Governments across Canada need to overhaul First Nations policing programs and ensure Indigenous police services are funded at the same level as non-Indigenous police, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls recommends.
The inquiry’s long-anticipated report, released Monday, also sharply criticizes Canada’s police – especially the RCMP, which is the federally run force tasked with policing many of the country’s Indigenous communities.
The report calls upon police services to stop rotating their most inexperienced officers in and out of remote Indigenous communities, and to instead find ways to install veteran detectives and specialized Indigenous squads.
The document further encourages police educators to teach their cadets about the “history of police in the oppression and genocide of Indigenous People.”
The report, which was commissioned by the Liberal government, looks at why unknown numbers of Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada in recent decades. Many of the victims are feared to have died during violent crimes whose perpetrators went unidentified or unarrested by police.
Among other recommendations, the final document calls for a reset of the First Nations Policing Program, the complex, federally administered fund where governments pool resources to dispatch officers – very often Mounties – into remote Indigenous communities.
The program "must be replaced with a new legislative and funding framework,” the report says, adding that such communities need staffing, training and equipment that’s comparable with non-Indigenous communities. It also advocates for a new class of civilian police watchdogs that will issue annual reports on police misconduct for Indigenous communities.
Additionally, the report calls for non-Indigenous police to establish specialized Indigenous policing units within their services, and “mandatory Indigenous language capacity within police services."
The report says that many of today’s policing deficiencies are rooted in a legacy of distrust that started decades ago. The RCMP “ensured the forced relocations of Indigenous communities [and] removed children from their families and communities to place them in residential schools,” the report says.
It adds that “this historic role of the RCMP has not changed significantly. The RCMP must still enforce present-day discriminatory and oppressive legislation and policies in areas such as child welfare and land and resource disputes.”
Lingering and mutual distrust is said to continue to affect today’s investigations. “The continued racism and sexism by many RCMP officers directed at Indigenous Peoples, the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women … have caused many Indigenous Peoples and communities to lose trust and confidence in the Canadian justice system, the RCMP, and police services in general,” the report finds.
In Ottawa, Liberal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters he will need time to read the report. But he pointed out that the Liberals have been increasing funds for First Nations policing, and that “there has been an ongoing effort by the RCMP to increase Indigenous participation in the forces."
About 8 per cent of RCMP officers have Indigenous backgrounds, and leaders of the national police force say that they tried to comply with the commission’s queries.
“Four senior members of the RCMP, including myself, provided testimony in public hearings,” RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said in a statement Monday. She pointed out she apologized last year to the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and added that “the RCMP will study the final report and its recommendations, and give careful consideration to changes."
The authors of the report say that will not be enough. “For the apologies offered by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and others to be meaningful, Indigenous families and survivors were clear that these words must be accompanied by action,” the report reads.
The report lays out dozens of accounts from Indigenous families across Canada who said they went to police with complaints about loved ones who ended up disappearing forever.
But very often, these family members felt their information was not acted upon urgently, or investigated adequately. Some parents complained about unsolved case files passing through the hands of dozens of officers who were quickly rotated through remote communities.
Under a Conservative government in 2014 and 2015, Mounties tried to blunt criticism by releasing studies suggesting that most of the violent crimes perpetrated against Indigenous women came at the hands of their partners, who were very often Indigenous men.
The authors of the final report into missing and murdered Indigenous women are deeply critical of this past messaging. Calling that RCMP data inaccurate and misleading, they say there are no credible estimates of the overall number of missing and murdered women. Additionally, they write that past RCMP reports ended up feeding into "bias and stereotyping, encouraging racism without addressing violence perpetrated by non-Indigenous people.”
With reports from Michelle Zilio.