Is Senate Protective Services overly protective of us during Aboriginal Protests?

June 26, 2013    

Senator Lillian Eva Dyck, Saskatchewan


On examining the memos from Senate Protective Services regarding three recent protests on Parliament hill, disturbing differences in their approach are apparent.

The tone of the messages of the memos from Senate Protective Services differs depending on identity of the protest group.

The memos sent regarding the Aboriginal Idle No More protests in January and last week have a pervasive, underlying tone of fear for personal safety that does not appear in the memo regarding the anti-abortion March for Life protest three months ago.

The main message of the  March for Life memo is on pedestrian and vehicular access to the hill, while the main messages for the Aboriginal events is on personal safety and security.  

For the March for Life event, security measures and barricades are said to be put in place to accommodate the crowd and access to the hill;  there is no mention of personal safety - though safe access is mentioned once.  For the Aboriginal events, however, there is a directive not to interact with the demonstrators, and there are mentions of security barricades and access control measures for personal safety, and a concluding message of reassurance about the efficacy of collaborative security and emergency procedures.

This different perspectives are inherent in the overall tone of the memos.  In the March for Life memo, Wellington street is closed, but in the Idle No More memo, it is closed for safety reasons.   In the March for Life memo, ID cards are to be displayed to facilitate access to the hill, while in the Aboriginal event memos, ID cards seem to be necessary to protect oneself from being mistaken for a protester.

The differences in the tone of the memos are unmistakeable and unsettling.  The characterization of Aboriginal events as something to be worried about is unacceptable - such heightened concerns about security and personal safety are stereotypical responses to Aboriginal people that should be eliminated.  If you expect trouble, you are prone to over-react or look for trouble where this is none.   Approaching Aboriginal people with this frame of mind may well be a self-fulfilling approach.

If a Francophone group were protesting on the hill, we would not tolerate this type of messaging in official memos.  Such messaging should not be tolerated for Aboriginal groups either.

Given the current political climate, there will be more and more Aboriginal protests on the hill, Senate Protective Services must reassess its responses, written and otherwise, to Aboriginal dissenting voices.  If Senate Protective Services does not change its approach, I fear that the voices of innocent, peaceful demonstrators will not be heard, and in the worst case scenario, Aboriginal protestors may even be unnecessarily be detained or harmed during security interventions.

As a first step, Senate Protective Services must change the style of their future memos concerning Aboriginal demonstrations on the hill to be more factual and their approach be better balanced in terms of controlling and at the same time, allowing protests on the hill.  Furthermore, Senate Protective Services must introduce or strengthen any existing cross-cultural training, sensitivity training and examine equity issues for Aboriginal personnel.