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Lucki acknowledges systemic racism in RCMP
TORONTO -- Two days after admitting that she struggled with “five or six” definitions of systemic racism, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has acknowledged that Canada's national police service is grappling with a long history of racial discrimination.
“I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP. I should have,” Lucki said in a written statement Friday.
“Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly.”
Lucki's statement comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau contradicted her on the subject and the emergence of police dashcam footage that appears to show an RCMP officer punching and tackling an Alberta First Nations chief during an arrest in March.
In an interview with CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme on Wednesday, Lucki was asked about recent comments from Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, who on Monday denied the existence of systemic racism in policing.
“You know Lisa, I did speak with Deputy Commissioner Zablocki this morning after that and we talked about what did systemic racism mean. And I really struggle with and — and I’m not trying to avoid your question — but I’m struggling with it because I’ve heard about five or six definitions,” she said.
In separate interviews that day with other media organizations, Lucki said she was struggling with 15 to 20 different definitions of systemic racism.
She went on to suggest that “unconscious bias” existed in policing, but she stopped short of acknowledging the role of systemic racism, a term that refers to the culmination of longstanding overt and covert discrimination against racialized groups.
“Systemic racism isn't about the behaviour of a single individual or the actions of one person,” Lucki said in her new comments Friday. “It's in the institutional structures that reflect the inequities that persist in our society. And it shows up in policies, processes or practices that may appear neutral on the surface, but disadvantage racialized people or groups.”
Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki also changed his tune on the subject on Friday, saying it’s now clear to him that “much work” needs to be done in policing.
“For me it was really getting a better perspective on what systemic racism is. As I’m sure you’re aware, there are many types of racism terms and categories, as I did some research and Googling it, it just became clear,” he said.
“I really needed to better understand systemic racism.”
In response to the video of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam's arrest, Trudeau said he has “serious questions” about what happened and called for swift action on police reform, including an open, transparent and independent investigation.
"I think we’ve seen examples of systemic discrimination, systemic racism in the past days in many different ways and that’s why we need to address it seriously," he said. "We need to look at the entire system to improve it, to make sure situations like this don’t happen in the future.”
Lucki and Zablocki’s comments were welcomed by Adam’s legal counsel, Brian Beresh, but he also expressed lingering doubts.
“I’m pleased that they acknowledged systemic racism, I’m surprised of the suggestion that it took one week for them to realize it,” Beresh told CTV’s Power Play on Friday.
“There has to be some immediate response because to hear officer Zablocki, who I don’t know, suggest that within one week he came to realize what systemic racism is all about does not impress me. Anybody with his experience in the RCMP either knows it, has seen it, smelt it, or been around it.”
Moving forward, Beresh said it’s time to reconsider what policing looks like in Canada.
“The basic change that has to occur is that the RCMP has to be de-militarized, it has to be a civilian police force that assists in bringing harmony to our society. We don’t need the RCMP to try to control First Nations, Indigenous Peoples, we need a police force that can work with everyone so that we have a harmonious society.”
Calls to “defund the police” have been growing in Canada and the United States following the death of George Floyd, the Black man who was killed in May after a white police officer shoved his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
In Canada, anti-racism protests have been underscored by several recent incidents involving police, including the death of Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman who was shot and killed by police in New Brunswick during a wellness check, and the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black woman who died after falling from her Toronto apartment balcony while police officers were in her home.
With files from CTVNews.ca's Sarah Turnbull