragged out [of her residence room]. You don't see what happened before, just a matter. That whole actor. I wouldn't want my child experiencing that. And no parent would want that. And it seems that there's all kinds of reasons that I'm sure the officer thinks they might give for what they were doing, but there has to be a better solution.

[00:11:16.970] - Charles

It just has to be a better solution, obviously.

[00:11:19.680] - A.H.

Yeah. I mean, I was going to bring up the Kelowna case, too ... , obviously very hard to watch that video. I'm curious as to whether you think that campus security or RCMP actually keep us safe on campus. Obviously, the Kelowna incident happened in a residence kind of like on campus. But the Savoy incident and the Chelsea incident, they were on campus. So I'm curious as to whether you think campus security.

[00:11:44.230] - Charles

I don't know if campus Security's, job or role is to actually keep people personally safe. I think their primary,  and I could be completely wrong. Maybe the mission statement begins with keeping people safe, I can't say, but it seems to me that their primary role is ensuring that the property of the University is protected and not damaged or harmed in particular ways. And then around that is a role of maintaining, interacting with people in some ways. So I'm not sure that that's the role they've actually even been asked to perform, is actually protecting people.

[00:12:29.050] - Charles

And the RCMP, for that matter, as a police for especially with its colonial history, wasn't about protecting people. It was about preserving territorial authority. So the Northwest Mountain police's role was to get in here before the Americans did, and to secure the Prairie Provinces. What was Rupert's Land at that point in time when they were formed in? I think it was 1873 or four or five somewhere around there. They really were an Expeditionary force to secure land and basically secure that land, keep American military people, government forces and military forces out and to control Indigenous use and clear the way for the railway to come across.

[00:13:09.330] - Charles

If you think of the cases with the pipeline up in Wit'suwet'en territory, they're just doing what the RCMP have always done. The fact they've evolved to do other things, too. That's correct. But all the way along the RCMP we've had issues. We had way back to the McDonald Commission, and I guess the late 70s, early 80s with this one called Barn Burning in Quebec, where they infiltrated Quebec trade unions, became Agent Provocateurs and actually incited and created criminal acts. And they were doing this to study terrorism.

[00:13:40.930] - Charles

And then we got thesis gets formed. You see the recent report about the toxic culture of sexism and racism within the RCMP and the violence that's perpetrated against women within their own force. I think an argument could made that the RCMP needs to be reformulated, taken down, and something else put in their place. I'm not saying remove all policing. I think we do need some kind of police type agency in contemporary society. But I think that the RCMP as institution and as a culture has run its path.

[00:14:18.550] - Charles

It's come to the end of its life and it needs to be disassembled. I don't think it can be refixed or controlled. I remember a friend of mine from many years ago said they just referred to the RCMP,  as basically just the biggest and best outfitted biker gang in the block. And there's an element of which well, that's not factually true, but there's an element of which that's symbolically and metaphorically correct.

[00:14:54.850] - A.H.

Yeah. It sounds a lot like when people have been saying defund the police throughout the summer. It sounds like you're saying something more like abolition. What do you feel about defunding the police?

[00:15:08.120] - Charles

Well, I think for the RCMP, we need to reconstruct what they're doing and divide the services out in different ways. So, for example, when you go to help for somebody who's in mental distress, we shouldn't be sending people with guns to meet that person's needs. That is just not a human thing to do, because that's not going to help, if anything, that's going to escalate the situation. So there's a whole category of social needs that we do need to have some kind of group of people at one time, people thought to be social workers.

[00:15:41.490] - Charles

But social workers, essentially, when they come into a house, they typically arrive with a police officer. They're apprehending somebody. But we need something that can actually come almost like a paramedic who's trained to come to arrive because these are emergency calls. So that category thing, the issue of policing say public protests and maintaining control over access issues about private property and things like that okay, you need something there. But that's a different kind of source. So I wouldn't personally say abolish the police totally or completely.

[00:16:19.510] - Charles

But I think we need to take a lot of the services that have accumulated on the backs of police forces out of their purview. Other agencies that don't carry guns need to be doing that kind of work.  Just over my own lifetime, just seeing the ramp up of the police officers. So you used to have the image of this kind of six foot six, Scottish accented RCMP officer kind of roll up. And he just had an old six shooter strapped somewhere on his side. And these officers today, they got automatic rifles, shotguns.

