Consideration of Government’s Role in Combatting Racism in Committee of the Whole

By: Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (retired), The Hon. Jim Munson

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Senator Munson: Thank you to the ministers for being here.

I have and we have the privilege of being present in person for today’s sitting, but as we look around at each other, I can’t help but think of all the missing faces in this chamber who might wish to participate in this very important debate.

You heard me deliver the words of my honourable colleagues Senator Lovelace Nicholas and Senator Lillian Dyck earlier this week, and I wish to do the same today. There’s a bit of a preamble here, but I think it’s important. This question to Minister Blair comes from my esteemed colleague Senator Dyck with a supplementary. In the words of Senator Dyck:

Recently, in March, Allan Adam, Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and his wife were stopped by police in Fort McMurray; the licence plate on his truck had expired. What should have been a relatively routine check turned into a brutal encounter for Chief Adam.

The RCMP dashcam video shows one police officer tackling Chief Adam without any warning, punching him in the head and applying a CAROTID hold. A photograph of Chief Adam’s badly battered face afterwards has shocked and shook the nation. Chief Adam stated, “Every time our people do wrong . . . (the RCMP) always seem to use excessive force and that has to stop.”

Chief Adam’s experience is an example of systemic racism by the RCMP.

The sad reality is that Indigenous men, like Indigenous women, face a greater risk of being met with violence.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2018, for example, the homicide rate for Indigenous men was 5 times greater than it was for non-Indigenous men.

These data are also evidence of systemic racism against Indigenous men.

It has been reported that in Saskatchewan 62% of people killed by police were Indigenous. And yet, as you know, Indigenous people represent only about 15% of the SK population. These data too are evidence of systemic racism against Indigenous people.

Mr. Blair, systemic racism has been the topic of much discussion in the last two weeks, especially after Commissioner Lucki struggled to answer whether or not it existed in the RCMP and then the next day decided that indeed it did. So it was completely surprising that Commissioner Lucki was unable to provide a correct example of systemic racism when she appeared two days ago at the meeting of the House of Commons Public Safety Committee on systemic racism.

As an Indigenous woman, I was floored by her lack of insight and knowledge. She mentioned the National Inquiry Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls, so she could have easily said that the denial by the RCMP for many years of the tragedy of MMIWG was an example of systemic racism. And then she could have said but that’s in the past, the RCMP now recognize the Indigenous women are more likely to be murdered and made missing. And that the RCMP now collect data on the Aboriginal identity and gender of homicide victims which they submit to Statistics Canada. But she didn’t.

Furthermore when she said that only 0.073% of RCMP investigations are lethal, she could have said, the over-representation of blacks, Indigenous people and other racialized minoritie, among those who are unnecessarily beaten or killed by the RCMP is an example of systemic racism in the RCMP. But she didn’t.

As a Canadian citizen, I was embarrassed that our Commissioner was not able to provide an example of systemic racism in the RCMP, when it has been THE topic across the country in the last couple of weeks.

This is simply unacceptable job performance.

As you know, I have called for Commissioner Lucki to resign or to be replaced.

Minister Blair, it is your responsibility to hold Commissioner Lucki to account, and it is also your responsibility to fix things that are wrong in the workings of the RCMP.

Senator Dyck’s question, to which Canadians across the country deserve an answer, is two-fold:

It’s even more clear now that Commissioner Lucki does not understand systemic racism. Minister Blair, how can she get rid of it when she doesn’t know what it is?

Mr. Blair: Thank you very much, senator, for the question.

When Senator Dyck expressed her initial concerns, I reached out to her right away. I called her and we spent considerable time on the phone. I have a great deal of respect for her perspective and her concerns.

I met with Commissioner Lucki about those concerns the day following the difficult interview that she had. I don’t give her operational decisions, but we did discuss at some length the RCMP and her responsibilities and my responsibilities. I would concur with you, sir — the commissioner runs the RCMP, but I am responsible for ensuring that the RCMP fulfills its legislative responsibilities and the commissioner does her job.

So I’ve had a number of conversations with her. I will tell you, sir, I respectfully disagree. I believe Commissioner Lucki does understand systemic racism. We’ve had a number of conversations. If I may — and I make no excuses for anyone — but I’ve been involved in this discussion, race relations and policing and the sometimes fraught relationship that can exist between the police and racialized communities and Indigenous communities across this country. Commissioner Lucki is not the first and not alone in finding difficulty in using the right words. But I also try to look at what’s in a person’s heart and what she’s trying to achieve.

When we hired Commissioner Lucki and appointed her to that position two years ago, we gave her a very significant responsibility: to reform a number of different significant aspects of the culture, the policies, the procedures and the training of the RCMP. She has worked diligently on that. I’ve worked side by side with her, and I’ve seen how hard she worked. I have met with her and her senior command team.

I believe they are intent on trying to do the right things. But Senator Dyck is quite correct in that more needs to be done. We should all be judged not just by our words but by our actions.

I believe — and I am very mindful of my responsibility, senator, to ensure that the actions of the RCMP and in particular the actions of the commissioner are what is necessary to serve all Canadians with the dignity, respect and equity that everyone is entitled to.

That very much is work that we are committed to doing and will continue to do. I think there were a number of examples that I believe the commissioner could have shared. Frankly, I’ve become, through experience, perhaps a little bit more at ease in discussing this. I did share with the commissioner my own experience.

As we discussed systemic racism in policing and in the communities the RCMP serve, systemic racism, not just in policing in the RCMP but in the entire criminal justice system and in our society, I can assure you that the commissioner demonstrated to me a very deep and profound understanding of that and, more importantly, a real commitment to do the hard work that is necessary to make a difference.

Again, senator, I would ask that we be judged on our actions. We are prepared to act and do what is necessary to address not just the individual misconduct — and Senator Dyck made reference to Chief Adam. I’ve reached out to the Regional Chief of Alberta as well as the national leadership. It’s quite apparent to me that there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done there. We’re prepared to do that work.

Senator Munson: Thank you, minister. I think you anticipated Senator Dyck’s second question, but I still, on her behalf, have to ask it:

What are you doing right now — right now — to hold Commissioner Lucki to account for her lack of knowledge about systemic racism? What actions have you taken now — what managerial or ministerial directives have you issued to her?

Mr. Blair: A number of things, sir, that I think are relevant. We have had a number of discussions. We’ve appeared before committee, but we’ve also met on a number of occasions to discuss the path forward and how to respond appropriately.

There are a number of allegations that are currently under investigation. I’ve also reached out to the Commissioner of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission because I think that that’s a very important function of independent oversight of the complaints process.

I’ve listened very carefully to Canadians across the country who have expressed concern about those investigations and, in particular, about the timelessness of response. I think when people make a complaint, they need a timely resolution of that complaint. They need to be kept informed of the investigation and the actions to be taken. I believe that the current legislation around the CRCC and the RCMP does not provide clear direction on timelines.

I will tell you that I’m working with my officials, the RCMP and the CRCC to clearly articulate timelines where the RCMP and the CRCC will be required to resolve these matters in a timely way. Right now it says as soon as feasible. That’s not acceptable. I think we need to be clear with Canadians. I’ve met with some of the families. In particular, I’ve met with the family of Colten Boushie —

The Chair: Minister, thank you very much. We have to move on to the next block of 10 minutes.

Please click here to read the full text of the Committee of the Whole.

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