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RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki leaves Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, April 20, 2020, following a press conference regarding a mass shooting in Nova Scotia.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki is trying to revive morale in her ranks in the midst of an unprecedented debate over systemic racism in Canadian police forces, urging Mounties to continue to serve in the face of “raw and profound” criticism of their work across the country.

In a video posted on the RCMP’s internal website late last Friday, Commissioner Lucki laid bare the internal turmoil in her organization after several controversial cases in which Mounties used force against Indigenous Canadians. Politicians and the Assembly of First Nations have criticized the RCMP for the violent arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, the shooting of Rodney Levi in New Brunswick and the case of an Inuk man who was hit with the door of an officer’s vehicle in Nunavut, among others.

Commissioner Lucki has herself been caught in the debate, refusing to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in the RCMP during media interviews on June 10. She reversed course two days later after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly rebuked her.

The NDP has been pushing for an investigation of systemic racism in Canada by a parliamentary committee. If the study gets a green light on Tuesday, Commissioner Lucki is expected to be one of the first witnesses, along with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

While critics are calling for a reform of the RCMP’s policies and procedures, many Mounties have complained – mostly in private – that they are being hung out to dry by politicians and their police leaders. Last week, after an officer was severely injured responding to a call in Nova Scotia, his wife posted a message on Facebook saying that Mounties no longer want to fight back to avoid being accused of police brutality.

“I am beyond disgusted, I’m sad, I’m furious. Makes me sick that our good police members are scared to stand up for themselves when needed,” Christine Doane wrote.

In her video, Commissioner Lucki said she has heard the message from many members and their families who feel “that trust in the RCMP has been damaged or undermined by the national conversation over racism in our society.”

She said the message is “painful to hear,” but added “a constructive dialogue is important if we are to strengthen the trust of Canadians.”

“This recent criticism has been raw and profound. However, your comments are a powerful testimony of your deep devotion to the work that you do,” Commissioner Lucki said.

She urged her members to recognize the “deep pain” felt by Indigenous and racialized Canadians who have “suffered the inequities of systemic racism.”

“The level of scrutiny for our actions is higher than ever – as it should be – but I know that you joined to make a difference in every community you serve,” she said. “Our lives and those of others depend on our training, our assessment and our response to each and every call for service. Continue to be confident in yourself and your abilities.”

Earlier this month, the National Police Federation accused Canada’s top political leaders of engaging in an “anti-police narrative.” In a Facebook post on June 13, NPF president Brian Sauvé said many of the police union’s members are “demoralized” after some of them were “harassed and spat on” in the streets.

NDP public safety critic Jack Harris said on Monday he was very disappointed by the content of Commissioner Lucki’s message to her members, adding it does not speak about the undertaking needed to address systemic racism in the force.

“It is kind of as if whatever happened in the last two weeks didn’t happen,” he said. “This doesn’t indicate that there are any flaws at all that need to be addressed.”

Confronting systemic racism in the force will require systemic solutions, he added, noting it will require a rethink of the relationship between the RCMP and those who it is supposed to protect and serve.

Commissioner Lucki has faced calls to resign this month, including from First Nations Senator Lillian Dyck and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.

Mr. Fiddler has urged the Prime Minister to call an independent and transparent investigation into systemic racism and the use of force against Indigenous people within the RCMP. He said the “widespread and pervasive nature” of the problem demands a large-scale investigation.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who has not called for the Commissioner to resign, has urged the RCMP to institute a zero-tolerance policy for excessive use of force.

In November, The Globe and Mail reported that more than one-third of people shot to death by RCMP officers over a 10-year period were Indigenous. According to a document from the force, officers fatally shot 61 people across Canada between 2007 and 2017. In 22 of those cases, the individual was Indigenous.

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