Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday the federal government will work with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and members of the force to reduce systemic racism in its ranks, but he gave no indication that he plans to appoint a new commissioner.
Commissioner Lucki has faced calls in recent days from Indigenous leaders, including Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, to step down.
Mr. Bellegarde wrote to the Prime Minister last Friday and urged him to replace Commissioner Lucki with someone who would focus their attention on public safety and combatting racism.
When asked Tuesday what knowledge he has that Commissioner Lucki and the RCMP are willing to confront systemic racism in the force, Mr. Trudeau said the federal government will keep working with the Commissioner, the RCMP and all institutions to address the issue.
“I think we all recognize that over the past months, years and decades, our systems have consistently failed to adequately protect and support Indigenous peoples and racialized Canadians,” Mr. Trudeau said. “The RCMP has certainly been part of that. We need to do better.”
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Mr. Bellegarde said systemic racism in the RCMP is a huge problem and more needs to be done to fix it.
“Whether she [Commissioner Lucki] stays or whether she goes, there’s got to be strong leadership at the highest levels in order to deal with the systemic racism within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Mr. Bellegarde said.
“Commissioner Lucki is a good human being and she is a good RCMP member but in that position, at that leadership level, as a Commissioner, you have to show strong leadership. And it’s like the RCMP members don’t hear her and certainly they don’t fear her because it is continuing.”
The conduct of RCMP officers in Nova Scotia has been scrutinized in recent days by Indigenous leaders who say officers have failed to stop violence and intimidation in a lobster fishery dispute. An angry mob attacked two rural storage facilities holding Mi’kmaq lobster catches, threw rocks and set a van on fire.
Tension has escalated this month in the province after non-Indigenous fishermen took issue with Mi’kmaq counterparts operating outside the regulated season, but the Mi’kmaq point to a 1999 Supreme Court decision regarding their rights.
The RCMP has also faced questions by Indigenous leaders about the conduct of members after high-profile cases have come to light in recent months. Those cases include an Inuk man who was struck by an officer with the door of a vehicle and the violent arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam.
Bobby Cameron, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief who has also called for Ms. Lucki’s resignation, said Tuesday that he is disappointed and frustrated to see Mr. Trudeau standing by Commissioner Lucki’s leadership. “Why are they not listening?” he asked.
There have been many requests from chiefs who want to see Commissioner Lucki resign, Mr. Cameron added. “We will continue to advocate that Brenda Lucki be let go.”
For her part, Commissioner Lucki has said she intends to stay on in her role, adding she remains committed to fulfilling the mandate to modernize the RCMP with a “strong focus on advancing Indigenous reconciliation.”
In the spring, the Commissioner faced criticism when she struggled to explain how the term “systemic racism” applied to her force. She later issued a statement trying to clarify her position and acknowledging that it does, indeed, exist within the RCMP.
Last week, she held a news conference in Ottawa to defend the RCMP officers in Nova Scotia, which even sparked criticism from a member of the Prime Minister’s own cabinet.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told The Globe last week that he disagreed with her assessment of the lobster situation and that her comments highlighted the degree of work required to make changes within the RCMP.
Senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that examined Canada’s residential school legacy, also said the Commissioner’s comments flew in the face of concrete evidence about the way the officers responded on the ground.
The Senator’s office has offered to assist anyone seeking to make complaints to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
The independent agency, created by Parliament in 1988, is designed to ensure that public complaints about the conduct of officers are examined fairly and impartially.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said on Twitter last Friday that he supported Mr. Bellegarde’s call for Commissioner Lucki to resign. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said it is up to Mr. Trudeau to decide if he still has confidence in her.
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