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.