A Cree woman who suffered racial discrimination at the hands of the RCMP, according to an independent report released Monday, says she did not deserve the treatment she received and that it’s time for change in the national police force.
Debbie Baptiste said her fight for justice should encourage other Indigenous people to speak up against racism.
“Our family was never going to give up. We were not going to be swept away and treated as less than human beings,” Ms. Baptiste said. She spoke at a press conference near Saskatoon on Monday after the public release of an investigation by the police watchdog Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC).
The Globe and Mail previously reported that the CRCC found the RCMP racially discriminated against Ms. Baptiste when they notified her that her son, Colten Boushie, 22, had died.
Mr. Boushie was shot and killed after he and four friends drove on to property owned by Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley. Mr. Stanley was eventually acquitted of second-degree murder in a case that sparked protests around the country.
When officers notified Ms. Baptiste of the killing she collapsed in tears and was helped inside her home, located on the Red Pheasant Cree Nation northwest of Saskatoon. RCMP officers asked Ms. Baptiste whether she had been drinking, smelled her breath and told her to “get it together.” They also questioned her credibility when she said her son’s dinner was waiting in the microwave. The CRCC stated those actions were insensitive and rooted in a stereotypical understanding of Indigenous peoples. The finding of racial discrimination was accepted by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.
The CRCC also found that police acted unreasonably when they surrounded Ms. Baptiste’s house with carbines at the ready and later conducted an illegal search of the premises. But the commission found that the RCMP handling of the investigation was generally professional and reasonable.
In a response to the CRCC report, Commissioner Lucki said the findings would help enhance public confidence in the RCMP.
“We believe thorough, independent review of our actions plays a valuable role in ensuring our accountability and transparency. The RCMP remains committed to ensuring the service we provide meets the expectations of the Indigenous communities and people we serve,” Commissioner Lucki said.
The RCMP have committed to enacting all of the CRCC’s recommendations, which they had seen in an interim report, and have already implemented 16 of the 17 that apply in Saskatchewan, the force said. The one remaining requires all employees to complete a course in cultural awareness and humility.
Ms. Baptiste said the findings are vindication after a 2017 investigation into the handling of the case by a senior RCMP officer largely exonerated police for their actions.
Eleanore Sunchild, Ms. Baptiste’s lawyer, said the handling of the entire case was marked by systemic racism. She pointed to the report’s findings on the police failure to protect key pieces of evidence at the crime scene to the differential treatment of white and Indigenous witnesses.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the RCMP had missed an opportunity in this case to create a better relationship with Indigenous people. He called for stronger civilian oversight of the force, more First Nations officers in positions of leadership and better training for recruits in countering racial bias.
In Question Period on Monday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he has spoken to the Commissioner of the RCMP about the CRCC report.
“We’ll work very closely with her to ensure a full implementation to address the deficiencies in the police response identified by the complaints review,” Mr. Blair said.
The CRCC found that the RCMP had destroyed records of police radio communications from the night Mr. Boushie was killed. The RCMP told the commission the records were destroyed two years after Mr. Boushie’s death in keeping with records policy because they had no evidentiary value to the criminal investigation. But the records would have been relevant to the CRCC’s public interest investigation and a civil lawsuit launched by Ms. Baptiste and her family, according to her lawyers.
Mr. Blair’s press secretary, Mary-Liz Power, said the government expects the RCMP to follow their records retention policies.
With a report from Kristy Kirkup
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