Big Oil is financing police foundations in Canada to the tune of at least $7.9 million, the bulk of which appears to be directed to police foundations in Alberta. According to Martin Lukacs and Tim Groves writing for the Tyee, some of these corporate funds have been funnelled to purchase militarized equipment for police forces. These initial findings highlight the need for far more public scrutiny of this practice.
The timing of this dubious financial practice also comes as communities across the country, led by Indigenous and Black communities, are demanding scrutiny of police budgets. The deaths of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and so many more has sparked a new chapter in the Black Lives Matter movement with a wave of protests against police violence in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.
Critics are also increasingly questioning governments’ use of police to stop or hinder peaceful protest, to repress Indigenous land defenders, and to inflict violence on Black and other racialized people and communities. Recent examples have documented corporations, including those associated with Big Oil, calling on police to enforce their court-ordered injunctions, which they do – sometimes violently.
The ability of corporations to influence police action, trampling our rights to protest and dissent is troubling. Even more troubling is the financial link we have uncovered between police agencies and these powerful corporations.
Across the country, police departments receive funds from private police foundations, which enables private companies to give money to police forces through these foundations.
The book Corporatizing Canada: Making Business out of Public Service describes the role of police foundations as a way for police departments to circumvent laws and police department rules that prevent them from directly receiving private sponsorships. “The private dimension allows much information about foundation activities to remain obscured under its ‘shell’ as well as for the foundation to act as a go-between for private donors and public police.”
The authors confirm that not all police foundations operate the same way. Some simply engage in what would qualify as charitable activities. However, there is “another set of police foundations that have adopted a corporate model that raises private funds primarily for public police equipment and programming.”
They note that “Donations and sponsorships can be filtered through these shell corporations, whereas similar funds passed directly to police would raise questions of corruption or bias.” The foundations also play a role in “buffering police agencies and their top brass from accusations of impropriety.” The authors note that it’s common for police foundation boards to include members from major corporations, including fossil fuel company executives.
Police foundations backed by Big Oil
As of 2017, police foundations were in place in at least Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Abbotsford, Delta, Montreal, London and Winnipeg, according to a motion that passed in Halifax to establish one there as well. Since then, one has also been set up in Saskatoon. There are also provincial police foundations in Ontario and Quebec.
Corporate links have existed in Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police as well. The Halifax motion also notes that “In 1994, the RCMP Foundation (formerly known as the Mounted Police Foundation) was initially formed as an independent arms-length organization through a collaborative effort with The Walt Disney Company.”
Here are some examples of the money that has been funnelled by corporations into police foundations.
LNG Canada, the export facility intended to be the end point for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, has donated between $15,000 to $24,999 to the Vancouver Police Foundation. LNG Canada’s director of corporate affairs also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Vancouver Police Foundation.
The book Corporatizing Canada notes that Enbridge has donated at least $25,000 to the Edmonton Police Foundation.
The Calgary Police Foundation has received millions of dollars in financing from Big Oil.
According to the foundation, it counts TC Energy, owner of the Coastal GasLink pipelines, as an “annual donor.” Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Cenovus Energy Inc., Enbridge Inc., Encana Corporation, MEG Energy, Talisman Energy Inc. are all “founding donors” that have contributed at least $1 million. CNOOC International, Gibson Energy, and Husky Energy Inc. are all “founding visionaries” that have donated between $500,000 and $999,999. FirstEnergy Capital Corp. and Keyera Corp. are Founding Champions that have donated between $100,000 and $249,999. Cenovus Employee Foundation and Imperial Oil Foundation are “Founding Benefactors” giving between $50,000 to $99,999 and Canadian Oil Sands Limited, Flint Energy Services Ltd., and Vermilion Energy Inc. are “Founding Pace Setters” donating $25,000 to $49,999 each.
Enbridge, Cenovus, Interpipeline, Pembina, TC Energy, and the Canadian Energy Executive Association have all sponsored the foundation’s awards gala.
The Enbridge partnership with the Calgary Police Foundation includes a museum geared to field trips for Grade Six students. Despite claiming that this “YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre” is “an experiential learning exhibit on healthy relationships,” an Enbridge photo of the exhibit includes police dogs, a police helicopter and armoured police aiming assault rifles. A photo on the museum’s website appears to indicate that children who visit get an opportunity to dress up as riot police. According to the museum, “classes are bused to and from YouthLink Calgary on the Enbridge Bus.”
In addition to the fossil fuel industry, police foundations have major backers from a range of other sectors with vested corporate interests. These include banks and financial institutions, retail and food industry, big tech and communications, sports institutions, universities and more.
The role of police foundations in racial and climate injustice
This relationship places police forces into a deep conflict of interest, benefiting financially from donations from Big Oil to police foundations while enforcing the priorities of fossil fuel corporations. These alarming findings have placed charitable police foundations at the intersection of racism in policing, privatization, corporate power, and the climate crisis.
A recent investigation by the U.S.-based organizations Public Accountability Initiative and LittleSis revealed that the American fossil fuel giants are funding police organizations in Black and Brown communities in major cities in the United States. Through its large donations to police foundations, Big Oil isn’t just fueling the climate crisis, it’s fueling the crises of racism and police brutality too.
The reports states that “The ongoing [Black Lives Matter] protests have emphasized that police exist to enforce a racist social order that protects corporations, capital and buildings rather than black and brown lives. Police foundations are a key space for orchestrating, normalizing, and celebrating the collaboration between corporate power and the police… This symbiotic relationship between the fossil fuel industry and police often means that the companies that are polluting Black and Brown communities […] are the same ones that are aligned with and propping up police forces in these same cities. This is why divesting from fossil fuels and fighting to end environmental racism goes hand in hand with defunding the police in the fight for racial justice and reinvestment in Black and Brown communities.”
The report argues that police foundations serve several purposes: to bypass accountability for overall police budgets, including enabling the purchase of “equipment and weapons with little public input or oversight,” and to provide “a public-private structure wherein the corporate elite can overtly support police departments through direct donations, sponsorships, special programs, and by serving as directors on foundations’ boards.”
This funding of policing by Big Oil and other corporations is doing an end run around democratic oversight and accountability, has partially privatized policing across Canada and the U.S., and is deepening the sway of fossil fuel CEOs over policing creating disturbing and dangerous conflicts of interest.
These findings led us to look into fossil fuel corporations financing of police foundations north of the colonial border and it quickly became clear that this phenomenon is not unique to the U.S. What we are presenting here is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Further research is warranted to identify the full list of police foundations in Canada, their funding, and the degree to which that funding is being used for programming, equipment and militarization.
Meanwhile, as a similar pattern of financing unfolds in north of the border, Black and Indigenous people in Canada are far more likely to die in police shootings than white people. Between April and June this year, police shot and killed eight Indigenous Peoples in Canada. In January, RCMP invaded Wet'suwet'en territory at gunpoint, which sparked blockades – and police and vigilantes violently dismantling of those blockades – from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
With growing concerns here in Canada and in the U.S. of systemic racism, violence, and killing by police forces that disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and racialized people, and calls for defunding the police, we must take the time to look more closely at the growing corporate influence in Canada’s police forces.