YORKwrites: Professor doesn’t buy the police force’s argument

YORKwrites, a joint presentation of York University Libraries and York University Bookstores, showcases and celebrates the breadth and depth of York’s scholarly publications, research and creative work. From now until Nov. 5, YFile and YORKwrites will shine a spotlight on various University innovators and creators. Here is the third in a series. 

Professor Margaret Beare (left), jointly appointed to the Department of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, has made a career out of research for, and about, the police. She argues that in every era, the police, in concert with politicians and others, tend to develop a perceived threat that she calls the “dangerous class”.

From 1982 to 1993, Beare worked in the office of the solicitor general in Ottawa, where she researched organized crime and worked on issues related to crime enforcement policies and practices. After that, Beare put in a brief stint as a visiting instructor at Queen’s University where she says she was “cleansed” of her bureaucratic coating. She arrived at York in 1996 and became the inaugural director of the Jack & Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime & Security. Beare’s research turns a critical eye on law enforcement.

Her PhD dissertation, involving a study of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force from 1957 to 1987, was titled The Selling of the Police. Beare examined the rhetoric of policing – the language and the arguments used by police, consciously and unconsciously, publicly and privately, to engender a sense of danger or hysteria from often innocuous circumstances.

In Beare’s co-authored book Police and Government Relations: Who’s Calling the Shots? (2007), she cites the example of the hippies who began populating the Yorkville area during the 1960s. Initially, the police viewed them as harmless folks hanging out in coffee shops. Then, suddenly, they were labelled as disease ridden and fire trucks were sent in to disperse them; zoning rules were changed to drive them away; politicians all clamoured for their removal; then the police drew attention to their drug use; and the rationale continued that if there were drugs, there must be organized crime. Hippies quickly became the dangerous class, asserts Beare.

Beare doesn’t throw all the blame at the police. “The packaging of the argument varies,” she says. However, says Beare, it involves a partnership among politicians, the police force and the media. She also isn’t saying that a threat doesn’t exist, simply that the response to it is often incommensurate or inappropriate.

Why does this happen? Beare argues, “When you have a political motivation around a notion of dangerousness, the police will buy into it. But it’s also really advantageous to them because it means they will receive more resources, a higher profile and media attention.” Why is this bad? One of the issues, Beare contends, is the resultant misallocation of government resources to combat the perceived threat.

Beare points a finger at money laundering, the topic of her recently co-authored book Money Laundering in Canada: The Chasing of Dirty and Dangerous Dollars (2007). "There’s an international hysteria surrounding money laundering and, to combat it, Canada is reputed to have created the second largest financial intelligence unit in the world – FINTRAC, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada,” she says. The successful seizure and forfeiture of illicit funds from criminal activity is a very expensive enterprise and may not justify the cost of its undertaking, says Beare. Cases are difficult and time-consuming to prove and due to issues of privacy and security, there is no mechanism for public accountability to prove the effectiveness of the policy.

Since the creation of this vast government operation in 2000, Beare argues, it has not achieved any greater results than those achieved before its existence. However, she says, Canadian law enforcement policies and legislative powers are directly influenced by international formal agreements and informal pressures. And now that terrorist financing is being linked to all money laundering rhetoric, resisting what is deemed to be an adequate response by Washington is politically very difficult.

Beare is very excited about her next book, Honouring Social Justice: Honouring Dianne Martin. She edited it, contributed two chapters and shot the cover photograph. The book, due out in November, is dedicated to late Osgoode Professor Dianne Martin, a co-founder of the Innocence Project and champion of those mistreated by the justice system. All proceeds will go to the Dianne Martin Scholarship Fund.

Beare’s areas of expertise cover transnationalization of crime and law enforcement; public and private policing; organized crime; women and the criminal justice system; money laundering; and public policing strategies and corrections. Beare’s Criminal Conspiracies: Organized Crime in Canada (1996) was the first academic book to look at organized crime in Canada and remains the authoritative reference for scholarship in the field. She continues to provide expert counsel during legislative committee readings of bills in development in parliament.

By David Wallace, interim communications coordinator, Faculty of Arts

Want your work included in the YORKwrites database? Visit the YORKwrites Web site and let organizers know what you’ve published or created in the past year. The third annual YORKwrites reception takes place Nov. 5 at the Steacie Science & Engineering Library.