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Benson Cowan
View Benson Cowan Profile
Benson Cowan
2020-07-23 12:31
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
I'm the chief executive officer of the Legal Services Board of Nunavut, which is the territorial legal aid provider.
Nunavut's legal aid context is a little different. There are very few private lawyers in Nunavut. The Legal Services Board is by far the largest employer of lawyers in Nunavut, perhaps even in the Arctic. Certainly that's the case with respect to criminal law. Almost 100% of criminal cases pass through our staff lawyers and our contract lawyers at some point, and we probably carry more than 90% of them to conclusion.
I reside in Rankin Inlet, which is a community of about 2,500 people in the Kivalliq region in central Nunavut. I've been there since January 2019. I grew up in a series of remote first nations communities in northern Manitoba and northern Ontario. While I have a lot of experience working and living with indigenous communities, I want to be really clear that my perspective is not that of an indigenous person. I was listening in on the previous witnesses. With respect to Nunavut, President Obed and President Kotierk's evidence and perspective is, I'd submit, the lens through which these issues need to be dealt with. I can offer some technical advice, but I want to be really clear that I don't experience the systemic racism in the same way that the Inuit members of my community do.
When we talk about systemic racism, for me it's a fairly simple equation: Is there a racialized group that is experiencing a disproportionate burden or barrier? Is that ongoing and persistent? Are remedial efforts ineffective or nonexistent? I would submit that the evidence that this is the case with respect to policing in Nunavut is overwhelming.
We can start in terms of evidence. We can look at the data from StatsCan that suggest that Nunavummiut, people who reside in Nunavut outside of Iqaluit—in most communities, that's over 90%—are four times as likely to be charged with a criminal offence than other Canadians. Once charged, they're more likely to be prosecuted. Once prosecuted, they're more likely to be convicted. Once convicted, they're more likely to be sentenced to jail. They are sentenced to longer sentences, and they serve more of those sentences. I've summarized some of that data in the Legal Services Board 2018-19 annual report, if you're interested, and there are sources for it as well.
Also, when we look at the evidence of systemic racism with respect to policing in Nunavut, we can also look at the repeated instances that we hear throughout the justice system of interactions between the police and members of the community that are fraught with violence and that are otherwise problematic. I summarized almost 30 of those last June and forwarded them to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. I met with the commissioner and asked her to consider doing a systemic review. However, those instances that I reported on are still a fraction of what we hear in the community on a regular and ongoing basis. They're present in the courts. There's a consistent process of charges being withdrawn or judicial commentary on these instances. There is a wealth of evidence that there are, on the ground, problematic interactions of a nature that, frankly, just don't exist to the same extent in other jurisdictions in the country.
Then the other piece of evidence is sort of what's missing: any systematic, public or transparent approach to the conduct in criminal investigations and proceedings in relation to this conduct. There have been a few conduct investigations and one set of criminal charges that have been laid in Nunavut against police over the past 20 years.
Generally speaking, I estimate that partly because there is very little in the way of a systematic approach to conduct investigations on the part of the RCMP senior management and partly because it's not a transparent model, we just don't see evidence of these matters being addressed.
Very quickly, I'd say that obviously it's really clear that a new model is required for policing in Nunavut. Regardless of the content of that model, I'd say that there are three elements that must be addressed for any change to be possible.
One is increased resources to front-line policing. In this age of “defund the police”, I know that's not a very popular point of view, but the conditions that rank-and-file officers are forced to deal with are unbelievably arduous and stressful, and no change is possible without more resources. Also, frankly, you're never going to attract qualified Inuit applicants to go and work in those conditions either. Without increased funding for front-line policing, no change is possible.
Second, you need increased resources for restorative justice and social services in the communities. I cannot emphasize enough the lack of alternative dispute resolution or counselling or therapeutic services in Nunavut communities. There is basically a dearth of any of the range of services that are provided in other communities in this country. As a result, all these problems are handed to the police, and they respond with the tools they have, which more often than not are tools of coercion, arrest and charging.
The third thing that has to change is there needs to be meaningful, robust, independent civilian oversight. That means independent civilian investigations on criminal and use-of-force and death allegations, independent complaint-based conduct investigations, and independent oversight at the national level of RCMP policy and strategic direction. I think it's clear that the senior management of the RCMP are unable to drive change and respond to this. The current situation, in which they're not accountable to civilian oversight in a structured way, is part of the problem.
View Kristina Michaud Profile
Thank you, Mr. White.
Mr. Cowan, you also touched on the issue of funding, which is a divisive issue. Some people talk about defunding, while others talk about having more resources. How do you see that on your side?
Benson Cowan
View Benson Cowan Profile
Benson Cowan
2020-07-23 13:04
Thank you for the question.
