Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver today.
Once again, it’s video that makes all the difference and quickly drives a change that news conferences, protests and op-eds haven’t managed.
This time, it was the late-Thursday release of RCMP dash cam video showing the arrest and brutal take-down of Chief Allan Adam, a prominent Indigenous leader of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, by two Mounties.
Last week, Chief Adam’s lawyer released bystander videos of his arrest in March, but they were blurry and extremely difficult to make out. Not so the video from the dash cam, which the force had declined to release because the matter is before the courts.
Part of the video shows an RCMP officer about to handcuff a visibly angry Adam, before another officer runs and forcefully throws him to the ground. The same officer can be seen punching Adam as the Chief is heard yelling, “What is it with you guys?”
The video had previously been reviewed by RCMP brass in Alberta and deemed a “reasonable” use of force. The violent arrest is now the subject of an independent investigation.
By Friday, senior RCMP brass were walking back comments from earlier in the week denying there was systemic racism within the force.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday “we don’t have systemic racism." 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.
On Monday, Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said in Alberta that while racism exists in “pockets” in police services, Canadian forces are not comparable to their U.S. counterparts when it comes to mistreating people. “I don’t believe that racism is systemic through Canadian policing," he said. “I don’t believe it is systemic through policing in Alberta.”
By Friday, the deputy commissioner said he’d spent part of the week speaking with Indigenous people and 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 on 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 fulsome understanding of police use of force in Canada 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.
This week, however, The Globe reported that police watchdog agencies in Ontario and British Columbia will soon be able to provide that data. In April, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit – the first civilian agency in the country to probe police incidents involving serious injury, death or sexual assault – announced it will begin recording the ethnicity and religious background of complainants and officers starting in October.
B.C.'s Independent Investigations Office (IIO), which was modelled on the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), said this week it started doing the same in April.
“This would be an important trend if one identifiable community is being disproportionately impacted by serious harm and death cases,” Ronald MacDonald, the IIO’s chief civilian director, said in an interview on Thursday. “I think that’s important for us to know.”
It’s too soon to say whether the graphic video of Chief Adam’s arrest will prompt a lasting reform in how the RCMP interacts with the Indigenous community.
But in short order, news of Adam’s arrest has forced a public acknowledgement by the RCMP’s most senior officers that systemic racism within the force is a problem needing action.
The earlier moves by the police watchdogs – not widely reported when they were made – will provide the public with the kind of data required to determine whether the epiphany of Commissioner Lucki and Deputy Commissioner Zablocki prompts a change more significant than a change of heart.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
AROUND THE WEST
POLICE BUDGETS: Local politicians in a handful of major Canadian cities are promising to listen to activists demanding a response to racist police incidents, but they are stopping short of the call to slash policing budgets. Edmonton’s mayor on Wednesday proposed freezing its city’s police budget next year. In Victoria, officials asked the local police department for a report on the force’s demographics. One Hamilton councillor wants his city’s police chief to prepare a report on the implications of a budget cut, because he wants the public to be aware of the consequences of such proposals.
PATIO EXPANSIONS: As the operators of several restaurants and craft breweries have discovered, the city’s Temporary Expedited Patio Program, which was intended to help them recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, is still being bogged down by bureaucratic inflexibility and poor communication. Only 14 of the 46 applications were approved. The lack of promised fast-tracking couldn’t come at a worse time. Two weeks after being allowed to reopen for dine-in business at 50-per-cent capacity, many restaurant owners are reporting underwhelming customer turnouts, skyrocketing food costs and a work force that is reluctant to return.
ALBERTA SCHOOLS: The Alberta government announced on Wednesday that schools will reopen for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year with students attending daily classes in-person with some health measures in place. From the three scenarios that the province outlined in early May, schools will follow the first scenario, which involves the lightest restrictions on preventive and physical-distancing measures. In the second scenario, in-school classes would resume intermittently at school with health restrictions in place. Class sizes could be limited to 15 people with two-metre physical-distancing requirements. The third scenario would see teacher-led learning at home continue. But the province is holding off on its final decision until Aug. 1 to reassess the state of the pandemic and monitor cases in the province.
