The “thin blue line” has become a symbol of solidarity among police officers across Canada, but a recent memo from one of the country’s largest police forces is advising officers they can no longer wear it while on duty.
“The subdued flag with a blue bar has become widespread in North America as a sign of solidarity and support for police,” Al McCambridge, corps sergeant major with the RCMP’s executive, wrote in a memo obtained by Global News. “While this may be common, it is not an approved symbol and is not to be worn on our uniform.
“We have been a focal point in difficult public conversations about the role of police in our society.”
The thin blue line represents the line officers walk daily between life and death. It is also seen as a show of solidarity.
The RCMP is asking officers to instead wear the commemorative blue ribbon.
“Police officers in this day and age, especially in the RCMP, are an extremely diverse group that reflect all communities, that reflect all walks of life, so we should, as a group, embrace what makes us united,” said union president Brian Sauvé, who represents the National Police Federation (NPF).
“The NPF was not engaged or consulted by RCMP management on this directive so there was some concern, some surprise.”
Critics are weighing in across North America, saying the symbol creates an us-versus-them mentality and doesn’t help to strengthen ties between the police and the people they are meant to serve, pointing to recent events such as the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the U.S. and Chantel Moore in New Brunswick.
“They have always struck back with this rhetoric of police solidarity, or this is part of our job and you don’t understand our job, or in this case the thin blue line’,” said El Jones, an activist and professor based in Halifax.
Halifax’s board of police commissioners recently appointed Jones to work to define the meaning of de-funding the police.
“It’s an ideology that imagines the world as this violent, chaotic place, were it not for the police, and that sets a mindset around crime and a certain mindset of particularly who is on the other side of that blue line, which traditionally have been Black people and Indigenous people and people who are outside the middle class, white ideal of public safety,” added Jones.
There is also concern that eliminating the patch is simply lip-service that doesn’t necessarily support the need to address systemic racism within police forces across Canada, including the RCMP.
“You can tell them to wear the patch all you want but that problem is still going to be there,” said Sandy Hudson, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada (BLM).
BLM has been calling for the de-funding of police and re-investment in social services.
“We need to have some sort of emergency service to deal with those issues, we can’t afford to do that unless we take away some of that money from the police,” Hudson said.
Christian Leuprecht, a security expert based at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University in Kingston, said it’s quite likely the RCMP will set a new precedent with this directive, and one other forces will consider.
“They will find other forms of expression that perhaps management might be even less happy with than these somewhat subtle manifestations that probably much of the public wouldn’t pick up on,” Leuprecht said.
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) issued a similar directive earlier this year informing officers to only wear government-issued uniforms.
“Members of the OPP shall not wear any non-issued OPP uniform items. We must remain and demonstrate neutrality and remain non-partisan. There have not been any direct references to ‘the thin blue line’,” writes OPP acting sergeant Kerry Schmidt.
Sources within the Toronto Police Service (TPS) say that force has also been advised to only wear city-issued uniforms.