Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde is calling for the resignation of RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki after she defended the actions of officers in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Bellegarde said he expressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that his national advocacy organization has “lost confidence in Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Brenda Lucki.”
Mr. Trudeau appointed Commissioner Lucki in March, 2018, and she is the first permanent female commissioner of the national police force.
Mr. Bellegarde said in a statement 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 combating racism,” he said.
Commissioner Lucki said in a statement on Friday that she plans to stay on. “I remain committed to fulfilling my mandate of modernizing the RCMP with a strong focus on advancing Indigenous reconciliation,” she said.
The National Chief’s call for the Commissioner’s removal comes after several Indigenous leaders expressed concern that officers stood by during recent violence and intimidation aimed at a Mi’kmaq fishery and community members.
Tensions have escalated with non-Indigenous fishers, who take issue with the Mi’kmaq fishery operating outside the regulated fishing season. Mi’kmaq leaders say they are allowed to do so under a 1999 Supreme Court decision that affirms their right to fish for a moderate livelihood.
Criticism of the RCMP from Indigenous leaders includes that the force 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.
The Union of B.C. 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 is past due for a new leader.
When asked about calls for Commissioner Lucki’s removal on Friday, Mr. 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.”
He said that while the force has had some challenges in Nova Scotia, officers continue to serve Canadians day in and day out, right across the country.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole told The Globe and Mail in a statement it is up to the Prime Minister to decide whether he still has confidence in the RCMP Commissioner he appointed.
But he said his party will continue to press Mr. Trudeau, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to take concrete action to help peacefully resolve the situation in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Blair said on Friday that the federal government unequivocally condemns the recent acts of violence in Nova Scotia.
He also said Ottawa is aware of the request from the National Chief, and the government has acknowledged, as has the Commissioner, that the force has not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly.
On Wednesday in her first public comments on the confrontations, Commissioner Lucki defended the conduct of the officers in Nova Scotia and did not acknowledge the criticism of their conduct.
“I want to reassure … the people of Nova Scotia, the Mi’kmaq and all Canadians that we are managing this issue,” she said.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told The Globe on Thursday that her response on the RCMP’s actions “speaks volumes.”
Commissioner Lucki’s remarks indicate the amount of work required to reform the RCMP, he said.
When asked whether the Commissioner needs to step down, Mr. Miller said, “These are things that I speak about internally to cabinet and I will reserve judgment on that.”
Commissioner Lucki also faced calls to resign in the spring, including from Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, after she struggled with the notion that the term “systemic racism” applied to her police force.
In response, Mr. Trudeau said systemic racism applies to all institutions across the country, but stood by the Commissioner. He said she and the government will work with racialized and Indigenous Canadians to make changes. Commissioner Lucki also released a statement on systemic racism in the force.
In the Throne Speech on Sept. 23, the Liberal government also promised changes to address systemic racism and to move forward on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including a pledge to reform the RCMP and modernize training for police and law enforcement.
“Together, we will bring forward meaningful change to ensure police treat the people that they are sworn to serve and protect with dignity and with respect,” Mr. Blair said on Friday.
With reports from Willow Fiddler in Thunder Bay and Greg Mercer in Digby, N.S.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.