The Liberal government promised changes Wednesday to address systemic racism and to move forward on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including a pledge to reform the RCMP and to modernize training for police and law enforcement.
In a Speech from the Throne laying out its broad vision for the country, the government said it would introduce legislation and spend on addressing systemic inequities in the criminal justice system and it would enhance civilian oversight of law-enforcement agencies including the RCMP.
The national police force and other forces across the country have faced increased public scrutiny in recent months due to a spate of police shootings and other incidents such as Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam alleging that he was beaten by a Mountie over an expired licence plate.
“All Canadians must have the confidence that the justice system is there to protect them, not to harm them,” read the Throne Speech, delivered by Governor-General Julie Payette.
“Black Canadians and Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. That has to change.”
The government also said it would address training for police and law enforcement including around the issue of the use of force.
Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), has urged the RCMP to institute a zero-tolerance policy for excessive use of force. In June, he pointed to what he called alarming statistics on killings by police of Indigenous people, adding that a lot of “our people are getting hurt and/or killed at the hands of police” when police are supposed to protect and serve.
On Wednesday, Mr. Bellegarde said in a video news conference that he was pleased to see the policing reforms referenced in the speech.
“Now, the work begins,” he said.
Changes to the RCMP are to include a shift toward community-led policing, the government said Wednesday. It noted that it will also speed up work on co-developing a legislative framework for First Nations policing as an essential service, which the AFN has also advocated.
In the speech, the government said it would accelerate work on the national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
The Liberal government has faced concerns from some Indigenous leaders and the federal NDP after it promised an action plan in the wake of findings released by an inquiry. However, Ottawa has yet to put forward that plan more than a year later.
The government also said Wednesday it would move to introduce a bill to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples before the end of this year.
Mr. Bellegarde had urged the government to not only introduce the bill but promise that it be passed within a year. He said the legislation must be introduced as soon as possible.
“I’m going to keep urging the Prime Minister and [Justice] Minister [David] Lametti to introduce that piece of legislation."
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