Evidence of meeting #7 for Public Safety and National Security in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was communities.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Brenda Lucki  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Gail Johnson  Chief Human Resources Officer, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

As minister, how do you define systemic racism?

As a former chief of police, you may have witnessed racial profiling. In light of that, how do you define the systemic racism that might exist within the RCMP or police services?

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

A very difficult question—very briefly, please.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

First of all, racial profiling is the misconduct of an individual, but systemic racism speaks to a far broader issue. It speaks to all of the aspects of the system—the criminal justice system, for example. It begins in communities with police interventions, activities in the courts and within our prison system, and even through the parole system. It's a very broad thing.

I define systemic racism as deficiencies in a system that give rise to different outcomes for different racial groups. When we see, for example, indigenous people grossly overrepresented in our prison system, in our courts and in police interactions, or young black men or any other racialized group, that is strong evidence, first of all, of systemic racism.

The other evidence that I think cannot be ignored and must be given full consideration is the lived experience of Canadians of different racial backgrounds, religious and racial minorities or indigenous people. We have to acknowledge the truth of their lived experience. If they've experienced racism within the entire criminal justice system, that compels us to act.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Madam Michaud. We'll have to leave it there.

Mr. Angus, you have six minutes, please.

June 23rd, 2020 / 5:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister Blair, and thank you, Commissioner Lucki.

It's an honour to be here. I'll say two things at the outset.

Mr. Blair, you are, like me, a talker, so I'll have to ask you to keep your answers a little shorter. I have only six minutes here, and I don't want to be rude.

Second, I want to acknowledge the late Wayne Russett of the RCMP, with whom I had the honour of negotiating some very tense standoffs when I worked with the indigenous communities. Wayne understood policing as a social engagement about de-escalation and about building trust. We are here to ensure that all officers in all departments understand that the role of the police officer, as someone who can actually take on a very difficult and tense situation and de-escalate it, is vital.

With that in mind, I was interested in your comment that systemic racism is deficiencies in the system that bring different outcomes to different people. To me, the deficiency in the system is that 4.9% of Canadians are indigenous, and yet they represent nearly 40% of fatalities in the RCMP. The different outcome is like life and death. These numbers are staggering.

Minister, you talked about young black men being disproportionately involved in the system. When you were chief of police, carding was one of your very strong tools. You were very strong about it in the city of Toronto, and it was heavily used. Given what you know now, as my colleague Matthew Green has said, would you consider apologizing to say that it was a mistake using those tactics? What do you say about the use of carding that happened on your watch?

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

I would clarify for you and Mr. Green what the policy was in Toronto. We worked very hard on reducing gun violence in the city. I've worked in racialized communities most of my adult life. I know the importance of treating everyone with respect and with dignity and within the law. I strongly advocated for working within those communities and never supported the indiscriminate or arbitrary stopping of individuals that was based on anything but evidence and the law. Those were the rules, and we upheld those rules. I think the disparate outcomes were something that we were aware of. I can cite countless examples of working within those racialized communities and training programs for the police to reduce it.

Mr. Angus, I said then and I say now that racial profiling and any action of the police that is based on bias is not only unacceptable and abhorrent; it's contrary to law. It's contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act in section 15 and it's contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the highest law in the country—

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

That was what was pointed out about carding—the arbitrary stopping of young black men.

Again, we can look at the numbers and at what they tell us: 8.8% of Toronto's population is black, yet they made up 30% of physical confrontations with police that resulted in serious injuries; and 60% of deadly encounters and 70% of fatal police shootings were black, young black men mostly, in the city of Toronto. These are very serious issues, so I'm glad to hear that from you.

I want to switch gears a little bit. We understand that the government is not moving forward yet on the murdered and missing indigenous women and girls because of COVID, but COVID hasn't stopped the domestic violence and the horrific mistreatment of indigenous women. I refer you to what's going on in Nunavut, where I believe the complaints commission has over 30 cases of women being treated in horrific conditions. It's actually hard to read it out: strip searches, humiliating treatment, tying women naked to chairs. That wouldn't happen to white women, anywhere else, but in Nunavut this seems to be a pattern. And yet we've had no investigation of it.

In light of the promises that were made on the murdered and missing, how is it that we can see such abusive treatment of women who are suffering sexual assault in Nunavut?

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Those things shouldn't happen to any woman in Canada. There needs to be investigations and a clear line of accountability. I will certainly allow the commissioner to speak on behalf of her service, but I also believe that this is unacceptable to her and to the leadership of the RCMP.

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

We'll follow up in the next round.

I'm very pleased to see you talking about the disparity faced by indigenous police in what is being treated as a program. In the communities we represent in Treaty No. 9 with the Nishnawbe Aski Police, who do incredible work, we've had a hell of a time getting them radios, getting backup. One officer told me, “I've slept in places you wouldn't let a dog sleep in.” Their underfunding has put their ability to serve people at risk.

