Emergency debate on racism – Sen. Dalphond

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, we have all heard about the recent violent acts towards Indigenous people, including the assault of Chief Allan Adam in Fort McMurray, the 22-year-old Indigenous man who was struck by a police vehicle door in Nunavut, and the two horrific deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in New Brunswick, of whom I spoke about twice earlier this week.

These are just a few recent examples that drive home the need to address systemic racism in our policing in Canada. However, racism, be it towards Indigenous peoples, black Canadians or other people of colour within our justice system is nothing new. For decades, racial tensions have been bubbling under the surface without any significant action to address them. Unfortunately, it took deaths here and in the U.S.A. to initiate a focus on policing in Canada and to lead to a deeper conversation on systemic racism across our country.

Senators, I may not have lived experience of racism and discrimination, but I do understand facts and data when available, of course. There are no two ways about it: Systemic racism exists, and it is very much a reality for a significant portion of our population.

I gather that there are elected members in Quebec City and in Ottawa who still today do not understand — or claim to not understand — the concept of systemic racism. That is surprising, to say the least, considering the many studies, reports, commissions, Supreme Court rulings and recent events reported in the media.

Fortunately, on June 15, in response to a report on systemic racism and discrimination issued by the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, which Senator Seidman referred to earlier, the Mayor of Montreal said, and I quote:

We are firmly committed to implementing systemic solutions to these systemic problems. We must act now and the City of Montreal must set an example.

According to the mayor, recognizing that systemic racism exists within the municipal government means that the problem also exists, by extension, within the Montreal police force.

The mayor’s statement is striking, but, again, not surprising. Montreal, like other Canadian cities, has been the scene of acts of police brutality against visible minorities and, more insidiously, of dubious practices such as profiling and carding of people of colour. Nonetheless, systemic racism and discrimination go beyond policing.

In fact, racism and systemic discrimination still exists in all spheres of our justice system, despite the fact that it was made public many years ago. I will refer to an important example.

In 1971, Donald Marshall Jr., a man well-known in the Atlantic provinces, was wrongly convicted of murder and spent 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In 1990, seven years after his release, a royal commission that was chaired by a judge and assisted by my former Chief Justice of the Superior Court, exonerated him of all blame. The commission stated that the criminal justice system failed him at every step of the way, and systemic racism contributed to his wrongful conviction. It has been 30 years since the royal commission determined Donald Marshall Jr. faced systemic racism within the justice system. Unfortunately, little has changed.

A 2014 report from the Office of the Correctional Investigator found “. . . evidence of systemic racism within each of the components of the criminal justice system . . . .”

Earlier this week the Parliamentary Black Caucus also singled out this still-prevailing problem.

Speaking of Mr. Marshall Jr., back in his community, once he had been released, he took a case to the Supreme Court of Canada called R. v. Marshall on behalf of the Mi’kmaq, claiming fishing rights. He won before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999 in a much-celebrated and landmark case about fishing rights and Indigenous treaty rights.

However, as we heard from Senator Christmas last year when we were looking at Bill C-68 on fishing rights, the rights of the Mi’kmaq in Atlantic Canada are still not fully recognized to this day, more than 20 years after the landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. This is yet another sign that we as a society are far from equal justice for Indigenous Canadians and that the government has been failing on the implementation of conclusions of the Supreme Court of Canada judgment to enforce these recognized constitutional rights.

In its report, the Parliamentary Black Caucus has made important and significant recommendations, and I am going to point out 15 of them. They are easy. They have been identified in the past so often but not yet implemented.

First, “Eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing measures,” which has been also sponsored by Senator Pate for many years in the Senate. The government has promised to act on this, and still to this day we have not seen a bill introduced by the government. However, we heard recently that maybe it’s coming finally.

Two, “Revisit restrictions on conditional sentencing.”

Three, “Establish community justice centers across the country as an alternative for imprisonment.”

Four, “Fund community-based sentencing diversion programs . . . .”

Five, “Invest in restorative justice programs and other community-grounded initiatives.”

Six, “Implement the recommendations from previous parliamentary committees regarding efforts to counter online hate, heighten public safety, and make sure that social media platforms are responsible for removing hateful and extremist content.”

Seven, “Address the lack of representation of Black Canadians and Indigenous people in the administration of justice (e.g., judges, prosecutors, justices of the peace).” They should come from these communities, and are fully able to serve.

Eighth, “Provide supplemental legal aid for individuals from communities that are over-represented in our prisons.” They are often forgotten for many years.

Nine, “Fundamentally reform police, public security, border security, corrections, and military forces. Focus on effective policing with an emphasis on de-escalation techniques,” as advocated by Senator Murray Sinclair in The Globe and Mail a few days ago.

Ten, “. . . reallocations [of funds] should be directed toward social service and mental health care experts trained in nonviolent intervention and de-escalation.” It is expected that they will work closely with the police service to prevent the use of arms in responding to mental health problems. This happened in Montreal a few years ago.

Eleven, “Move immediately to ban carding and racial profiling by federal law enforcement.”

Twelve, “. . . address over-representation of Black Canadians and Indigenous people in the federal prison population, implement the recommendations from numerous existing studies on this issue.” This is not new. It has not been acted upon. That is the problem.

Thirteen, “Immediately release from correctional institutions individuals who do not pose a risk to society with adequate support in the community and in consultation with affected communities. . . .”

Fourteen, “Address the lack of representation of Black Canadians and Indigenous people in the administration of public security (e.g., parole board members, senior prison administration, post-release administration).”

Fifteen, “Require body cameras for all on-duty police officers. . . ” This is a proposal that the Prime Minister has finally endorsed.

Honourable senators, solutions are available, but the will to implement them is missing. There cannot be any further delays. We don’t need more task forces, commissions or reports. We need action.

Yesterday I read an interesting article by Noémie Mercier in L’actualité. She explained how black women are often forgotten at conference tables, in workplace and in debates on systemic racism. They are largely forgotten in the conversation on racism. Ms. Mercier said that black women are twice as likely to be stopped by police as white women. They do exist then and they are more likely to come into conflict with the justice system than white women. This is far from unique to Montreal or Quebec City. As Ms. Mercier pointed out, in Halifax black women are 3.6 times more likely to be stopped by police than white women. In Ottawa, black women drivers aged 16 to 24 are pulled over at a rate 80% higher than their demographic numbers would suggest. In the country as a whole, white women earn 67% of what white men do. However, black women earn 56% of what white men do. In short, visible minority women face double discrimination on the basis of gender and race.

In considering ways to address systemic racism and discrimination, special attention should be given to the effect of gendered racism, especially for women members of minority groups.

To conclude, racism is a reality even today for Indigenous, black and brown people in their interactions with police and public institutions, and even in the workplace. All of us, as citizens, legislators and members of society have a moral obligation to adopt concrete measures to counter racism immediately. Thank you. Meegwetch.


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