DEADPOOL 2 ON-SET DEATH: A coroner’s report has linked the 2017 death of a stunt performer on the Vancouver set of feature film Deadpool 2 to her not wearing a motorcycle helmet, prompting a discussion with the production industry on better safety practices on set. Last month, the workplace safety agency levied a $289,562.63 fine against TCF Vancouver Productions Ltd., which was involved in the planning and execution of the stunt. On Wednesday, WorkSafeBC spokesperson Craig Fitzsimmons confirmed the fine has been paid.
AIRBNB BOOKINGS: Short-term rental bookings are starting to climb from the lows of the pandemic shutdowns, potentially shifting the picture for long-term renters in British Columbia’s near-zero-vacancy cities and its vacation communities. Many housing advocates and tourist cities here and elsewhere had seen the collapse of Airbnb-type bookings in March and April as a sign of potential relief for renters in the Lower Mainland’s near zero-vacancy rental market hoping those short-term units will be converted to housing, and for communities fearing travelling vacationers during a pandemic. But that relief appears to be diminishing.
OIL SANDS REGULATIONS: New oil sands projects in Alberta will no longer need government approval under a sweeping set of changes tabled in the province’s legislature on Thursday. Bill 22 would also scrap the agency responsible for energy efficiency programs, expand the role of the board that handles conflicts between landowners and oil companies and allow non-Albertans to lease grazing land in provincial parks and forest reserves. The government says the changes will reduce red tape and encourage investment. If the bill passes, the final decision on oil sands approvals will be made by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), reversing decades of government policy in the province. Grant Hunter, Alberta’s associate minister of red tape reduction, said Thursday the change would remove politics from the decision-making process and hasten approvals by up to 10 months.
WHITE GRIZZLY BEAR: A white grizzly bear roaming in Alberta’s Banff National Park is attracting crowds of people who want to catch a glimpse of the animal’s rare light-coloured hair. This particular white grizzly was spotted at the end of April by a family who shared a video on their Instagram feed. Buzz around the animal has grown since, and people have started to pull onto the side of the Trans-Canada Highway that runs through the Banff park to see it with their own eyes. While grizzly bears can range in colour, a white one is almost unheard of.
OVERDOSES: British Columbia has recorded its deadliest month for illicit drug overdoses, an increase that officials say is overwhelmingly the result of the global COVID-19 pandemic throwing drug supply chains into chaos and disrupting supports for people who use drugs. In May, as the province cautiously lifted restrictions having flattened the coronavirus curve, a record 170 people died of overdoses, largely from “extreme” fentanyl concentrations in the drug supply, according to a BC Coroners Service report released Thursday. That represents a 93-per-cent increase over May, 2019, which saw 88 deaths, and a 44-per-cent increase over this April’s 118. The number is expected to increase as death investigations conclude. The previous record was set in December, 2016, when 161 people died. The figures raise questions about whether efforts to rein in the deadly coronavirus have put people who use drugs at an increased risk.
FRENCH SCHOOLS RULING: Even when their numbers are relatively small, francophone minorities, and the anglophone minority in Quebec, have a right to their own high-quality schools, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Friday. The ruling came after a 10-year legal battle launched by a francophone school board and francophone parents in British Columbia that alleged poor-quality facilities and a lack of gyms and libraries. Two lower courts declined to order the province to provide the hundreds of millions of dollars in additional capital funding the groups requested. But the Supreme Court gave the B.C. francophone groups a ringing victory, ordering that new schools be built in eight communities (it did not specify the cost). In doing so, the court set out a detailed prescription for the public funding of linguistic minority education across Canada.
DROWNING IN REGINA: The family of a young man says he tried twice to get mental help at a hospital the day he drowned in a lake in Regina – and that he was taken there the second time, just hours before his apparent suicide, by police. Samwel Uko’s relatives are trying to piece together the last moments of the 20-year-old’s life before emergency responders discovered his body in Wascana Lake three weeks ago. Uko, who was from Abbotsford, B.C., had travelled to Saskatchewan’s capital to visit an aunt. While there, relatives said Uko told them he felt ill and was afraid people were coming after him. He said he wanted to go to a hospital.
