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View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
I now call this meeting to order. This is the seventh meeting of the public safety committee, an emergency meeting called at the request of four members. There was a motion passed earlier today to study policing and the issue of systemic racism.
We're fortunate enough today to have with us Minister Bill Blair, a person frequently before this committee, along with Commissioner Lucki.
I understand, Mr. Blair, you have a 10-minute opening statement.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
I do, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
I'd also like to take the opportunity to thank you and the members of the committee for their kind invitation to speak before you. As we speak, we know that important discussions are taking place in communities and provinces right across Canada and around the world on the issue of systemic racism within the criminal justice system. This is a very important issue, and I am very grateful that SECU has decided to take on this particular issue at this most critical time. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to your discussion.
We have seen shocking video footage of George Floyd's death, and that footage has galvanized people to raise their voices in protests like never before. While the protest movement began south of the border, the demonstrations soon spread to Canada as well and have compelled us to take a deep and serious look at the issue of systemic racism and the impact it has on Canadians here at home.
As the Prime Minister has said, it is something that touches every corner and every person in our country. There's no doubt that indigenous people, black Canadians and other racialized people experience systemic racism and disparate outcomes within the criminal justice system. That system includes all of our police services, including the national police force, the RCMP, for which I am responsible in the government.
As you know, the RCMP commissioner, who I am very fortunate to have joining me here today, has acknowledged that systemic racism is part of every institution in Canada, the RCMP included. I commend her for that acknowledgement. I also support the important work she is doing to reform the RCMP, including her efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in decision-making, training and recruitment.
I also want to express my sincere and profound appreciation to the members of the RCMP, who serve Canadians with integrity, dedication and professionalism every day. The RCMP has a very strict and bias-free policing policy that guides the actions of its members in every interaction they have with the public. This policy is based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination, and therefore it is an important step forward. It's also important to acknowledge that when individuals do not live up to that bias-free policing policy there must be strict accountability.
I have, as many of you know, spent most of my life in public service. For almost four decades, I served my community as a police officer, including 10 years as the chief of police for Canada's most populous city. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the overwhelming majority of police officers in this country do conduct themselves in an exemplary manner and make every effort to minimize the use of force.
The goal of every police officer must always be to protect and maintain public safety and keep our citizens safe. The highest duty is the preservation of all life.
However, we would not be having this discussion today if everything were perfect, if this happened flawlessly on each and every occasion. Systemic racism is a reality in Canada, and when it occurs, I have no intention to and will not defend the indefensible. Let me be very clear: Discrimination on the basis of race or as a result of any other form of bias is unacceptable and abhorrent. It is not merely unacceptable and abhorrent; it is unlawful. It's contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and it's contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
It cannot be tolerated within policing or in any other aspect of our justice system. We cannot shy away from uncomfortable truths. We must do more and we must do better. Our policing services must be committed to ensuring they are worthy of the trust all Canadians put in them to protect us. Maintaining that trust requires rigorous accountability when there appears to be suggestion of misconduct. For example, when an officer appears to have exceeded their authority, used excessive force or acted in a biased or discriminatory way, that must be quickly investigated. If an officer is found to have broken the law, they need to be held strictly to account.
There are processes and oversight mechanisms in place to ensure these things happen. These mechanisms are important, and I will continue to support and uphold their use. I will also continue to speak with racialized community members and indigenous leaders across the country about the concerning incidents that have taken place over the past several weeks, as well as about the newly released data on the RCMP's use of intervention options.
These discussions are critical to ensuring that our policing services serve everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve. It is more important than ever that we acknowledge the lived experience of those who have experienced racism or discrimination at the hands of the police, and work to put a stop to this injustice.
While we will continue to engage with individuals and groups, Canadians expect concrete action. That's why I will continue to pursue my mandate priorities in this area. One of those priorities is to ensure that all officials in Canada's law enforcement and security agencies have access to unconscious bias and cultural competency training. Another is to co-develop a legislative framework that recognizes first nations policing as an essential service and ensures that police services are culturally appropriate and reflect the communities they serve. I will have more to say about this, perhaps during the questions you may ask.
We have already committed to investing up to $291 million in the first nations policing program, which provides federal funding for professional, dedicated and culturally responsive policing services in hundreds of first nations and Inuit communities. That federal funding commitment is ongoing. It includes an annual increase to keep up with inflation, providing greater financial stability for communities. Of course, that's on top of recent funding to improve police facilities in first nations and Inuit communities, such as improving detachments and communication systems. That means funding for 185 police agreements under the first nations policing program, policing a first nations and Inuit population of roughly 432,000 people. This includes support for more than 1,300 police officer positions in over 450 first nations and Inuit communities.
