Margaret Beare

Margaret Beare (Faculty of Arts/Osgoode Hall Law School)

Margaret Beare, a joint appointee of the Department of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Osgoode Hall Law School, has made a career out of researching 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”.

After leaving the offices of the Solicitor General in Ottawa where, from 1982-1993, she researched organized crime and worked on issues related to crime enforcement policies and practices, Beare put in a brief stint as a visiting instructor at Queen’s University where she claims to have been “cleansed” of her bureaucratic coating. She arrived at York in 1996 and became the inaugural director of the Jack and Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and 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 examines 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? (U of T Press, 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 changes to drive them away; politicians all clamoured for their removal; then the police drew attention to their drug use; the rationale continued that if there were drugs, there must be organized crime. Hippies quickly became the “dangerous class”.

Beare doesn’t throw all the blame at the police. She says, “The packaging of the argument varies.” However, 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? Beare would contend, in part, that one of the issues is the resultant misallocation of government resources to combat the perceived threat.

Beare points a finger at money laundering and alludes to her recently co-authored book Money Laundering in Canada: The Chasing of Dirty and Dangerous Dollars (U of T Press, 2007). She states, “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.” 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, she continues, now that terrorist financing is being linked to all money laundering rhetoric, resisting what is deemed to be an ‘adequate’ response by our neighbours is, politically, very difficult.

Beare is very excited about her next book titled 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; public policing strategies and corrections. Beare’s Criminal Conspiracies: Organized Crime in Canada (Nelson 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.

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[YORKwrites would like to thank David Wallace, interim communications coordinator, Faculty of Arts for providing this profile]