JUDGE STRIKES DOWN WAGE-FREEZING BILL: A Manitoba judge struck down the provincial government’s attempt to freeze the wages of more than 110,000 public-sector workers Thursday, calling the bill enacting the wage freeze unduly harsh and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Progressive Conservative government introduced the Public Services Sustainability Act in 2017, one year after being elected on a promise to control spending. The bill included a two-year wage freeze for each new collective agreement, followed by pay increases of 0.75 per cent in the third year and 1 per cent in the fourth. Although the bill was passed by the legislature, it was never proclaimed into law and the government held out the possibility of amending it. The public-sector unions that took the government to court said the bill was already affecting contract talks. Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey agreed.
B.C. BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS: Vancouver’s notoriously rowdy Granville Street Entertainment District could rumble back to life as early as this weekend – with less entertainment and no dance floors, but perhaps more patios – after a number of provincial and municipal initiatives designed to help B.C.’s hard-hit hospitality industry received approval this week. On Wednesday, the provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry released a new public order that allows bars and nightclubs to reopen immediately. A previous order had not included establishments that do not serve food and hold a “liquor primary” license. It was an “oversight” says Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC), explaining that nightclubs can now operate as lounges, although many won’t be operational until next week.
INDIGENOUS ARCHAEOLOGY: Indigenous-led digs are just one example of how a new generation of anthropologists and archaeologists are turning the fields, once a pillar of European conquest, upside down. There had already been decades of major change to the practices of anthropology – the study of human culture and societies – and its sub-field archaeology, the study of culture using material objects and artifacts. But for centuries, the closely related disciplines were associated with European explorers arriving, impacting and taking away sacred items, stories and secrets. Even the reforms of recent decades, putting community respect and involvement at the forefront, rarely put Indigenous people in the driver’s seat of what and how research was done. But that is changing now. And anthropologists and archeologists have also become essential for some First Nations hoping to recover lost sacred items, resurface their stories, or provide expert testimony in rights and title legal battles.
DINING DIFFERENTLY: Shared plates and a dozen family members or business associates seated around a big, round table are hallmarks of Chinese restaurants. But in order to operate while COVID-19 is still a threat, such businesses will have to change not only their public-health practices but a dining culture as well. British Columbia’s reopening plan allowed dining establishments, which were ordered closed for dine-in business in late March, to resume service last month. The Office of the Provincial Health Officer issued an order limiting them to 50 per cent of their usual capacity and requiring two metres between patrons sitting at different tables. But for many Chinese restaurants, ensuring the safety of customers also means adopting individual servings and smaller tables. “Our Chinese dining culture may shift toward Western eating,” said Gigi Zheng, the owner of Prince Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver.
Adrienne Tanner on the proposed cut to the Vancouver Police Department’s budget: “The VPD’s unwillingness to share the financial burden speaks to an attitude of entitlement that’s hard to comprehend. Police have always believed themselves to be the most essential of our essential services. And even when trust in police is faltering across North America, the VPD remains so convinced of its own worth that instead of suggesting cuts, the department dug in to preserve every cent of a $20-million budget increase approved by council before the pandemic hit.”
Gary Mason on reopening as global cases of COVID-19 continue to rise: “We mention this as Ontario and Alberta get ready to move to Phase 2 of their reopening plans; Alberta is moving forward a full week ahead of schedule. Given what we are witnessing around the globe, it seems to be a roll of the dice.”
Max Fawcett on Calgary’s Green Line: “The consequences of COVID-19 continue to ripple outward, with businesses and households across the country scrambling to adjust and adapt. But there may be no space more disrupted than our cities, where an ever-expanding majority of the country lives and works. That’s because the pandemic has thrown many defining aspects of urban living into doubt, from our comfort with density to our willingness to use shared infrastructure such as public transit. For proponents of Calgary’s Green Line LRT, the timing couldn’t have been worse.”