Systemic racism exists in all institutions, including RCMP: Trudeau
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says while it’s uncomfortable to admit and challenging to identify, there is systemic racism in all systems that govern the country, including Canada’s national police force.
Hours after Trudeau’s comments, disturbing new dash-cam footage emerged showing two RCMP officers violently arrest a First Nations Chief in Alberta over an expired licence plate tag on his truck.
The footage, released Thursday, shows an officer run and tackle Fort Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam in an incident that the RCMP initially said required no further investigation.
In the video, Allan steps out of a pickup truck and, within five seconds, is tackled to the ground by an officer, who shoves his elbow into Allan’s neck and punches him in the back of the head.
"F--k you, don't resist arrest!" the officer yells.
Initially the RCMP said the officers' actions were reasonable and did not meet the threshold for an investigation. Police later announced that Alberta’s Serious Incident Response Team would look into the incident.
Trudeau said while it may not be expressed through "intentional" or "aggressive" acts, systemic racism exists subtly in every corner of the country.
"Systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP," said the prime minister on Thursday.
"It is recognizing that the systems we have built over the past generations have not always treated people of racialized backgrounds, of Indigenous backgrounds fairly through the very construction of the systems that exist."
He says that requires Canadians to go back and reflect on the building blocks that elevated these organizations and examine whether they were built on a racist foundation.
"There are people who highlight that, 'well it’s painting all our institutions with a negative brush and it’s not being proud of the Canada that we built, and that our ancestors built.' Nonsense. Canadian exceptionalism isn’t thinking that we’re the best, it’s knowing that we could be," he said.
During an interview Wednesday with CTV National News Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said that the national police force is not immune to "unconscious bias" but stopped short of saying there is widespread systemic racism.
"I’m struggling with it because I’ve heard about five or six definitions," she said.
"And so when I think of systemic racism being embedded into policy and procedure, one thing I do know for sure in the RCMP is we look through that (gender-based analysis plus) lens to identify the ways in which policies and practices may unintentionally disadvantage some groups, and we want to continue to learn from that and make sure that we absolutely in our organization promote that inclusion."
The prime minister said he still has confidence in Lucki’s leadership, despite these remarks, and her efforts to follow through on police reform in the coming months.
"I have confidence in Commissioner Lucki and I know that the changes she has already begun to bring to our national police force and the work that we’re doing to be doing together in the coming months, is going to make a huge difference in combating systemic racism and reducing it in this country," said Trudeau.
Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki on Monday denied the presence of systemic racism within policing in Canada, which sparked criticism from anti-racism advocates who say the proof is in the data.
Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was asked to respond to the RCMP statements and Trudeau’s reaction in an interview on CTV’s Power Play on Thursday.
He questioned why the prime minister, claiming to be aware systemic racism, hasn’t acted on it.
"He’s been prime minister for over four years now. He has the ability – this is a national, federal police force – he has the ability to address that immediately. If he’s aware of it, he needs to clearly explain where it is, how long he’s known about it, and what he’s going to do to fix it."
He then dodged a series of questions about his own personal views on systemic racism in the federal policing agency.
"I believe that there are of course acts of racism and discrimination,” said Scheer. “I’m not in a position to contradict the Commissioner of the RCMP in my role as leader of the opposition, I’m here to hold Justin Trudeau to account."
CALLS FOR POLICE REFORM
This week Lucki announced some RCMP officers would be outfitted with body cameras in an effort to enhance accountability and evidence gathering in the police force.
While some have criticized the move as a band-aid solution, others like Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde say it’s a step forward.
He told CTV’s Power Play host Evan Solomon on Wednesday that beyond this, policing should be deemed an "essential service" in Indigenous communities, with culturally relevant training.
"Right now it’s a program. We need policing in our communities as an essential service to ensure there’s adequate human and financial resources in place," he said. "Body cams is one piece, we can start looking at that, but what about getting more First Nations people on police boards."
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller echoed Trudeau’s remarks on Thursday about systemic racism in the RCMP but wouldn’t condemn remarks made by high-ranking police authorities.
"It isn’t by some magical stroke of fate that the RCMP would be immune to that. We know it exists. And we have to acknowledge it. I’m not going to judge the commissioner on a series of interviews she gave yesterday," said Miller.
However, he pointed to a commitment Lucki made two years ago to the commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
"It's very clear to me that the RCMP could have done better. I promise to you, we will do better. You are entitled to nothing less than our best work in your communities,” said Lucki on June 25, 2018.
Miller said that upon reflecting on the events of the last two weeks, he questions if this truly is the best the national police force can do to protect Indigenous Peoples.
"Is that the absolute best? Because that was the promise that was made two years ago. We need to look at that. We need to look no further than the report that came out of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls commission."
He said instead of focusing on "defunding" the police – a notion brought forward by a number of voices in the Black Lives Matter community and elsewhere following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis – Canada should look at "refunding" the police to establish security services more reflective of local needs.
"I look at a number of communities where as a percentage of the population compared to non-Indigenous Peoples, there is an over-representation of people that have served in the armed forces that have served in the RCMP, and various regional police forces, yet they themselves don’t have their own policing community. That’s not on the RCMP, that’s on government."
The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs has weighed in on the defunding debate that has intensified since Floyd’s death.
"As police leaders in Canada, we welcome thoughtful and constructive discussion on possible reform to our public safety systems, but that discussion needs to be informed and evidence-based with police at the table," said President and Chief Const. Adam Palmer in a statement issued Wednesday.
Miller said the first step forward is finding the "maturity" and "self-awareness" to acknowledge racial injustices.
"If we’re blind to the past, we’re blind to the future."
With files from CTVNews.ca's Graham Slaughter