OTTAWA — Canada’s national police force has a shattered relationship with Indigenous Peoples and must re-examine how it treats individuals, especially those who are homeless or dealing with addiction issues, the head of a national Inuit organization said Thursday.
“I think what we’re seeing is policing through stereotypes,” Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told MPs on the public safety committee.
“Without a relationship between the RCMP and the community, Inuit aren’t seen as people but we’re seen through all the negative lenses that perhaps the general Canadian society thinks of when they think of Inuit and what it’s like to police Inuit.”
This leads to over-policing and under-policing: excessive use of force in some cases, while Indigenous women are murdered or going missing with little to no police follow-up, he added.
The committee is probing the issue of systemic racism in policing in Canada, following a number of serious and violent incidents between the RCMP and Indigenous Peoples this year, including several in Nunavut.
“What we know paints a distressing picture of the systemic nature of police violence and discrimination against our communities,” Obed said.
“What is clear is that systemic racism and racism itself kills,” he said, calling for action.
Virtually all of the witnesses, including First Nations and Inuit leaders, as well as a number of social policy experts, urged Ottawa to launch an independent, civilian review of RCMP practices as a first step in addressing the problem.
Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations said there is an urgent need for less punitive and more restorative options for policing.
He called zero-tolerance policies on use of force, greater use of body cameras and for the federal government to create a national strategic plan for First Nations justice.
“Really what we’re looking for is more restorative justice and more looking towards rehabilitation and alternatives to jails,” Teegee said.
Given the generations of history of distrust between many Indigenous Peoples and the Mounties, the onus is on the force to try to rebuild this relationship, said Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.
This should include a more trauma-informed and culturally sensitive approach and an attempt to communicate in their traditional languages, Kotierk added.
A number of calls also emerged for more First Nations and Inuit RCMP officers and for longer deployments, particularly in northern communities.
But these ideas could be more challenging to implement, according to some of the experts, as many First Nations and Inuit might wish to travel elsewhere, rather than don the RCMP uniform in their own communities.
“To ask an Indigenous person to train in a colonial form of policing to police their own communities is really to ask them to adopt an internal identity struggle before they even have their first day on the job,” said Robert S. Wright, a social worker and sociologist who also spoke about disproportionate police violence against Black Canadians.
Terry McCaffrey of the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario said culturally responsive policing practised by First Nations police forces has been working well, despite chronic underfunding.
He urged Ottawa to follow through on its promise to designate First Nations policing as an essential service.
“The IPCO services have made the effort to ensure that our policing services align with the values of our community, instead of trying to force our communities to align with conventional policing values,” McCaffrey said.
“Communities want accountability from the police. Indigenous police forces are accountable to our communities and not just when there’s a tragedy.”
As the government moves forward to address public outcry over systemic racism in policing, any reforms or reviews must involve First Nations, Inuit and Metis at the outset to help guide and inform outcomes, the witnesses told the committee.