Territorial politicians are urging members of the GNWT, police force and legal authorities to take action on combating systemic racism in society.
The Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight of regular MLAs made that call in a news release on Monday. They said they recognized the existence of systemic racism in NWT society and “specifically in the justice system.”
“This racism presents itself in a number of ways, from the over-representation of Indigenous people in the correctional system to how the police interact with Indigenous people and all communities who have experienced discrimination due to the colour of their skin. These issues represent the long-lasting effects of colonialism and slavery on Canadian society,” spokesperson Katie Weaver wrote.
The release comes as large scale demonstrations across North America have occurred over the last month following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25. The protests have been accompanied by heightened focus on racism and on police mistreatment of Black and Indigenous people.
In the NWT, Black Lives Matter marches took place in Yellowknife on June 9 and in Inuvik on June 12.
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And on the same day as the Inuvik march, the NWT RCMP’s commanding officer Jamie Zettler acknowledged in a press conference that racism exists among police in the territory.
“The NWT RCMP is working to combat racism and discrimination and we must understand there’s still work to be done to reduce it, not only in the territories but across the world.”
The committee’s release went on to say that society is now facing a once in a generation opportunity to change how communities are policed and laws are enforced.
“The Members call on the Minister of Justice, the Chief Superintendent of RCMP “G” division, and legal professionals to meet with Indigenous leaders and the organizers of the recent Black Lives Matter rallies to identify changes that can be made immediately, and long-term.
“It is time to change or create policies to bring about equity for people disadvantaged for so long. All residents must see the justice system as fair; this can only happen through honest, open dialogue about how to improve it.”
Steve Norn, MLA for Member Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh and chair of the committee said there should be open communication between Indigenous, territorial and municipal governments, the policing community and legal experts to tackle systemic racism.
“It’s important we understand where our hearts and minds are when we deal with issues such as crime, drugs, and mental health in the North. The only way through this is through open dialogue, hard work, and cooperation,” said Norn.
Caitlin Cleveland, MLA for Kam Lake and chair of the Standing Committee on Social Development said systemic racism has developed over centuries and the time for change is now.
“The onus to change our world cannot fall solely on those being oppressed or discriminated against,” she said. “The responsibility of being anti-racist belongs to every single one of us, especially those in a position of power and privilege.”
Frieda Martselos, MLA for Thebacha and chair of the Standing Committee on Government Operations said that as a Dene woman and former chief, she has seen herself the mistreatment of people of colour, including Indigenous people by the RCMP, courts and corrections system.
“The Department of Justice and the RCMP have got to change the way they deal with systemic racism within their ranks by doing things differently. They must change the way they police in Indigenous communities and the Indigenous organizations must be part of decision making within the Department of Justice,” she said.