On Jan. 31, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that there is a “pervasive culture” of racism and that a “change in culture” is needed within Canadian police forces to ensure indigenous people are treated the same as everyone else.
“It is an important admission of the real nature of the problem,” said Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International Canada, Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
There are a number of things at work in this pervasive culture of racism. According to Benjamin, there are often gaps in policies and procedures allowing individual bias to come into play.
Police look at indigenous people as a threat to law and order, from which the rest of society needs to be protected. As a result, Aboriginal communities are being over-policed and under-protected.
The issue that always comes up is the necessity of cultural training – the need to understand and appreciate Aboriginal ways in order to actively engage with Aboriginal Peoples.
And perhaps more crucially, Benjamin suggested, the need for greater accountability, transparency and private investigation.
Benjamin described the prime minister’s statement as a “promising beginning.” However, he mentioned there are still some serious questions that need answers regarding the extent of participation and co-operation in this inquiry for stakeholders.
David Newhouse, Chair and Associate Professor of Indigenous Studies at Trent University, said the idea that Aboriginal Peoples are lesser than others is built right into the foundation of Canadian legislation, which is still on the table today. He points out that it is difficult to help with missing and murdered indigenous women cases because police construct indigenous people as problems.
To act upon Trudeau’s statement, there are a number of things one can and has to do. Newhouse suggested proper training for police officers dealing with aboriginal people, hiring a sufficient number of aboriginal police officers and having aboriginal people serve on police boards, more oversight of the police and provincial legislature that ask questions about what the police are doing.
“We need action at the individual level, police board level, and the provincial legislature level to see a change,” Newhouse said, adding that it is important that the inquiry be established in a way that makes sense to indigenous people so they can understand the findings. We can then use the report as a basis for change in police culture.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” said Newhouse. There is optimism that indigenous people-led efforts can make a difference, and if that’s the approach Trudeau wants to take – to help people do things for themselves – then there is a great chance for positive change.
But if the government goes down the old path of doing things for people, Newhouse added, then they will be talking about the same problem for generations down the road.
Lauren Gilchrist, Communications Coordinator of Peterborough Police Service (PPS), provides reassurance that PPS has worked hard over the years to create long lasting, relevant partnerships and collaborations with First Nations people and agencies. They also work closely and in collaboration with community organizations that support women and children at risk.
Editor’s note: Included is an official statement from the Peterborough Police Service that was not included in an earlier version of the article:
“We know that a culture has emerged out of centuries of racism and misogyny that affects all systems of our society. Solutions are everyone’s responsibility, especially in those parts of the system with more power such as police services, governments, religious communities and schools.
This is why the Peterborough Police Service has worked hard over the years to create long lasting and relevant partnerships and collaborations with First Nations people and agencies. We also work closely with and in collaboration with our community organizations that support women and children at risk.
All of our members, sworn and civilian are expected to live up to our motto, professional, friendly and helpful, in all of our interactions with the public we serve. We treat all individuals equitably.
Our Service was one of the first police services in the Province to establish a leading and cutting-edge system for reporting and tracking hate bias crime incidents. This reporting system allows us to track trends in our community and alerts us to any issues in our community involving a marginalized group.
We currently have no outstanding investigations involving missing or murdered indigenous women. Any such case would receive the highest standard of service to which we aspire and are held accountable to by the Police Services Board and our community.
Our Service prides itself on being involved with more than 101 community groups and agencies and we know that a healthy community, one that is supported and works in partnership with its local police service, is a thriving community.”
We cannot provide comment on other Police Services and can only speak to our work and Members.”