RCMP commanders across Canada went into damage control Friday, acknowledging that systemic racism persists in the national police force after spending the week denying that Indigenous and racial minorities suffer from unequal treatment at the hands of the Mounties.
What will be done about it though remains unclear as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau again declined Friday to detail specific policy measures that his government will implement to combat the discrimination and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Liberals are still in listening mode.
The NDP says the government has the answers it needs in the many reports available that detail the necessary changes. And party Leader Jagmeet Singh said the lack of action, two weeks after the issue was propelled to the national spotlight by a series of videos showing police use of force, is unacceptable.
On Wednesday, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told The Globe and Mail that “we don’t have systemic racism" in the force. Late Friday, she released a statement acknowledging she was wrong.
“I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP. I should have,” Commissioner Lucki said.
In the time between those comments, RCMP dash-cam video was made public showing a brutal take-down by two Mounties of Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, a prominent Indigenous leader.
Part of the video shows an RCMP officer about to handcuff a visibly angry Mr. Adam, when another officer runs and forcefully throws him to the ground. The same officer can be seen punching Mr. Adam as the chief is heard yelling “what is it with you guys.”
The video, made public late Thursday, had previously been reviewed by RCMP superior officers in Alberta and deemed a “reasonable” use of force. The violent arrest is now the subject of an independent investigation.
At the same time that Commissioner Lucki’s statement was released, Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, the Commanding Officer of the Alberta RCMP, stood in front of a microphone in Edmonton to walk back his own denial of systemic racism in the force, made Monday.
He said he came to realize that systemic racism persists in his force after spending the week speaking with Indigenous people, community members, other officers and Googling different terms.
“These have been conversations that challenged my perceptions and made it clear that systemic racism does exist in the RCMP,” he told reporters.
He said he couldn’t comment on the video of Mr. Adam’s arrest because of the separate investigation.
In the Northwest Territories on Friday, the RCMP announced an investigation after APTN reported that an Indigenous man alleged he was beaten by police this week. The report included a picture of Benjamin Manuel with a boot mark on his face.
In Nunavut, a June video of a Mountie driving his car into an Inuk man is one of six active investigations into RCMP use of force in the territory, according to APTN.
Before her mea culpa, Mr. Trudeau said Commissioner Lucki would be able to tackle the structural discrimination in the institution because she wants to be “part of the solution.”
During her two years leading the RCMP, Commissioner Lucki apologized for the force’s treatment of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and received the national inquiry’s final report, which detailed racism in the national police force and recommended many changes.
It is only now, though, that Commissioner Lucki has come to acknowledge the systemic racism in the agency she presides over.
“Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly,” she said Friday.
Last year, The Globe and Mail reported that more than one third of the people shot and killed by the RCMP, between 2007 and 2017, were Indigenous.
But a complete understanding of police use of force, and who that force is most often used against, is not available in Canada. The RCMP does not collect race-based data as part of its use-of-force tracking and it does not make its use-of-force statistics public.
Mr. Trudeau wouldn’t say Friday whether he will mandate the collection and publication of that data, which has most recently been called for in the national inquiry’s report and by the United Nations.
Carl James, a professor of education and expert on racism at York University, said the fear around disaggregated data collection is that it can reinforce stereotypes. However, he said it can also be used to challenge the status quo and “as an advocacy tool by communities.”
The need for the data was echoed by Fo Niemi with the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations in Montreal. He said the video of Mr. Adam’s arrest also shows the need for more emphasis on de-escalation tactics, the onus for which is on the police.
Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly promised to do more. But other than stating his support for body cameras, with no budget or timeline for implementation, the Prime Minister has made no specific commitments.
Among the changes the government could make right now, according to Mr. Singh, are a ban on racial profiling by federal agencies, the collection of disaggregated police data, and new policies around use-of-force and de-escalation.
“It’s hypocritical that the Prime Minister would take a knee and make a symbolic gesture … but then take no action," Mr. Singh said.
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