Strikes, protests and demonstrations can be tense at the best of times. They have the potential to escalate into violent confrontations.
What's the role of the police in these situations? How should the police approach them?
Instead of being reactive, the RCMP in Nova Scotia is revisiting a tried-and-true approach — a measured approach — to proactively police situations such as strikes and protests.
"A measured approach means acting as a facilitator to try and identify what the issues are and to create proactive communication between the parties with a goal of de-escalating or mitigating or even resolving the issue if at all possible, while respecting the law," says S/Sgt. Jeff Christie, who is leading this initiative.
It's a return to a philosophy adopted by the RCMP in Nova Scotia during fisheries protests in Digby, N.S, back in the 1990s. It was deemed a best practice and several years ago the RCMP offered a workshop to its members on the measured approach.
With frequent labour strikes and peaceful protests in the province, and more serious protests from time to time, the timing was right to focus once again on this neutral philosophy so front-line police officers are prepared to respond in the future.
Christie built on the first workshop's foundation to develop a new session, which was offered in May to police officers in Nova Scotia and outside agencies, like the Department of Public Safety.
The workshop looks at provincial policy, criminal and labour laws, social media, escalation, mediation and conflict, and aboriginal awareness and disputes.
Guest speakers were brought in to speak to each issue, including Ret. Insp. Jim Potts.
With 36 years of experience with the RCMP and another nine with the Ontario Provincial Police, Potts, who is aboriginal, was called in to assist during numerous crises. These included band office occupations and road blocks, and more complex situations, like the Oka, Ipperwash, Burnt Church protests, and more recently the anti-fracking demonstrations in Rexton, N.B.
Potts focused on the role that police play in First Nations communities and the importance of building positive relationships right across the board.
Potts' philosophy is, "You can't build a house while it's burning down," so he's pleased that the RCMP is revisiting this approach. He says that in many of the situations he was called in to assist with, the local detachments had little or no positive relationship with the First Nations community prior to the crisis developing.
"The key is to constantly work at building a positive relationship so people know and trust each other," Potts says. "Then, when you do have to step up to the plate, you can work together to ensure safety for all. Peace is not the absence of violence. Peace is the presence of trust."
Keeping the peace
Christie says he hopes that people will take away a broader understanding of the measured-approach philosophy, policies, important background, context and sensitivities from the workshop so when it comes to responding to strikes, protests or any other related issue, police officers can be as effective as possible.
"It's important to take a broad-based approach to try and make sure that our front-line police officers are as informed today as they can be around how we respond to these types of things," Christie says.
As the officer in charge of the Kings District Detachment in Nova Scotia, Insp. Chris MacNaughton says this is an important initiative for Nova Scotia as well as the RCMP in general.
"The measured approach allows me to have a greater understanding of what's required, so I can make sure that I have systems in place and properly trained members in my district to enable us to effectively respond to incidents of unrest or demonstrations," MacNaughton says.
Learning some of the best practices honed in the province over many years will help the RCMP in Nova Scotia respond to future events even more effectively.
"The feedback from our first workshop was extremely positive," says Christie. "Revisiting the philosophy was a priority to support our front-line police officers and the communities we police."