Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty says she is sympathetic with many of the emotional responses and grievances from residents calling for police reform.
Alty, who attended the June 9 demonstration that saw a Black Lives Matter march and motorcade procession from the Fieldhouse to the RCMP headquarters on 49 Avenue, is pointing out however, that the RCMP have been among the biggest advocates for more creating more social supports outside of policing.
“They’ve been the ones that have also been calling for not more police, but more social support,” the mayor said. “And it was Insp. Laporte and before him Insp. Matt Peggs coming to present to council. There have sometimes been councillors and residents demanding more police presence, more police in town patrolling. Their (RCMP’s) response has always been that we need more social support and not more police because police are the last resort really when a crime is committed.”
She said she hopes that territorial and federal officials are listening to the grievances and the need to invest in more social support infrastructure.
Alty said she hasn’t heard any demands for de-funding the police directly as a mayor but encouraged people wanting that to direct those wishes to MLAs and Members of Parliament.
“For the RCMP, the contract is between the federal government and the territorial government and the territorial government is also the government with health and social services,” she said. “So they’ve got the social workers.”
Alty said she could envision, if there is enough support, for either a pilot project or a direct launch where RCMP officers could work directly with social workers, similar to work she has seen done in Edmonton.
“One of the things they’ve done is partnering social workers and RCMP to go out to calls so that it’s the right support going,” she said.
Asked if she would personally like to see changes as it comes to how policing is conducted and how racism is addressed, Alty said she would.
“For sure, racism is about the systems,” she said. “So there is a need to be a nice person, but focusing on changing individuals versus changing the systems that perpetuate racism, I think is important. Each level of government needs to look at their current programs and policies and see if there are changes needed.”
Efforts on reconciliation
The city has made several efforts at reconciliation department by department, she said, including the promotion of Indigenous and black authors at the public library and changing the city’s building bylaw to allow a teepee to be built at the Arctic Wellness Camp at Kam Lake.
“So instead of saying, you can’t build a teepee because all structures have to be in compliance with the National Building Code, we made a change to our building by law,” said Alty.
The mayor was also asked about the effectiveness of the monthly updates the RCMP provides to city council if council has no real say on how police conducted their work.
“I would prefer if it was being done at the MLA level,” she said. “They’re the ones that have the contract with the RCMP. So I appreciate the outreach that the RCMP does to be a good community member, but at the end of the day, I do think that MLAs should be reaching out and asking the RCMP to come in and provide a similar update to them.”
City councillor Cynthia Mufandaedza, who spoke at the Blacke Lives Matter rally last week, she agreed that it is difficult in her capacity as councillor to ask the RCMP to take direct action because it only reports to council on “an FYI basis.”
“In my role I continue to encourage residents to file a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP,” she stated.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP is an independent agency that reviews complaints made by the public about the on-duty conduct of RCMP members. The Commission is not part of the RCMP.
NNSL Media sent a series of questions to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission but has not received a response.
As for defunding the police, Mufandaedza said that might be more difficult than with other jurisdictions even as black, Indigenous and other groups state that NWT residents face bigotry.
“Unfortunately, in the NWT de-funding the police might not have the same effect as down south,” she stated. “We have heard the RCMP reports hoping they could get more funding to be able to have more police presence in and around Yellowknife.
“In the NWT racism is not only experienced by the black community but also the Indigenous population. We continue to call on the federal and territorial governments to provide more diversity training on officers coming to the NWT. They need to understand the population that they are coming to serve.”