On Further Reflection: The lion and the lamb, a wonderful civic emblem

Edward Hicks Peaceable Kingdom 1834 – wikipedia

Originally posted November 15, 2020

It’s a wonder that the badge and shield of the Waterloo Regional Police Service bear the image of the lion and the lamb. How did a biblical motif with pacifist overtones become a symbol for a 21st-century police force? The story begins around the time Waterloo County was established as a formal entity in 1853.

The County was a creature of the province, which at that time was called Canada, itself a creature of British authorities in London. At this particular time, the colonial capital was Québec City.  

The new municipality’s autonomy was limited, but being granted an existence allowed some self-assertion. The very first thing local leaders did was authorize a “corporate or common seal” depicting a lamb and a lion. This was Waterloo County By-law No. 1.  

There is nothing in the minutes that explains why this motif was chosen. But it seems safe to assume that it’s a reference to the pacifist settlers who started coming to the area more than 50 years earlier.

I asked former Regional Chair Ken Seiling if there was any resentment over the symbol in parts of the County where settlers from Pennsylvania did not predominate. He doesn’t think there was. People interpreted the emblem as they saw fit, and it was common to associate the lion with the British Empire. 

In that sense, there’s a connection between the lion in the foreground of the statue of Queen Victoria in the Kitchener park that bears her name.  

The lion is one of the most common heraldic symbols. It is found on the crest of the University of Waterloo, and of the original Waterloo in Belgium. My native land, province and city all fly banners with lions rampant.

The lamb as a civic symbol is relatively rare, but there was one on the coat of arms of my home town in Canada — hanging on a hook.

The Empire is gone now, as is the County. So is my home town. 

A key element of the new order imposed by the province in 1973 was the Waterloo Regional Police Force, later Service, which replaced eight separate city, town and village constabularies, and took over from the Ontario Provincial Police in four townships. 

With modifications, the original seal remains the coat of arms of Waterloo the Region. However, for reasons I don’t fully understand, for everyday use, the motif was gradually set aside in favour of a logo with no wondrous elements whatsoever: It looks like something designed for a propane tank provider, not for what was once the most recognizable and honoured County “brand” in all of Canada. 

Meanwhile, our Police Service has embraced the historic seal and made it a key component of how they present themselves to the public they serve. 

They are peace officers, so it makes sense that way. But the reference is to a prophecy:

When the lion (or the wolf, as Isaiah has it) dwells with the lamb, God promises that no man or beast will “hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” 

When that happens, we won’t need police anymore, at least not for the services they provide today. 

Sculptor Ernest Daetwyler takes a different approach with his public art installation commissioned by the WRPS for their new North Waterloo building on Columbia at Weber.

As Daetwyler describes it, in his work a “powerful and strong, but relaxed lion is posed lying on its side, its tail moving languidly signifying the composure of a contented cat. The newborn lamb, while vulnerably close, is unworried as it looks upon the lion.”

He offers an interpretation: “The lamb stands for youth, getting its first shaky legs of independence as do many students who enter university life in Waterloo. The lion represents community and establishment, patient to let the youthful lamb explore its independence but watchful and protective.”

That’s a novel way to tell the story, and telling the story with artistic insight and license is what Daetwyler was hired to when he was commissioned to do the piece. As he explains further, it’s all about “the juxtaposition and tension of power versus vulnerability, a reality faced by both police and society every day.”

photo courtesy Ernest Daetwyler

I’m sure the artist won’t mind me saying that I’m not totally convinced, especially the wobbly-legged, capricious university student part. He’ll agree that interpretation is best left open to imagination:

What we have here is a unique, aesthetically pleasing, deeply meaningful civic symbol that is truly world class. It is a genuine wonder, and it would be a shame to explain it away.

Democratic Policing

Even though the Waterloo Regional Police Service has only existed for less than 50 of the 167 years that have gone by since County By-law No. 1 was passed, carrying that original seal on the badge says something: To me, it indicates that what we have here is not just another manifestation of modern policing in the abstract, but actual people in an actual place performing actual services.

The badge says that this is an entity that serves, represents and is inextricably bound with a distinct, constantly evolving community of communities with broad historical roots and boundless prospects.

Putting on this badge doesn’t transform police officers into lions. The badge indicates that they are citizens dedicated to service to other citizens. Their strength is not weaponry, training and other leonine qualities, but their commitment and our trust. 

Does that have any bearing on current discussions about the role of police in a just and equitable democracy? It can if we choose to give the emblem and the traditions behind it relevant meaning.

Heritage isn’t something that is mentioned very often in discussions about the role of police in modern societies, which usually deal with statistics, demographics, budgets, managerial considerations, and discussions using the language of political, economic and other social sciences of the day.

The fact that current realities are the product of an ongoing evolutionary process is clearly evident in a colonial context like we have here in the land of the Canadas. We’re still in the process of working things out. 

My emphasis on the importance of connecting policing practices with actual, distinct historical entities like cities and provinces was influenced by this extraordinary “List of killings by law enforcement officers by country” I stumbled upon recently in Wikipedia. 

It is somewhat reassuring to see that the rate of deaths at the hands of security forces here in Canada is ⅓ that of the United States or Mexico. 

It is sobering to realize that by world standards, police in the U.S. and Mexico are only moderately violent, and that law enforcement is most deadly in what the chart designates as “the Americas”, followed by Africa and Asia. 

The logical conclusion is that colonial claims, conquest and settlement are part of the picture here.

But the question that came to mind immediately when I saw this chart is: Why do Canada’s police kill at 20 times the rate of their counterparts in the United Kingdom? 

That countries like Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland do better than we do is no surprise: These are known to be democracies with advanced social and economic orders that are also relatively small and homogeneous.

But to see that Britain, the land of skinheads, punks, Thatcherites, strikes, protests, soccer hooligans, race riots, sectarian animosities, deeply entrenched regional and class divides, and an increasingly diverse and much larger population, is also among the nations with the lowest rates of police killings in the world today, that is something to wonder over.  

From there, I began refreshing dim recollections about the origins of modern urban policing in Victorian England, which brought me to Sir Robert Peel’s “nine principles of ethical law enforcement”. 

“Ethical” isn’t the word I’d use. The key principle is summarized in Peel’s famous phrase “the police are the public and the public are the police.” So “democratic policing” would be more to the point, meaning liberal democratic law enforcement. 

By liberal democracy I mean something far more complex and significant than what could be called “arithmetic democracy”: majority rule through often quaint and sometimes absurd electoral rituals: that familiar numbers game dominated by parties and factions that so many of us, left, right and centre; aspirational, regressive and disruptive, have been finding increasingly exasperating of late.  

My preference is “commonwealth policing”, not as a description of anything that ever existed, certainly not as paean to anything British or Imperial, but as something to aspire to. It’s a romantic touch, designed to leave a bit of room for the wonderful, the imaginary. 

Adding the historical dimension humanizes, but in no way limits, the liberal and the democratic: Waterloo County/Region is a real place, with a diverse array of constituent communities, each made up of actual, living people, within political and institutional configurations that have evolved over time, and that remain in constant flux. The story continues.

The point is: Our future, including the future of the police service that wears the badge with the lion and the lamb, is ours to imagine, to shape, and to make real.   

statue of Sir Robert Peel in the original Preston, Lancashire, England, UK.

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