All police services, including the RCMP, must treat the people they serve with dignity and respect, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Monday when asked in Parliament how much confidence the Liberal government has in RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.
The Commissioner has faced calls to resign after defending the response of officers in Nova Scotia to recent acts of violence and intimidation against Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia from fishermen who take issue with their fishery operating outside the regulated season.
In recent days, Indigenous leaders, including Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, and the New Democrats have called for the Commissioner to step down after she held a news conference and defended the officers' response.
Indigenous leaders have said RCMP officers failed to stop an angry mob that attacked two rural storage facilities holding Mi’kmaq lobster catches, threw rocks and set a van on fire. Mi’kmaq leaders say they are allowed to operate the fishery under a 1999 Supreme Court decision that affirms their right to fish for a moderate livelihood.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller has publicly disagreed with the Commissioner’s assessment of the situation in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Miller told The Globe and Mail on Thursday that Commissioner Lucki’s remarks indicate the degree of work required to reform the RCMP.
When asked whether she should resign, Mr. Miller said “these are things that I speak about internally to cabinet and I will reserve judgment on that.” The Liberal cabinet was to meet on Monday evening.
On Monday in Question Period, NDP MP Rachel Blaney pointed to Mr. Miller’s public remarks on the Commissioner’s defence of the officers, saying their actions left Mi’kmaq fishers in danger and resulted in devastating property damage.
“The government and the RCMP Commissioner must know the lack of planning is systemic racism and finally address it,” she said. “On Friday, the Assembly of First Nations called for the commissioner’s resignation. Can the minister be clear; does he have confidence in the RCMP Commissioner?”
“All police services, including the RCMP, must be committed to ensuring the people they serve and protect are treated with dignity and respect,” he said, adding that he spoke on Monday with Mr. Bellegarde about his concerns.
“The issues we discussed are serious, complex and long-standing, and they must begin with an acknowledgement that systemic and structural racism and bias exists throughout our criminal justice system.”
He added that police reform must ensure justice and fairness for all Canadians, and that reform is the mandate given to the RCMP Commissioner and that the government expects from the RCMP.
Before the cabinet meeting, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett was asked whether she has confidence in the Commissioner.
“I believe that Minister Blair has been very clear about that,” she said. “Yes, we have to go forward and we have to do better.”
Mr. Bellegarde said in a statement on Friday that the safety and security of all Canadians, including First Nations people, must be the top priority of the Prime Minister and the federal government.
“I am asking the Prime Minister to remove Commissioner Lucki and to replace her with someone who will focus their attention on public safety and combatting racism,” he said.
In response, Commissioner Lucki said in a statement that she will “remain committed to fulfilling my mandate of modernizing the RCMP with a strong focus on advancing Indigenous reconciliation."
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said on Friday that the Commissioner does not grasp the magnitude of the problems with the enforcement of law and protection of the Mi’kmaq, and the RCMP are past due for a new leader.
When asked about calls for Commissioner Lucki’s removal on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would say only that he has heard concerns from many Canadians about the functioning of the national police force. He also said the government will work with the Commissioner to “continue to keep Canadians safe.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said it is up to the Prime Minister to decide whether he still has confidence in the RCMP Commissioner he appointed in 2018.
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