November 1998
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Canadian Content Part V- They Always Get their Man

by John Hansen

For a country that claims to be peaceful, it's ironic that one of our national symbols is a law enforcement figure. 1998 marks the 125th birthday of Canada's national police force: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In myth, they are the stoic defenders of peace, order, and good government. In reality they sometimes can be a little more flawed.

An actual Mountie Founded in the 1870's as a force to protect Canada's expansion into the Northwest Territories, the Mounties have enjoyed a relatively good reputation as helpful, polite, peace officers in a smashing uniform. By the way, they don't always wear it: it's for ceremonial occassions. The uniform itself, while striking, is rather a goofy amalgam of British Redcoat, fox hunter britches, and forest ranger wide brimmed hat but, baby, do they pull it off.

But as the police force grew, so did their reputation. There were the early Hollywood serials. These Saturday afternoon flicks usually involved some American crook or another crossing the border to hide in the wilds of Canada. And they were indeed wild. Untamed woods stretched before them where one could only expect to meet some crazy Frenchman (in Saskatchewan, no less), wild Indians, and of course, the Mountie who would bring them back to face trial in the States. The cliff-hangers were predictable enough: Mountie is trapped by brush fire while crooks escape, crooks lead Mountie into deadly encounter with Indians, crooks lead Mountie into deadly encounter with moose. Only one serial seemed to break the mold: Canadian Mounties Vs. Atomic Invaders. Despite their advanced technology, these aliens were no match for a good service revolver and trusty steed.

Later incarnations of the popular Mountie myth included Rocky and Bullwinkle staple Dudley Do-Right. Squared-jawed and dashing, Do-Right would somehow manage to get his man through bumbling, all the while maintaining a passionate relationship with his horse (named "Horse"). The most current incarnation is a Canadian television series: Due South which follows a Mountie living in Chicago. While working at the Canadian Embassy, Constable Benton Fraser helps the Chicago P.D. solve crimes of a cross-border nature. The series pokes fun at Canadians perceptions of themselves, of Mounties, and of Americans, all the while playing as a nicely written and humoursly acted cop show. Fraser, for example, wears his dress uniform at all times and blithely informs would be assailants that his sidearm is unloaded in concordance with the laws of the USA. He also says "thank you kindly" a lot.

In reality, Mounties mostly serve as law enforcement for small towns that can't afford their own police force, as well as serve in intelligence gathering, and heading federal investigations, much like the FBI. At the moment, however, if you turn on a Canadian news programme, you'll get coverage of a scandal involving our men and women in red. Last year, Canada hosted the APEC, a conference of Asian economic leaders. Invited to the gathering was Indonesian president Suharto, who has been accused of genocide. Not pleased with seeing this fellow in Canada several students protested his appearance. In what seems to be an order from the Prime Minister's office, the RCMP pepper sprayed and detained dozens of protesters simply to avoid Suharto embarassment, despite the fact that the protesters were acting peacefully.

Somewhere between peace, order, and good government, somebody decided that also meant suppression of rights. Makes one nostaligic for those atomic invaders.

Sites of interest:

The RCMP Home Page
The Globe and Mail (for more news on the APEC inquiry)

Go get him, Jessica!

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