I want to be clear that the first nations policing program has been a program for more than three decades in this country. It needs to become an essential service. It is our intent to co-develop, with indigenous communities and indigenous leadership across Canada, a new legislative framework for the delivery of culturally appropriate, professional and effective police services. We will work with and respect the jurisdiction and authority of first nations across this country to ensure that they have the policing services they need and deserve. I look forward to working with interested communities to expand the number that are currently served by first nations policing.
I'd also like to note that the government continues the important work to advance the calls for justice in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This includes the calls for justice related very specifically to policing. Following the release of the inquiry's interim report, for example, the public safety department funded reviews of police policies and practices to identify gaps and challenges in the delivery of culturally competent policing services. The government has invested $1.25 million over two years for four external organizations with expertise in law enforcement and policing to lead these reviews. The reports have also made recommendations and identified tools, resources and promising practices that may be helpful in fostering a more trusting relationship and building confidence in police services. Their final reports will be made available on the public safety department website in the very near future. One of those reports is currently available on our website. The findings and recommendations from this review will also be an important source of information for such key law enforcement partners as the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
We are also taking steps to increase transparency in police interactions through the adoption of body-worn cameras across the RCMP. Body-worn video creates greater accountability while also providing excellent evidence and a first-version view of what a police officer encounters, often in highly dynamic and potentially tense situations. The RCMP piloted body-worn cameras in a number of different environments. We will continue to build on this experience as well as examine the experience in other jurisdictions. We're currently working on the policy framework that will support their more widespread use, ensuring that this technology is also, and always remains, respectful of Canadians' privacy interests. We will move forward with implementing body-worn cameras as quickly as possible.
Mr. Chair, as I have made clear, there is no room for racism or discrimination of any kind in any of Canada's law enforcement agencies and institutions. We are working hard, and we will continue to work harder, to make our systems more just. We have taken some steps in the right direction, but let me acknowledge that there is much more work to do. That's why I will continue to work with Commissioner Lucki as she strives to make the RCMP a more just and accountable police service, where diverse voices and perspectives are valued and included, to create a better and safer environment in the communities they serve.
I thank you once again for your kind invitation.
I look forward to seeing the results of this committee's deliberations on this important topic, and I'd now be happy to answer your questions.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Minister Blair.
Minister Blair will be here with us for the balance of the hour, and Commissioner Lucki will be here for the entire two hours.
As I understand it, Commissioner Lucki will be making a statement at the beginning of the second hour.
With that, we will go to our first round of questions of six minutes each.
Mr. Uppal, Madam Damoff, Madam Michaud and Mr. Angus, you each have six minutes.
Excuse me, Mr. Paul-Hus. You have the first six minutes.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Before asking my questions, I would like to point out that the Conservative Party of Canada recognizes that systemic racism is a problem in a number of organizations in Canada.
Minister, your government has been in place for almost five years. Mr. Goodale was here before you, and you have been here since last year. Racism problems in Canada have continued.
I would like to know, with respect to the RCMP in particular, what steps you have taken in the past five years.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you. Frankly the commissioner is here and will perhaps be better able to articulate than I am the specific steps she's taken.
I'd point out that Commissioner Lucki was specifically appointed and given a mandate and a task to deal with discrimination and workplace harassment and a number of very significant issues that had previously been identified within the RCMP, and she's now completed two years of that task.
She recently shared with me a report on the work that has been undertaken. There have been a number of significant steps in the training of police officers serving in diverse and indigenous communities, and there has been, I think, a very sincere effort made by the RCMP to recruit people with more diverse backgrounds, and so a number of significant steps have been taken.
I would also point out that through the development of a number of important bodies, not the least of which was the building out of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission and empowering it, has also been important.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Minister. You want to refer the matter to Ms. Lucki, however, who will be here for two years.
But I am trying to get an answer from you, from your government. Did you take action from the start? Have you looked into this problem?
You said that, in Ms. Lucki's mandate, there were certain provisions regarding discrimination, but two weeks ago you did not have the same version of the facts.
In your opinion, since the RCMP is part of your portfolio as Minister of Public Safety, has systemic racism always been an issue?
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Let me explain it this way, Mr. Paul-Hus.
When we look at the criminal justice system, like many aspects of Canadian society, we see disparate outcomes. There are grossly disproportionate outcomes for indigenous communities, racialized communities and young black men in our society, who are, among all of those groups, disproportionately represented in police interactions, in our court system, and in our prisons.
We also see similar disparities manifesting themselves on issues of employment, in health outcomes, in education, and in access to mental health services and a wide variety of things. That highlights for us that there are significant issues of disparity that are systemic within a number of systems.
With respect to the criminal justice system, those disparities are obvious and we have been working on that fact. The justice minister has done a number of things, which we are bringing forward now to try to address some of those disparities in our prison system and our courts.
