RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson made a long-overdue admission to a group of Indigenous leaders this week. “There are racists in my police force,” he said. The acknowledgement is most welcome. Yet Paulson’s comment echoes many other gestures of apology and reconciliation made by national leaders that lack the necessary depth and transparency to create real change in Canada.
Paulson’s statement reinforces the false notion that there are merely “a few bad apples” in the force. There are a few bad apples, of course; as Grand Chief Doug Kelly, leader of the Sto:lo Tribal Council in British Columbia, said, “some of the worst racists carry a gun and they carry a badge.” But Paulson’s acknowledgement of the existence of racists in the RCMP fails to account for the systemic racism, sexism and violence underlying the relationship between policing and injustice towards Indigenous women in this country. It therefore fails to move us forward on the difficult path of reconciliation.
Paulson encourages Indigenous leaders to “have confidence in the processes that exist, up to and including calling me.” But his statement lacks recognition that Indigenous mistrust of policing in Canada is not based on a few “racists,” but on ongoing systemic racism. Racism so deep that, in 2015, the commissioner himself released a misleading update to the RCMP’s operational overview of missing and murdered women. As the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women has documented, the update only includes partial statistics apparently chosen to support a policy agenda that sought to undermine calls for an inquiry.
By cherry-picking data, the commissioner’s office bolstered false claims that blamed Indigenous communities for the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Paulson’s 2015 update ignores the many findings from previous commissions that point to systemic failures of police and justice systems in Canada. It specifically disregards the finding of the 2014 operational overview that Indigenous women are more likely than non-Indigenous women to be killed by someone other than a spouse or family member, including strangers.
The report also ignores the long record of violent and racist actions by police toward Indigenous people in Canada. This includes the findings of the CEDAW Committee that official government and police accounts of responses to missing and murdered Indigenous women were “diametrically opposed” to those provided by Indigenous women, their families, victim services and academics.
Paulson’s update also overlooks findings of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in British Columbia that documented how reports of missing Indigenous women made by family and friends are frequently not accepted or ignored until far too much time has lapsed.
Domestic violence is a serious problem in Canada for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women. However, the RCMP’s decision to arbitrarily frame the crisis of missing and murdered women exclusively in terms of domestic violence ignores the disproportionate targeting of Indigenous women by strangers and obscures the context of colonial violence that Indigenous people must endure, as recently documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools.
Reconciliation requires that Paulson account for the ways the RCMP implemented policies of residential schooling, removed Indigenous children from their families and communities, perpetuated sexualized violence and falsely blamed Indigenous persons for the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Ongoing mistrust in the “processes that exist” rightfully extends to Paulson and his office.
To move past this well-founded mistrust and toward reconciliation, and to highlight Paulson’s commitment to work with the upcoming national commission of inquiry, the inquiry must examine systemic racism — not merely “racists” — within the RCMP. This should include RCMP policies as well as the conduct of RCMP officers.
Julie Kaye is research adviser for the Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice and the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women. She is assistant professor of sociology and Director of Community Engaged Research at the King’s University. firstname.lastname@example.org @mysoci.
Beverly Jacobs, LLB., LL.M., PhD Candidate, Sole practitioner at Jacobs Law, Six Nations Grand River Territory. email@example.com @bevisiting
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