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Why are Indigenous people in Canada so much more likely to be shot and killed by police?

Chantel Moore’s mother Martha Martin, centre, participates in a healing walk from the Madawaska Malaseet reserve to Edmundston’s town square honour Moore in Edmundston, N.B. on Saturday June 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Stephen MacGillivray)

An Indigenous person in Canada is more than 10 times more likely to have been shot and killed by a police officer in Canada since 2017 than a white person in Canada.

A CTV News analysis reveals that of the 66 people shot and killed by police in that time frame for whom race or heritage could be identified, 25 were Indigenous.

That’s nearly 40 per cent of the total. Adjusted for population based on 2016 census data, it means 1.5 out of every 100,000 Indigenous Canadians have been shot and killed by police since 2017, versus 0.13 out of every 100,000 white Canadians.

“It’s totally alarming,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde told CTVNews.ca via telephone from Ottawa on June 17.

“This is not acceptable, it’s not right in 2020, but the trends are there.”

The disparity doesn’t stop there. Citing Statistics Canada data and various academic studies, a 2019 report from the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) found several other ways in which the Canadian justice system disproportionately targets Indigenous Canadians, including:

  • Indigenous Canadians are 11 times more likely than non-Indigenous Canadians to be accused of homicide
  • Indigenous Canadians are 56 per cent more likely to be victims of crime than other Canadians
  • In 2016, Indigenous Canadians represented 25 per cent of the national male prison population and 35 per cent of the national female prison population

“Why is it that we’re 4.5 per cent of the population in Canada as First Nations people, but yet the jails are full of our people?” Bellegarde said.

Those who study the intersection of Indigenous Canadians and Canadian-style policing say the answer to that question cannot be found in what happens as cases make their way through the criminal justice system. Nor can it be found in what happens after police arrive at the scene of an incident, or in what happens as officers are dispatched.

The issues that lead to Indigenous Canadians facing overrepresentation in the Canadian justice system have roots that stretch years, decades, even generations into the past, experts say – and will never be addressed if attention isn’t paid to injustices in other parts of the system.

“The conversation needs to be about systemic racism, and the continued colonial constructs that set up too many of these highly dangerous encounters,” Norm Taylor, an executive adviser who has worked with police leaders and provincial governments on issues related to community safety, told CTVNews.ca via telephone from Oshawa, Ont. on June 17.

A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM

Taylor was one of the 11 experts on policing in Indigenous communities who put together the CCA report, which found that the current Indigenous overrepresentations in the justice system are directly linked to historical mistreatment of Indigenous peoples.

They’re also tied to the worse outcomes faced by Indigenous Canadians when it comes to poverty, mental health, addictions and other socioeconomic factors that are considered risk factors for negative encounters with the justice system.

“If you look at your sample, in the vast majority of those cases, you’re going to find … they’re people with a host of risk factors operating, and the system has failed them,” Taylor said.

“In many instances, the subject will hold similar contempt for the health-care system, child welfare, schools and any other elements of the state-run human services, because the system has not served them well. It has not served their families well.”

The CCA report also concluded that moving away from these approaches and improving Indigenous health and well-being can best be achieved by adapting policing approaches to meet the needs of Indigenous communities, focusing on relationships and building trust rather than law enforcement.

Many of these themes are echoed in the recommendations in the 2019 report from the inquiry examining the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, which are aimed at adding new mechanisms to ensure policing agencies meet the needs of the communities they serve.

These ideas may sound prescient now, as calls to defund the police gather steam across North America, but they’re hardly new. Academics and Indigenous leaders have been touting them for decades, and many police leaders have more recently followed suit.

“Officers are doing the job that is asked, and often they’re doing it under difficult and high-risk circumstances,” Taylor said.

“One of the questions we have to be asking is ‘Is it the job they should be doing? Are they adequately prepared to deal with all the intercultural mistrust? Do they even have the skills to provide a trauma-informed perspective?'”

‘KEEP PUSHING’

Advice along these lines – which Taylor describes as “more about public health than … about policing” can be found in report after report after report presented to governments going back to the last century. While some parts of the country have slowly been moving in this direction, Bellegarde said the continued deaths of Indigenous Canadians at the hands of police are proof that much more needs to be done.

“The complacency of governments for lack of implementation of these reports and the recommendations therein is killing our people,” he said.

Specific starting points for action could include making policing an essential service on reserves, guaranteeing stable funding levels for community leaders to rely on, Bellegarde said, as well as creating civilian police oversight bodies for communities that use the RCMP, increased screening for racial biases during the recruitment process, adding more Indigenous representation in positions of authorities and potentially redirecting some police funding to dedicated mental health response teams.