[00:16:53.510] - Charles

They got great big heavy black outfits and heavy vests. They've got automatic pistols. They've got Tasers. I'm amazed they can even walk under the weight of all the crap they've strapped to themselves. Which is the other thing, too. This is my little sideline critique. I think that society's in general needs to be in better physical shape. And I think some of the violence that occurs at the intersection of police and people is because the police officers aren't sufficiently physically fit. And so because their breathing is going up, the heart rate is accelerating.

[00:17:29.890] - Charles

Their own mass is too much, and they've got the stuff on them. They're actually afraid physically for themselves. And their response is to use the of course the authority of their uniform. So as I said, that's my little theory. It's probably completely crazy. But I've seen enough political demonstrations where you see this line of sort of middle aged folks in heavy uniforms and somewhat overweight approaching a line of young protesters. And then the next thing you know, the police are banging people in the head. And it's like just maybe if they were.

[00:18:03.320] - Charles

But I don't know, I'm way off track now.

[00:18:07.470] - A.H.

No, I mean, it was a fun tangent. I'm just curious as to whether you think that this reform could apply to campus security, because, as you said before, campus security definitely not like RCMP. They don't have guns.

[00:18:21.100] - Charles

No, I think they have a lot of retired RCMP officer or former police officers who are part of their institution and the staffing. And if my memory serves correct, some of the senior leadership are former RCMP. My memory may be faulty. I would actually look at that angle. And I think that would be a problem if you had too close of a kind of thing. If you've recruited out of a problematic organization, your leadership ranks, they may not have the cultural capacity to actually see a different way of doing things.

[00:18:57.540] - Charles

Now, as I said, I could be wrong about that. I do encounter some of the people who are into security. Campus security. I wouldn't say any of the top of my friend list, but basically people who I know enough to say Hello to, reasonable folks. Of course I come because I'm a faculty member and I might be known in the Museum or whatever. So people aren't going to single me out unless I'm at a demonstration. The other thing I noticed is the campus folks, there does seem to be, at least from what I've seen and a few people I've spoken to occasionally a fair degree of both cultural, ethnic and gender diversity within security, which is a little bit different than you see in, say, the RCMP, which tends not to be as diverse as even the Vancouver of the police force, is far more diverse, even though I still think it's predominantly people of European descent.

[00:19:53.360] - Charles

But I could be wrong with that number first would have to look. Some of these police forces have been trying to change the composition, so that doesn't necessarily change the actual encounter experience of violence by changing the demographic distribution of officers in the police force. It doesn't necessarily change things. I think in some of the earlier moments it did. But I think some of the research shows that it's not really a solution, even changing personal demographics. But I don't think security on campus is really analogous because they don't have the same legal authorities they can't arrest.

[00:20:30.110] - Charles

If there is a crime underway, they have to call the RCMP in to actually, because they really don't have authority to hold or secure people. As far as I understand, it's not like some American campuses that actually have legal police forces.

[00:20:47.090] - A.H.

Yeah, I'm curious about that, too, because like I said before, there's no memorandum of understanding or anything between UBC and RCMP. But do you think that that should be kind of, like, set out specifically, so that when we do come to a case where we need to call the RCMP, it's very defined, and we're not calling them when we don't need to be like, do you think that agreement needs to be?

[00:21:10.130] - Charles

It's really hard to say, because there's also a non student residential community on campus. I live actually on campus here in what's called Hawthorn Place and there's Wesbrook , Chancellor, East. And I forget a couple other. There were four police cars sitting down the street the other day. There obviously on a call. So there's private residence that will call upon the police. And there are certain things, if you had some memorandum that these things had to run through the University security in some way, that would be a problem, because there are normal functions.

[00:21:44.170] - Charles

Certain functions of the policing that need to occur, needs to be addressed. So I really don't know for me, I'd be more interested in knowing, it would be like, what is it that triggers the security calling the RCMP? I think we need to have policies about when does campus security,  when do they actually call out to bring the police in and who's making those decisions? Because in some of the issues, my gut feeling is the decisions to call are coming from administrative positions outside of the security.

