“When They Hand You Your Uniform, They Forget to Say, ‘Hand Me Your Soul’”: Incidents and Impacts of Institutional Betrayal in Canadian Police Services

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1-23-2023


Social Problems




This interdisciplinary study applies Erving Goffman’s sociological theory of the total institution and the psychological framework of institutional betrayal to better understand how ongoing gendered and racialized power structures are maintained in Canadian policing. An intersectional analysis of 116 in-depth interviews with police officers from 31 police services and an on-line, national survey (N = 727) reveal that steep institutional requirements of assimilation and conformity, combined with various, commonly reported mechanisms of institutional betrayal effectively silenced, discredited, and/or minimized reports of sexual and gender and/or race-based workplace abuse. This led to significantly negative impacts on racialized women, men, and white women’s mental health, retention rates, and willingness to report workplace abuse. Overall, this study found the ongoing presence of systemic racism and sexism within police services across Canada, institutional knowledge of their existence, coordinated efforts to contain complaints, and ongoing resistance to meaningful change.