Policing has had some negative impacts on Northern communities and it’s clear that more needs to be done to resolve systemic racism, NWT MP Michael McLeod said this week.
On June 8, McLeod issued a statement, with a particular focus on an issue involving Fort Good Hope, where RCMP Const. Randy McKay was asked to leave the small Sahtu community when residents learned he had pleaded guilty to sexual assault in 2015 while employed by the RCMP in Buffalo Narrows, Sask.
There have been other recent high-profile policing issues that have put a negative light on the RCMP’s conduct, including the public release of a dashcam video of the apprehension of Chief Allan Adam in March.
McLeod said it’s important that people remember the history of the RCMP in the North hasn’t always been a positive one and that much of that legacy remains today. He noted, for example, that RCMP came to Northern communities to take children away to residential schools and were responsible for charging people for shooting ducks and geese in the spring when people were going hungry — all part of government policies.
“So it’s always been a tough history and I think most of us in the North know people (who) have friends or family that have been roughed up by the police and sometimes beaten up by the police,” he said. “We have many hard working police that are very involved in our communities, and they work to perform their duties with integrity, respect and professionalism. But we can’t shy away from the reality that Indigenous people have been and are still being treated somewhat unfairly by Canada’s institutions and police forces.”
Defunding the police
Defunding the police — a movement among some northerners and from others around the country — is a bit complicated, given the demands of policing in the NWT, McLeod said.
Currently, policing accounts for close to $52 million in spending and associated money for community justice programs every year between the federal government and the GNWT, McLeod pointed out. Even with that, he estimates there are 12 communities that don’t have a police presence.
“I’d be hard-pressed to tell those communities that we need to defund the policing services,” he said. “We need police services to ensure people’s safety, but we also need mental health programs. We need addiction services. We need so many other things to complement what what policing service does.”
Not having these types of services only perpetuates socio-economic gaps and deep-rooted problems, particularly among Northern Indigenous people, he said.
He said a First Nations’ policing system to serve some communities, as is already taking place in the Yukon, may be an answer for communities without a detachment because he believes there’s evidence to show that crime rates would drop.
He said he would also like to see more government support for a program like the integrated case management pilot project, which deals with high-risk offenders with complex needs like mental health and alcohol and drug addictions.
“Often these guys (high-risk offenders) are the ones that face barriers and have a hard time getting the services but they’re also the repeat offenders,” he said. “And a lot of people have said, if we could take a program and help five to 10 people that are really high risk, repeat offenders in every community, we would change the system completely.”
‘Very subtle way of thinking’
McLeod was asked what he thought of RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s initial comment this month when she stated that didn’t think the national police force embodies systemic racism.
“Well, I have been saying it my whole political life and a lot of times, but I’m not surprised on (her) reaction,” he said. “I’ve seen it within our own government where if you aren’t part of the minority population or if you’re not Indigenous, sometimes you don’t see it. Sometimes it’s a very subtle way of thinking. Sometimes you don’t even know it exists but I think most of us have experienced it, and know about it and have heard about it.”
McLeod said there also needs to be improvements in civilian oversight in the complaint process to improve the overall policing system.
“We need to remove barriers to justice and body cameras have been suggested by many people,” he said. “We need more programs and do a better job of finding new creative ways of doing things. We need to move away from just constantly picking up people and throwing them in jail and that means a system that focuses on some of the issues.”