Although pushing for these changes has long been an exercise in frustration, Bellegarde said he is hopeful that the current wave of protests for justice reform will bear fruit.

“We have to take advantage of the groundswell of support. We have to keep pushing harder,” he said.

By Ryan Flanagan, CTVNews.ca, published Friday, June 19, 2020

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Controversial bill targeting rail blockade protesters soon to be Alberta law

Around 20 demonstrators set up a blockade on a CN Rail line west of Edmonton. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Violators could face fines up to $25,000 and six months in jail

To some, it’s a bill that will enforce the rule of law, protect public safety and stop protesters from harming the economy.

To others, the Alberta government’s Bill 1 is an affront to democratic rights, an authoritarian overreach and a threat to Indigenous Peoples’ way of life.

The controversial Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, Premier Jason Kenney’s signature legislation to start the current session, passed third reading in the legislature on Thursday.

Government house leader Jason Nixon hopes it will receive the lieutenant-governor’s royal assent Friday, immediately making it law.

Introduced in February, the bill allows hefty penalties against any person or company found to have blocked, damaged or entered without reason any “essential infrastructure.”

The list of possible sites is lengthy and includes pipelines, rail lines, highways, oil sites, telecommunications equipment, radio towers, electrical lines, dams, farms and more, on public or private land.

Violators can be fined up to $25,000, sentenced to six months in jail, or both. Corporations that break the law can be fined up to $200,000. Each day they block or damage a site is considered a new offence.

Kenney introduced the legislation against the backdrop of protests across Canada, in which groups blockaded rail lines, commuter train routes and roadways in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline through their territory in northern B.C.

“When we brought this in, it was at a time of turmoil in Canada,” Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said in the legislature Thursday. “We had lawlessness across this country, where critical infrastructure was being obstructed. That is simply unacceptable. Here in the province of Alberta we expect the rule of law to be upheld.”

A CN Rail line in west Edmonton was the site of one such blockade in February.

The blockades snarled the movement of goods and passengers across the country, prompting layoffs and concerns about the food supply.

MLAs call protesters ‘spoiled kids’

After a nearly three-month delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill returned to the legislature this week for debate.

United Conservative Party MLAs called the protesters “ecoterrorists” and “spoiled kids,” saying some participants joined blockades because they thought it was a cool thing to do with their friends and post about on social media.

Those characterizations make Alison McIntosh cringe. The Climate Justice Edmonton organizer said freezing on a winter’s day while being harassed by counter-protesters isn’t “fun.”

She said the politicians’ comments are demeaning and dismissive of protesters’ legitimate concerns about the environment and economic diversification.

“It shows a lot of disregard for people who are their constituents — the people they purport to be looking out for,” said McIntosh, 28. “And it really highlights that we’re not the ones they’re considering when they pass legislation like Bill 1.”

Although it’s hard to tell until pandemic public health restrictions ease, Bill 1 could substantially change grassroots protests in Alberta, McIntosh said.

The organization can’t afford to pay such penalties if protesters are convicted, she said.

“It’s really troubling, but we’re creative. We know that there’s ways we can get our message across,” she said.

David Khan, leader of the Alberta Liberal party and a constitutional and Indigenous rights lawyer, said Thursday the new law could interfere with Indigenous Peoples’ rights to hunt, fish or gather on traditional land.

He calls the law draconian, legally dubious and a piece of political theatre designed to trivialize the tensions between oil and gas development, Indigenous rights and the environment.

In addition to potentially running afoul of citizens’ rights to free expression and association, Khan thinks the law could jeopardize Alberta’s international reputation as an ethical and democratic source of oil.

When asked for comment on Thursday, the Assembly of First Nations pointed to a statement issued in February by Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras urging the premier to withdraw the bill.

“Allowing the bill to pass will serve to erode individual rights, unfairly target Indigenous Peoples, and has no place in a democratic society,” she said at the time.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the broadness of the law could allow the government to potentially shut down political demonstrations at the legislature or interfere with a strike picket line.

He said the federation will launch a constitutional challenge.

“The UCP is trying to frame Bill 1 as a patriotic defence of our oil and gas industry,” he said Thursday. “But if you’re patriotic, this is actually the last piece of legislation you should be supporting because it is fundamentally undemocratic.”

NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley attempted to introduce amendments to Bill 1 this week, which were voted down by the United Conservative Party.