The Commissioner, through the RCMP, has also been undertaking to reduce those disparities and those disparate outcomes.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Minister.
We are beginning a study on systemic racism today. I do not know if you are aware, but a 127-page report was tabled by your government in February 2018. It is called “Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination Including Islamophobia”.
Recommendation 28 deals specifically with the RCMP:
Recommends that the Government of Canada work with the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs to incorporate racial and cultural sensitivity training as well as specific training for the handling of hate crime cases for officers and other members of law enforcement.
It has been more than two years since this recommendation was made in a report from your government. The 127-page report was all about systemic racism.
Are you aware of it?
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
First of all, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, we have funded through Public Safety Canada and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police four distinct studies looking at systemic racism and policing in indigenous communities. Those reports, as I indicated, have been completed and will be made public.
I might just turn quickly to the commissioner to talk about training with respect to anti-discrimination measures.
Commissioner.
Brenda Lucki
View Brenda Lucki Profile
Brenda Lucki
2020-06-23 17:18
Thank you.
Since I've been in the chair, we've actually introduced, first and foremost, the “blanket exercise” to cadets at Depot. It gives them the history of indigenous cultures and provides the impacts of their actions so that when they go out in the field, they can know what the impacts are of their actions. We have an online cultural awareness course. We have introduced a cultural awareness and humility course. We have brought in trauma-informed approaches to dealing with victims.
As well, in the cadet training program, we have specifically brought in a missing persons module. Under the advice of indigenous leaders, the victim in the module is indigenous, so that cadets would not only deal with an actual operational file but also know the culture associated with a missing indigenous woman.
That's some of the training we've introduced.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
Mr. Paul-Hus, I think you want a point of clarification on the report.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Yes, Mr. Chair.
I would like to clarify that the report I referred to is the report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which was submitted to the government in February 2018.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay. Thank you.
Madam Damoff, you have six minutes.
View Pam Damoff Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you both for being here today.
I think we all need to recognize that while many of these events have come to light in the last few weeks, this issue has been ongoing certainly with indigenous people for hundreds of years, sadly. The systemic racism in policing against indigenous peoples and black Canadians and other racialized people in Canada is just unacceptable. I'm glad we're having these conversations right now.
To start, Minister, I have some questions around the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. I'm going to give you a list of some things that I think could be looked at, and I'm wondering if you could maybe let me know if they're on your radar and would consider doing them. These things include bringing in legislation that would have timelines on the reports being released; an appeals process; the report going to an advisory committee or another body rather than the RCMP reporting to itself; meaningful engagement of indigenous and marginalized peoples in the review process; and simplifying the complaints process, because many people feel that they need to hire a lawyer in order to file a complaint, and a number of people do not have the socio-economic ability to hire a lawyer.
Minister, I'm wondering if you could let us know whether that would be on your radar right now.
View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
Let me begin by saying that I think our complaints system has to be accessible to all Canadians. It needs to be transparent. It needs to be fair and objective. It also needs to be quick. What we have seen and what I've heard very clearly is that Canadians across the country have raised a number of concerns regarding the timeliness of those complaint reviews.
I've had a little bit of experience in my own jurisdiction, under a different legislative framework, with a complaints process. As a police chief, I can tell you that a well-functioning and accessible complaints review system that the public can trust with regard to its objectivity, its fairness, and its accessibility, and through which individuals who engage in misconduct will be held to account, is of tremendously important assistance to a police chief to maintain public trust in those complaints systems. I also recall that when they were first being introduced across the country, there was some resistance to them amongst police leaders. What we found very quickly was that when those investigations were being conducted independent of police leadership and the public trusted the outcome, they produced much better results.
I'll also tell you that in my experience the overwhelming majority of complaints can be resolved quite informally and quite quickly, but they need to be recorded to ensure the integrity of a complaints review system.
I am in complete agreement with the importance of published and enforceable timelines so that Canadians can have a reasonable expectation of when a matter will be resolved, and I think they should be as open and transparent as possible. The commissioner and I have had a number of conversations about how that can be achieved.
I would also point out that we introduced legislation in the last Parliament, which, unfortunately, passed in the House but didn't get through the Senate. We've reintroduced it in the form of Bill C-3. That's for a complaints review system that builds upon the existing CRCC body and includes the responsibility for providing a complaints mechanism for our border services officers. I'm looking very carefully at that legislation to ensure it does have those appropriate and defined timelines. I think there are a number of things this committee could do.
Let me assure you that I'm very open to your observations and recommendations coming forward from the work of this committee on how we can make the complaints review system work better, not just for all Canadians but for police officers who are the subject of these complaints. Timely resolutions of those complaints are actually in their interests as well so that they can get on with rebuilding their relationship with the people they're supposed to be serving.
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