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Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, on May 1, 2020.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair defended RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki in the face of mounting criticism over her understanding of systemic racism, saying he knows what’s in the Commissioner’s heart and she should be judged on her actions.

“Commissioner Lucki is not the first, and not alone, in finding difficulty in using the right words, but I also try to look at what’s in a person’s heart and what she’s trying to achieve,” Mr. Blair told senators Thursday.

His comments to the Senate meeting on anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and systemic racism were challenged within minutes by Senator Marilou McPhedran, who described a failure of RCMP leadership in the face of “RCMP and police killings, and unrestrained violence.”

“You’ve been embarrassed by Commissioner Lucki’s failure to demonstrate a modicum of understanding about systemic racism, on more than one public occasion,” Ms. McPhedran told Mr. Blair.

In the span of three days in early June, Commissioner Lucki denied systemic racism exists in the national police force, video of the violent RCMP arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam was made public, and the Commissioner recanted and acknowledged systemic racism in the RCMP.

However, members of Parliament, from multiple parties, say Commissioner Lucki failed to demonstrate an understanding of systemic racism when she spoke to the House of Commons public safety committee on Tuesday about the issue. At the meeting she compared it to a physical abilities test that disadvantages short people.

“We should all be judged not just by our words but by our actions,” Mr. Blair said Thursday in response to criticism of Commissioner Lucki’s Tuesday comments. He added that in his conversations with her, she has demonstrated “a very deep and profound understanding” of systemic racism.

Mr. Blair was responding to questions written by Senator Lillian Eva Dyck, of the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan. She called the Commissioner’s Tuesday comments embarrassing and has previously called for her to resign or be removed. In an interview, Ms. Dyck said the Commissioner’s actions include a failure to prepare for the Tuesday committee.

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“It’s like people who are racialized live in a different world and people in government or institutions like the RCMP cannot hear what’s going on,” Ms. Dyck said.

“How many more people need to be killed?”

In the Senate, Ms. McPhedran told Mr. Blair the Commissioner’s “words are actions.”

“I am judging her on her actions,” she said. “This is not a crisis where leaders can just be comfortable, where leaders can indulge in white ignorance and white fragility.”

In separate interviews, Ms. McPhedran and Ms. Dyck said the minister evaded questions on how the Commissioner would be held accountable and what concretely would be done to disrupt the status quo.

The Senate meeting was organized to hear from Mr. Blair and Ministers Ahmed Hussen and Bardish Chagger on their work to address systemic racism. Ms. McPhedran said the entire point of the meeting was to hear a substantive response from the government on what it would do but instead there was a lack of evidence that the Liberals are “bringing their best to it.”

In the past two months, two Indigenous people have been shot and killed by RCMP in Nunavut and New Brunswick. Since April, four more Indigenous people have been shot and killed by municipal police forces in Winnipeg and Edmundston, N.B.

Ms. McPhedran said Commissioner Lucki’s response to the police violence and systemic racism is “far off the mark of what a sophisticated, national leader, with such huge responsibilities, and who promised to lead differently, could reasonably be expected to deliver.”

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