[00:22:24.790] - Charles

So you go back a few years before the Student Union Building was torn down, before the nest was built, there's a whole sequence of political protests that occurred by students with bonfires and things like that, which I'm pretty sure that those calls came, weren't security calling those in, I don't know for sure. And clearly the issue around APEC, the was policing of that was coming from outside the University, the control over student protest that probably had the federal government's eye on that because they really wanted to contain the kind of political disruption and they didn't do a good job of containing it.

[00:23:02.810] - A.H.

So for this upcoming external review, what do you hope to see out of it?

[00:23:10.490] - Charles

I haven't actually seen any of the, aside from the article in the Ubyssey about it, I haven't seen any of the kind of formal documents in terms of reference to what they're actually going to be doing. I hope that what's happening is that people, like individual workers who work on security, who might be decent, reasonable people, I hope they're going to be kind of made to be the scapegoat for universities wanting to declare that it's on the right side of history. Sometimes that's what happens. It's like they're not actually addressing the actual fundamental problems to say, oh, well, it's security's fault here's the issue.

[00:23:48.950] - Charles

Whereas I would think there's a heck of a lot of issues going on in this campus in terms of the structures of microaggressions within departments, about how people Indigenous, black people, color are treated by faculty colleagues, how the lack of recruitment in certain departments are the bias and stereotype languages around discussions about which students is a better student to bring in when you're talking about graduate student applications and all this kind of stuff that's floating out there. And so my only worry is that the security, because of its tie to kind of linking to policing, becomes the kind of scapegoat where the University is able to kind of clean house in a certain way to do something, then takes the heat off the really difficult issues, like some of the polite pushback around equity, diversity and inclusion that you see where people are talking about it being equity provisions, being an infringement of their free expression, an infringement of their right to achieve.

[00:24:57.060] - Charles

So I think that's the more pernicious problem that we actually face is that kind of argument. [The idea that some suggest that dealing with equity, dealing with diversity, dealing with inclusion will basically undermine the excellence of the University. [Those people and their arguments are] far more [of a problem] than the security [folks on campus], though I clearly don't want people facing untoward unpleasant experiences trying to go about their normal business and life as a student or a faculty member or staff person. If there's problems there. It needs to be dealt with.

[00:25:29.450] - A.H.

I mean, go ahead. I was just going to ask another question. What do you think that like you were talking before about how RCMP is kind of meant to defend land. So if UBC wants to commit to Indigenous reconciliation. Do you think that there's a place for an RCMP presence on campus? What do you think ideally, that relationship should look like on campus?

[00:25:55.260] - Charles

Well, I don't necessarily think there's a place for the RCMP per se. I think there's a societal role for having some kind of police force that doesn't pack automatic weaponry with it. I think more if we actually move to the notion of a peace force or peacekeepers, I think that there's an important role there. So for the RCMP in particular, I think there's a problem. But for having that societal role of people who ensure the laws are obeyed, the protocols are followed. We need to have something there.

[00:26:36.020] - Charles

Normally most people just follow the rules. We're reasonably polite. But there are moments in times where human beings, you need to actually intervene. So I know that's not a simple answer, not even a straight answer. It's kind of convoluted because it's tough one. I mean, I think the thing is, if it's framed, like, does the RCMP have a role? I think the RCMP is implicated in its own history of colonialism. And I think we need to disband the RCMP and restart a new kind of national police force that meets whatever needs the nation state thinks they need.

[00:27:15.690] - Charles

Is there a role for policing of some sort? Yes. But I think it needs to be carefully thought out about what kind of things are done. And so if it comes to issues of wellness visits, as they call it, a euphemistic thing, it's when a person is in crisis and needs support and help, you need the right kind of people to come to the door to do something, and they shouldn't be coming with guns on their side. And it's like if you have a heart attack, an ambulance turns up.