Government says it supports legal protest

The Opposition NDP also raised concerns the bill is too far reaching.

The party’s legal analysis found the language is so broad, it could be interpreted to mean that just being on public land or walking down a highway or next to a rail line could be illegal, justice critic Kathleen Ganley said in the legislature Thursday.

Such strict application of the law could be especially problematic given the large fines allowed, she said.

Central Peace-Notley UCP MLA Todd Loewen said in the legislature her concerns were “ridiculous.”

The high fines are designed to help perpetrators understand the drastic economic consequences of interfering with industries, he said.

Nixon said stopping protests or demonstrations is not their goal.

“You have a right to protest and express yourself in democracy and this government will always fight to make sure that happens,” he said.

“You do not have a right while you’re protesting to stopping trains from moving and products from getting to market, causing companies to go bankrupt, or to have to suspend or fire or layoff employees because your products can’t get to market.”

[SOURCE]

COVID-19 outbreaks in 23 First Nations prompting concerns

OTTAWA — Federal officials say the next two weeks will be crucial in trying to determine the scope and severity of the spread of COVID-19 in First Nations communities.

Cases of the virus have begun to present within Indigenous communities across Canada, including the first case in Nunavut — something health officials have been bracing for with concern, given the many vulnerabilities that exist among Indigenous populations.

Dr. Tom Wong, chief medical officer of public health at Indigenous Services Canada, says it’s too early to determine the severity of these outbreaks and whether the situation will worsen.

He said health officials are closely monitoring the situations and have jumped into action where needed.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller noted a particular concern over an outbreak in the Dene village of La Loche, about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

Conservative MP Gary Vidal, who represents the northern Saskatchewan riding where the village is located, said his concern is personal.

“This is my hometown, this is my area. These are families and kids that I coached in hockey and they’re all friends and connections, so this has become very personal for me suddenly,” Vidal told Miller during a House of Commons committee meeting Friday.

He noted the outbreak includes the deaths of two elders living in a care facility and that there are now also active cases in the neighbouring First Nation communities of English River and Clearwater River Dene.

“It’s too late for reactive measures, now is the time for a major proactive response from (Indigenous Services Canada) in northern Saskatchewan. This has become a very dangerous situation,” Vidal said.

Miller acknowledged he is “very worried” about this outbreak, and that his department has been working with the province and the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority to ensure a co-ordinated effort. Health Canada is mobilizing testing capacity, planning to ship personal protective equipment and sending in additional health professionals and medical officers.

As of April 30, there were 131 active cases of COVID-19 in a total of 23 Indigenous communities across Canada, and federal officials are working closely with First Nations leaders, provinces and territories to help slow the spread of the virus.

Some of these outbreaks have been traced to workplaces. This includes an outbreak of COVID-19 at a meat-packing plant in Alberta, which has been identified as the source of new cases in the nearby Stoney Nakoda First Nation, west of Calgary, Wong said.

Health officials are once again stressing the importance of physical distancing and handwashing, and will be watching closely over the next two weeks in the hopes they see the current rise in cases on First Nations begin to curve downward, Wong said.

“What we are hoping to not see is an exponential increase. What we are hoping to see is a flattening of the curve,” he said.

Meanwhile, Miller says the $15 million in COVID-19 emergency funding earmarked to help organizations that service Indigenous urban populations is not “not enough.”

Miller told the committee Friday his department received far more applications to this fund than the 94 proposals that have been approved.

He is now working to secure additional funds to help the vulnerable populations that friendship centres and other urban Indigenous organizations work to support every day.

“I will acknowledge that it is not enough and we are working more to serve these people in very vulnerable situations, and that’s work we will continue to do,” Miller said.

Last month, the National Association of Friendship Centres said their facilities across the country have been on the front lines of the crisis and have been inundated with requests for help as their communities struggle to cope.

The centres have been struggling to function without additional funds from the federal government as they work to meet an increased demand in services, the association said.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press, published May 1, 2020.

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Indigenous leaders call for pipeline shutdown over COVID-19 fears

As construction continues on the controversial, billion-dollar Coastal Gaslink pipeline in northern British Columbia, Indigenous communities living near the route fear that out-of-town workers could spread COVID-19 to the resource-strapped region.

First Nations leaders, many of whom supported the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ opposition to the project, are now calling on the federal and provincial governments to shut down the construction. In an open letter, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said the ongoing construction heightens the risk of transmission and puts both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities at risk.

“The risks posed by continued work on the Coastal GasLink project are ones that were not consented to, and ones that leaders and officials raised warnings about in advance of the project’s approval,” the group said in its letter.

