Leadership requires decisive action when the lives of citizens are at stake

Hill Times November 2, 2020

Canada has a value of finding the middle ground and saying nice things, but it tends to backfire when applied to cases of ineffective leadership. The prime minister said he stands by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki despite her defence of RCMP officers who allowed white mobs to attack First Nations. Let’s be clear that no such action would be taken by a police force to stand idly by if Indigenous individuals destroyed white people’s property.

A number of influential leaders have called for the resignation of Lucki on her waffling systemic racism, lack of action to urgently address racism in the ranks, and lack of leadership: former Senator Lillian Dyck, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and additional First Nations regions and communities, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller condemned RCMP actions in the lobster war. Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal called the videos of police brutality against Indigenous individuals “revolting.”

Commissioner’s Lucki’s recent response?  “I remain committed … to advancing Indigenous reconciliation” from her twitter account. That’s nice. Commitment isn’t action.

On Oct. 29, Trudeau responded in the House to NDP Jack Harris with a piece of messaging gold which blathered around in performative empty words, until the last phrase “we will bring forward meaningful change to ensure that police treat all people with dignity and respect.”

Let’s focus on that “meaningful change” phrase. It is an admission that change has to be made. Second, it’s truly heartbreaking that meaningful change is required to ensure Indigenous children are treated with respect, isn’t it? As the minister responsible for the RCMP, Public Safety Minister Blair has some accounting to do.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission lacks both transparency and efficiency—there are complaints dating back to 2013 that haven’t been resolved, and no end in sight yet for the botched investigation into the shooting death of Colten Bouchie. However, even this commission doesn’t have any power as its findings are only recommendations. This structure might be useless.

The structure of police investigating itself contributes to a lack of consequences of wrongdoing in the deaths of Indigenous people during arrests. The beating of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam in March? Reasonable. The shooting death of Attachie Ashoona in Nunavut in February? Cleared, despite witness testimony disputing the officers’ story. The officers who ‘doored’ an Inuk in Kinngait? They are under investigation in six different incidents with no consequences yet. Seems an RCMP police officer might have more chance of winning the lottery than be convicted of police brutality. There is no structure to hold RCMP officers to account.

The majority of Canadians polled by Angus Reid said they believe systemic racism exists in the RCMP. The APTN recently checked back on a story two years old that found hundreds of racist comments against Indigenous peoples in private Facebook posts, and found that nothing has changed. Racism is voiced regularly. Officers who are not saying racist crap are not acting to stop it. Nothing has changed.

This is a failed institution built upon archaic structures that protect internal wrongdoing, including racism against Indigenous peoples and deaths of citizens at the hands of police.

Blair, Freeland, and Trudeau must stop protecting a broken structure led by an ineffective commissioner, and start leading with decisive action. It’s time for Lucki’s resignation. It’s very much time for significant structural overhaul within one year: civilian oversight, including Indigenous members; immediate dismissal of officers who commit any crime; and immediate dismissal of leaders who have not demanded ethical behaviour of their subordinates.

Clean house, before more citizens die at the hands of the police.