[00:27:45.820] - Charles

I think we're really looking. We need to expand our paramedics and move that into a different role, that kind of first responder role, or even the paramedics attached to the fire Department who in those kinds of roles. There are thefts, and there are violent acts that do kind of occur, but they are going down. If you actually look at crime statistics, despite what the Vancouver Police Department recently published in this survey. Crime statistics, violent crime has actually been dropping during the pandemic, and it's been dropping historically for many years.

[00:28:17.990] - Charles

So the types of crime that people are worried about occurring really are diminishing. That raises all kinds of questions about why is it that we need to have an armed Constabulary rolling around almost like looking for a fight? I mean, that's not fair to the people who are in the because, like all occupations, there's many people going to these occupations with sincerity and good intentions. And I go back to Avi Bornstein's work I mentioned at the beginning, often the structures under which they're placed in order to do their job.

[00:28:56.460] - Charles

that makes violence become the shortcut to get the job done. And that's a problem.

[00:29:04.950] - A.H.

Do you see any analogues between the RCMP and then campus security, then if crime rates are dropping and of course, on UBC, crime is less than off campus. Right. Do you think that I guess the role of campus security should be rethought as well to kind of be more community focused.

[00:29:23.020] - Charles

Potentially because I suspect it's useful to rethink what's the role this unit plays. It used to be when this campus had fewer students, fewer people living here, that it was a kind of empty space that you needed to be concerned about physical wellbeing of property. It's like the Museum, the security guards at the gate of the Museum. Part of that process they watch the access and control access, and the Museum is contractually obligated by its insurance company to have a proper security force because they carry certain goods. The insurers say

[00:30:06.550] - Charles

if you want these goods, to keep these artifacts and objects and you want them insured, you have to have the proper type of security system here. And there's other units on campus that have that kind of thing, and that's reasonable. There's programs that, like Safewalk, which is run as a volunteer thing through the AMS, I believe. I think it's volunteer.

[00:30:33.730] - Charles

 But those kind of services. There was a time when security was running used to run the shuttle buses on campus, which is now run by BC Transit. And so UBC ran those shuttle buses because they realized there was a problem with people's personal well being. So the UBC administration said, okay, we'll run two shuttle busses around campus, and then they realize that this is a pretty good thing people are using them, and then they want to offload the cost because it was a free shuttle bus.

[00:31:07.090] - Charles

And now you have to have a card. So BC Transit runs it on a contract basis. So I don't know anything in the past, campus traffic, it used to be traffic and security or security and traffic or parking or something like that. I think they split those. But there was almost more community orientation in the past, and it might be interesting looking at how it's evolved and the people making the management decisions about running it. As I said, I had to back my mind. They're former or retired RCMP officers, which could structure how you think about things, becuase that's your training, right.

[00:31:46.750] - Charles

I'd almost like somebody who's more a community organizer to be in charge of something like this or what they call community development officer or something.

[00:31:55.990] - A.H.

Yeah. I think that as a campus community, we're all really keenly looking forward to seeing what happens with this Journal, because I think the public consultation just closed, like last week or something like that.

[00:32:08.600] - Charles

That was cool.

[00:32:11.530] - A.H.

It really struck me. It was very soon, because in the story that you mentioned, I guess we'll see what the results come from, but, yeah, there was everything that I kind of wanted to ask. Is there anything that you wanted to get on the record?

[00:32:30.490] - Charles

Sounds pretty good. It wasn't something I was on top of my mind to begin with. So you kind of maybe have to ruminate on it a bit?

[00:32:38.630] - A.H.

No. I mean, it definitely fell off the radar for a little bit, but with this external review, it kind of came back. One kind of personal question, though. I'm curious to your name.

[00:32:54.290] - Charles

Hagwil Hayetsk. You can use Charles Menzies, but no. Hagwil Hayetskt is my Gitxaala name. 

[00:33:08.530] - A.H.

Yeah, no Board of Governors. It said Hagwil Hayetskt. So we were just like, oh, what do you call them? Which can we still call you?

[00:33:17.240] - Charles

Oh, yeah. Charles is fine.

[00:33:22.950] - A.H.

All right. Well, thank you so much for your time, Dr. Menzies, I really appreciate that.

[00:33:26.390] - Charles

You're welcome.