"While unpleasant it is a service to Humanity": the RCMP's war on drugs in the Interwar Period

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Authors

Colleges, School and Institutes

Abstract

In 1998, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) celebrated the 125th anniversary of its creation; however, the modern RCMP had actually come into existence in 1920 as a completely different police force from the North West Mounted Police of 1873. In 1917, the force had, with the exception of the northern territories, given up ordinary policing duties to devote its full attention to domestic wartime security and to sending an overseas contingent to Europe. After 1921, the future of the Mounted Police was uncertain. Continuing it in its present form, relegating it exclusively to the north, or abolishing it completely were among the options considered. In the end, however, it survived and eventually prospered, returning to provincial policing duties first in Saskatchewan in 1928 and then in several other provinces in 1932. Why and how the RCMP survived is the subject of this essay. There have been two recent historical interpretations. One points to the RCMP’s intelligence work against radicals, labour, and ethnic minorities as key to its demonstrating its importance within the Canadian state. An opposing interpretation argues that the significance of intelligence work has been overstated and that the real story of the RCMP’s survival related to the cost and efficiency of its work for federal government departments. This essay offers a third approach, looking at the important but little examined “war on drugs" that the RCMP fought in the 1920s. The campaign against drugs was inspired by racist discourses against Asian-Canadians in an era of great fear towards challenges to Anglo-Canadian dominance. Although they firmly believed in the cause for which they fought, the RCMP, employing the same methods that they used against communists and others, also capitalized on the hysteria in an effort to convince the Canadian state of its importance and, in the process, ensure its survival.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-104
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Canadian Studies
Volume38
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2004