Like most provinces, B.C has deemed construction projects an essential service. Provincial Medical Health Officer Bonnie Henry has said it isn’t safe or practical to shut down ongoing construction projects.

Coastal Gaslink has camps dotted across northern British Columbia to accommodate its workforce, which is projected to reach 2,500 workers once the project reaches its peak construction period.

These days, roughly 100 workers remain on the job, Coastal Gaslink said, down from about 1,000 before the coronavirus pandemic. To help prevent the spread of the virus, common areas are now restricted and the company said it is disinfecting equipment.

The company says local residents and contractors are being hired and that new employees won’t be moving in to the company’s accommodations. On-site medics are monitoring workers’ health using both temperature checks and health questionnaires. Workers must keep a distance of at least two metres from each other in the dining room and common areas, and each worker has their own bedroom and bathroom.

But Indigenous leaders say those measures don’t go far enough. Many of the workers come from out of town and live in close quarters at construction camps, and there are fears that they could spark an outbreak.

Speaking on behalf of the union, Chief Judy Wilson said the construction camps should not be allowed to stay open in the middle of a pandemic.

“If Trudeau is saying lock down self-isolate, all those things are important, why are the industrial resource camps not heeding those precautions?” Wilson told CTV News.

“This is serious. It needs to be shut down.”

In a separate open letter, the union has also called on the government to reduce fossil fuel production and exports, invest in renewable energy and not use emergency relief money to bail out the struggling oil and gas sector.

The issue comes down to limited healthcare resources, says Jennifer Wickham, a representative of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“In the north, we have really limited medical services as it is. So if anything were to happen, it would just overwhelm the limited services that we already have,” she said.

Across Canada, concerns have been raised about overloading rural and northern hospitals with unnecessary visitors. In British Columbia, authorities have asked residents to only travel when necessary.

While many businesses have been forced to close during the pandemic, construction and energy-related projects continue across Canada, including in OntarioAlberta and Quebec, where they are deemed essential services.

Earlier this year, the Coastal Gaslink pipeline was at the centre of a national controversy after rail blockades were established across the country in solitary with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who opposed the pipeline being built on their land. The blockades triggered mass layoffs and prompted high-level meetings between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s senior ministers and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

‘Our ancestors knew’: Maskwacis Cree enact Treaty 6 Medicine Chest clause over virus outbreak

First Nations enact ‘medicine clause’ to call state of emergency.

EDMONTON — Several Cree First Nations have jointly enacted Treaty 6’s Medicine Clause to call a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The chiefs of Ermineskin Cree Nation, Samson Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana Band met Sunday to make the “difficult decision.”

The leaders fear present issues of overcrowding, lack of health care capacity and proximity to Alberta’s largest cities and outbreak centres make their nations particularly vulnerable.

“If the virus were to get into the First Nations communities, it could be devastating,” Marlene Poitras, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Tuesday at a conference and gathering of the chiefs on Ermineskin First Nation.

“The Maskwacis declaration is unique in that it specifically references the Famine and Pestilence Clause in treaty. Our ancestors knew that these days were coming.”

The Medicine Chest clause is not present in the treaties signed before Treaty 6, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia. Its famine and pestilence clause grants Treaty 6 nations protection from those things.

The chiefs did not expand on what commitment they were looking for from the federal government.

“We’re hoping that the government does their part now,” Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback said.

“They’ve got to follow through and respect their part of the treaty.”

According to Alberta Health, one COVID-19 case has been confirmed in Wetaskiwin County, with which Treaty 6 territory overlaps.

Ermineskin Cree Nation activated its emergency operations centre on March 17, the same day the province of Alberta declared a public health emergency.

The nation has been limiting house service calls to top-priority calls and gatherings to 10 people or less, with physical distancing.

On Tuesday, the leaders pleaded for their youngest members to respect the precautions.

“Young people, you heard your leaders,” International Chief Wilton Littlechild said.

“Listen. Listen to their message that this is a very serious issue and you need to take care of yourself. Take good care of yourself.”

The office of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations was also closed earlier in the month to ensure the safety of workers and minimize community transition, but has remained operational.

AFN Regional Chief Marlene Poitras joined the chiefs of Ermineskin Cree Nation, Samson Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana Band on March 24 to announce their enacting of Treaty 6’s Medicine Chest clause. (Source: Facebook / Ermineskin Cree Nation)

By: Alex Antoneshyn / CTV Edmonton, published March 24, 2020.

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