I think that, again, in the Nunavut context, the question of defunding is entirely.... It's a red herring. Most communities have a handful of officers who are subject to arduous conditions, and it's impossible to imagine any positive change taking place unless you had more resources and more stability in community detachments.
I do think, alongside that, you need a massive investment in community resources as well. Certainly, in remote northern communities, policing is so important in a way that it has a different character and flavour than it does in the south. If it's not properly funded, it destroys public trust in a whole range of justice institutions. It makes the communities less safe. It makes vulnerable people less likely to go to the police for help.
View Charlie Angus Profile
We'll follow up in the next round.
I'm very pleased to see you talking about the disparity faced by indigenous police in what is being treated as a program. In the communities we represent in Treaty No. 9 with the Nishnawbe Aski Police, who do incredible work, we've had a hell of a time getting them radios, getting backup. One officer told me, “I've slept in places you wouldn't let a dog sleep in.” Their underfunding has put their ability to serve people at risk.
When I see the struggle that we have in Nishnawbe Aski territory to get good policing, and then I see, for example, the RCMP buying two armoured vehicles at a time when we're talking about de-escalating and demilitarizing, I have to ask, what kind of priority is that? We're buying old gear from Iraq, but the RCMP can afford that? We can't get backup radios to ensure police protection in isolated communities such as Kingfisher Lake or Pikangikum.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Your question, I think, highlights a flaw in the existing system, where those indigenous police services in Ontario that you cite are funded on a funding model where the federal government pays 52% of the salary and costs of policing, and the province pays 48%. That model of program funding has created, I think, very serious deficiencies in those police services.
By the way, I know the men and women who serve in those services, and their leadership too. They're really great people, and they're doing their very best under very difficult and challenging circumstances. It's one of the things that motivates my government to create that new legislative framework to serve those communities better and to give them the type of appropriately resourced policing services they deserve and need.
View Michael Cooper Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you Auditor General Hogan for appearing today. Again, congratulations on your appointment.
You noted in your testimony that it will take years in terms of audits to go through the COVID spending. Just having regard for the scope of COVID and the additional mandate that places on your office, the $10.8-million request was made at a time when the office had already had its mandate expanded and was already doing additional work without additional resources. Is that not correct?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2020-06-22 12:45
You are correct. Back in 2017, there was an initial request made by Mr. Ferguson. Some funds were received in 2018. It was about a third of what was requested. Then the $10.8 million was part of the second tranche that Mr. Ferguson had been looking for.
As you mentioned, that was following some mandates we received that were unfunded. Since then, there have been additional mandates added. Then there are the three orders from the House related to investing in Canada, special warrants and COVID-19. Then, as well, just dealing with our technology gap, we were able to fund some of the other requests earlier on that we need to address.
The $10.8 million is an outdated request and, as I mentioned in my opening statement, one that we are looking at and hope to be able to refresh very soon.
View Michael Cooper Profile
Would it be fair to say that it's a significantly outdated request?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2020-06-22 12:46
Three years is a very long time even without a pandemic in the middle of all that, so yes, it would be fair to say that it's significantly outdated.
View Peter Julian Profile
Thanks, Mr. Chair, and thanks, Ms. Ropar, Mr. Casola, and Mr. Morley for being here today. We hope your families are safe and healthy.
I want to start by asking a very simple question. How much money has the Infrastructure Bank received from the federal government to date, over the length of its existence, and what have been the operational expenses?
Annie Ropar
View Annie Ropar Profile
Annie Ropar
2020-06-22 14:18
I can take that question.
We can divide up the appropriations between two parts. There are capital appropriations, which are amounts that are funded for investments. As of the end of Q3 of the 2019-20 fiscal year, which is the last set of financials we have published, that totals just over a billion dollars. Obviously, that was in support of the REM transaction.
In terms of operating costs and expenses, the most recent fiscal quarter, this would be December 31, 2019, the total operating costs are roughly about $16.6 million on that front.
I want to point out that obviously that is the cost side of the equation, but there is also a revenue side to the equation. As of the end of Q3 of that same period, we roughly have about $9.7 million in accrued interest revenue on our transactions.
Annie Ropar
View Annie Ropar Profile
Annie Ropar
2020-06-22 14:20
I'm sorry, that's just for the year-to-date fiscal Q3, December 2019. Last year, our full year fiscal expenses were about $11.4 million, the last fiscal year ending March 2019.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
The Minister of Infrastructure claims that the government funded 52,000 infrastructure projects. Yesterday, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that about 20,000 projects were missing from the list submitted by the government.
Will the government's financial snapshot provide all the details of each of these projects, yes or no?
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Chair, I have decided to make my response in English in response to the misleading words that were spoken in the House yesterday by the member for Carleton. I'd like to believe the member would not deliberately mislead the House, so I would ask that he retract and correct his false claim that the PBO said infrastructure projects are missing. In fact, the PBO report confirms—
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