Police Liaison: The 411
What’s the deal with Indigenous Liaison officers?
If you have ever attended a #LandBack occupation, you most undoubtedly have seen heavily armed and armoured police. But there also exist within these ranks “friendly” and “sincere” Indigenous Liaison officers who have received special training in Indigenous history and politics. Born of a recommendation of the Ipperwash inquiry after Dudley George was murdered by the Ontario Provincial Police after Premier Mike Harris infamously ordered them to “get those fucking Indians out of the park,” liaison officers have become a key way for the OPP to manage “critical incidents” with Onkwehon:we land defenders.
This year, we’ve seen this framework utilized with arrests of Land Stewards from Wet’suwet’en to Tyendinaga, and again in Six Nations in March of 2020, when OPP Indigenous Liaison officers offered a “deal” if occupiers would remove the Highway 6 bypass blockades in Caledonia. This was in exchange for not arresting a group of young men who had just departed to the train tracks.
When dealing with the police liaison officers during #LandBack occupations, have you ever noticed how overly friendly and understanding they are? One might think that discussions are lively and well-intended, but we’ve been here before!
They weren’t always called liaisons, and they are cut from the same cloth that made Indian agents and colonial spies. OPP liaisons visit #LandBack occupations with the intent to negotiate the removal of the occupiers and to enable the continuation of the colonial process. They understand only enough of the history of the land as is necessary to get the Indians off of it.
Liaison officers say that their job is to work with all parties and to foster temporary agreements that “de-escalate” the situation so that land-defenders will quietly go back to their homes and cease obstructing the questionable land deals made by Federal Indian Act Band Councils.
The main purpose of Liaison officers is to gather information about the nature of the Indigenous resistance they are facing. They are debriefed by their bosses after every interaction, and the information they gather will be used against land defenders in court. A crucial factor that enables them to gather this information is the building of trust. That is why the officers will appear to be sincere and caring, and will often show up with coffee and food and may offer tobacco or sweetgrass.
Liaison officers will attempt to build relationships with whoever will talk to them, and collect phone numbers to build “back channel communications” with those they think they can influence or ‘turn.’ As friendly as they are, their job is primarily to deliver data back to the commander. They seek to find out numbers, how many males, how many females, locations, setup, tools, etc.
Liaisons are also looking to determine the mindset of the group, and how organized are they? What sort of support do they have? Who are the leaders? What are the contradictions within the group? They are focussed on gathering intelligence to assess how and when to strike utilizing the tools of the colonial judicial system.
During the rail shut down in Tyendinaga in February of 2020, the only liaison officers that were used were attractive blonde women who the OPP must have thought would be especially effective in checking-in and talking every day with occupiers while also returning to their superiors with information after each session.
So the next time that you see that “helpful” OPP Liaison officer showing up at your #LandBack action, remember that they are not your friend. And keep in mind that whatever you say to them can and will be used against you.
For more information about legal strategies and rights you have in dealing with Canadian police, check out the following Legal Guide for Activists released by the Movement Defence Committee of the Law Union of Ontario.