Within hours of the Palestinian armed uprising, and as Israel vowed revenge on the people of Gaza, police forces across Canada put out messages saying that they would ramp up patrols to protect Jewish Canadians.
No such messaging was put out promising to protect Palestinians. Critics say their suffering and grief was dismissed, as they were demonised and treated as a threat.
Statements by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and city police in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal were widely decried as racist. Some Jewish critics of the Israeli state suggested that the coordinated messaging was no coincidence and likely influenced by Zionist organisations in Canada. They have also said that it is antisemitic to suggest Jewish people are a monolith or view the Israeli state or Palestinian resistance similarly.
While police had to clarify that there were no apparent threats to Jewish communities in their cities, nonetheless, the messaging signalled to Palestinians and the Palestinian solidarity movements that any planned protests would be subject to intensified surveillance and possibly criminalisation.
These fears were almost immediately realised, as photos circulated on social media showing Toronto cops confronting Palestinians and allies and trying to take down flags and banners hung in support of Palestine. People noted that the police presence was atypical as banners had previously been hung at the same location without harassment.
This reminds us that policing — in settler-colonial societies like Canada — has always been a central force for dispossession, displacement and containment.
Canadian police train alongside Israeli state security forces, and have been deployed in numerous imperialist military operations globally.
The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States drew attention to the two-decades-long training cooperation and exchangeprogram between US police forces and Israeli security forces. Yet connections between Canadian and Israeli forces have been very little discussed.
Canadian police connections with Israel
Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions told audiences in Canada: “Israel is involved in your prison systems. It’s involved in training the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It’s involved in your airport security.”
Some of the connections are longstanding, but have been the subject of very little public scrutiny. For example, 32 Canadian chiefs of police travelled to Israel in 2005, to attend events hosted by the Israeli Police and the Israeli Ministry of Internal Security. A few months later, 39 police chiefs made another trip to Israel.
At the time, Ontario government Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Monte Kwinter said that the police chiefs were learning lessons that could help improve security in Ontario. “This is a wonderful opportunity not only to look behind-the-scenes at Israeli security, policing and emergency management techniques, but also to meet with senior Israeli security officials,” he said.
The Ontario contingent was headed by York Regional Police Chief Armand LaBarge, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Gwen Boniface, Emergency Management Commissioner Julian Fantino, and representatives of the Ontario Police College. While in Israel, they attended police field units, the Israeli border police, anti-terrorist units, and a rehabilitation centre for injured police officers.
Vancouver police chief Adam Palmer hosted Israeli police Major General Avshalom Peled — then commander of the Border Police Unit 33 — on July 8, 2018. Palmer called him an “insightful leader”. Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Vancouver disputed this characterisation, saying Peled was “notorious for violent suppression of an entire population through widespread human rights violations including extrajudicial killings”.
A representative of Zionist organisation, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), addressed the Vancouver Police Board (VPB) on June 19, 2019, as part of an effort to persuade it to “formally adopt the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism and to ask relevant units of the VPD to make use of it as a tool.” How that tool might be deployed was not specified.
The RCMP is the central military force of Canadian colonialism. It has also been deployed in imperialist exercises throughout its existence — from involvement in the Boer War and the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force against the Russian Revolution, up to the present. Indeed it proudly proclaims its involvement in imperialist exercises from Haiti to Mali in the past few years.
With regard to the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestine, the RCMP has taken part in active training maneuvers with Israeli forces.RCMP members currently serve with Israeli forces as part of Operation Proteus, which the Canadian government describes as “Canada’s contribution to the Office of the United States Security Coordinator in Jerusalem”.
In their role within Operation Proteus, Canadian police work as police advisors to the team that coordinates security matters between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. According to Brigadier-General Jeannot Boucher, commander of Task Force Jerusalem, the Canadian contingent represents the largest group in the mission.
Canadian writer, and chronicler of Canadian state imperialism, Yves Engler has criticised public discussions of Proteus for ignoring “how Canadian military trainers and aid have supported the creation of a Palestinian security force explicitly to enforce Israel’s occupation of the West Bank”. Engler draws on the work of criminologist Jeffrey Monaghan, who has documented Canada’s role in turning Palestinian security forces in the West Bank into an arm of the Israeli state’s occupation.
Using previously classified materials, Monaghan outlines the Canadian contribution to joint operating centres with the primary objective “to integrate elements of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces into Israeli command”. Through Canada’s contributions, the Palestinian Civilian Police have “increasingly been tasked by the Israeli Defense Forces as a lead agency to deal with public order policing, most recently during IDF bombings in Gaza and during Arab Spring demonstrations.”
Boucher confirmed that “[t]he relationship between Palestinian Authority security forces and the co-ordination with the Israeli Defense Force is happening on a 24/7 basis right now”.
Against policing imperialism
Movements in Canada seeking to defund or abolish police have highlighted the militarisation of policing and raised concerns about how police involvement with imperialist missions brings training, techniques and technologies of war into domestic policing.
I would argue that policing has always been colonial and as such has always taken a militaristic approach to domestic policing — especially regarding policing of Indigenous nations and communities. We must keep track of and learn from relationships, intelligence sharing, and influences from other colonial and imperialist forces — and how these work to build police powers for pacification and resistance.
Movements in the US have paid closer attention to how police forces there have militarized in recent years through contacts with forces such as the Israeli police and military. Much work needs to be done in this regard in the Canadian state context.
Activists have call for an end to exchanges of all kinds with Israeli police officials or units, particularly those that involve any training of Canadian police. In their view, the 2018‒19 events make the Vancouver Police complicit in legitimising Israeli war crimes and promoting anti-Palestinian racism. The responses of police forces across Canada to the 2023 Palestinian resistance have done precisely the same.