When I see the struggle that we have in Nishnawbe Aski territory to get good policing, and then I see, for example, the RCMP buying two armoured vehicles at a time when we're talking about de-escalating and demilitarizing, I have to ask, what kind of priority is that? We're buying old gear from Iraq, but the RCMP can afford that? We can't get backup radios to ensure police protection in isolated communities such as Kingfisher Lake or Pikangikum.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Your question, I think, highlights a flaw in the existing system, where those indigenous police services in Ontario that you cite are funded on a funding model where the federal government pays 52% of the salary and costs of policing, and the province pays 48%. That model of program funding has created, I think, very serious deficiencies in those police services.

By the way, I know the men and women who serve in those services, and their leadership too. They're really great people, and they're doing their very best under very difficult and challenging circumstances. It's one of the things that motivates my government to create that new legislative framework to serve those communities better and to give them the type of appropriately resourced policing services they deserve and need.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

We're going to have to leave it there.

Mr. Morrison, you have five minutes, please.

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Morrison Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to start off with a brief comment. As a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for over 30 years, I am fortunate to have worked across Canada and internationally. I've worked with thousands of regular members, civilian members and public service support staff, as well as municipal and provincial police agencies.

The RCMP is a professional organization with outstanding employees. I am proud of my service, and I am confident in RCMP policing in Canada. I want to recognize the members of the RCMP who live in our communities. Their children grow up in our communities. They coach high school sports and volunteer for many events. I thank them for their service to Canadians, especially in tough times.

Right now, though, their morale is low. The members are looking for some leadership from senior management, and they're not getting that support. We're here to discuss racism in all departments of the federal government, specifically today with the RCMP, and we are here to discuss senior management recognizing current issues and being accountable to take corrective action.

I want to thank Minister Blair and Commissioner Lucki for being here today.

Minister, the government has admitted there is systemic racism in every department of the federal government, including in the RCMP. I know that your mandate letter does not identify the priority of working to engage your departments with instructions to eliminate racism, although diversity was in the commissioner's mandate letter.

Mr. Minister, can you explain why the commanding officer's cultural diversity advisory committee in British Columbia was dissolved?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

I don't have the answer to that question, because I'm not familiar with it.

I could, perhaps, turn to the commissioner, if you want that question answered now.

5:40 p.m.

Commr Brenda Lucki

This is news to me, but it possibly could be because when we brought in gender committees, many of the people on the diversity committee and the gender and harassment committee.... There was a meld of those. We created the gender and harassment committees, which include diversity. They may have rebranded it.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Morrison Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

That is a bit disappointing.

5:40 p.m.

Commr Brenda Lucki

I will follow up.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Morrison Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

I was fortunate to be the chair of the commanding officer's cultural diversity advisory committee a few years ago.

The importance of that committee in helping to bridge the gap between law enforcement and our diverse communities, listening to what the communities had to say, understanding their issues and concerns.... That committee reported directly to the commanding officers, who in return reported to the commissioner. There was some accountability there.

I would strongly recommend that the public safety minister reintroduce the commanding officer's cultural diversity advisory committees across Canada. This will ensure that the commanding officers who report to the commissioner will be accountable for taking action and will not just be paying lip service. I also recommend introducing a similar committee across the public safety portfolio and ensuring performance agreements of your senior management are reflective of this accountability.

Mr. Minister, can we count on your support?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

I'm very interested in your proposal. From my own experience, I actually had 17 different community advisory committees in my small police service, and of course the challenge for the RCMP would be much larger, being a national service.

I recognize the value of meeting with and working with diverse communities and engaging with them on a number of different levels. I also did it at the command level because I found great value in that. It improved the quality of our interactions.

I am very open to that. I will tell you that we have created a number of different engagement mechanisms and structures with various diverse communities on a number of important issues that the public safety portfolio is undertaking, but I'm happy to look at the model you recommended and discuss it with you further rather than take up your time this afternoon.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Morrison Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Okay, thank you.

Minister, when your government appointed Commissioner Lucki, did you make addressing and eliminating systemic racism within the RCMP part of the mandate? If so, what specific issues did the government instruct the commissioner to act on?

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

The commissioner's mandate is quite broad and deals with a number of issues of diversity and inclusion, but it did not speak specifically, in my recollection, to the issue of systemic racism more broadly. I think that acknowledgement is an important place that we as a country have come to today in acknowledgement of systemic racism in so many aspects of our society. It certainly goes well beyond the criminal justice system. I think when we look at all the challenging things that police, for example, deal with or our Corrections deal with, it does compel us to look at systemic disparities in other aspects of our society.

I think it is an important issue and one that we have been very frank with Canadians in acknowledging its existence as the commissioner has. Clearly, as this committee recognizes, there's work to do.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Morrison. I know that was a short five minutes, but five minutes it was.

Madame Khera, you have five minutes please.

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kamal Khera Liberal Brampton West, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Minister and Commissioner, for being here.

Minister, I know you've been very clear on this even in your remarks and some of the questions that you've answered, but I want to get it on record for my constituents, especially with your extensive experience in policing and now as the Minister of Public Safety.

Do you believe systemic racism exists in policing, especially in the RCMP?

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

If I may be very clear, I think it's an issue in Canadian society and I think it's an issue in policing. The RCMP is the national police service and also delivers contract policing in many provinces across the country. It is included in that, but I'm not pointing them out exclusively. I think these are challenges within many aspects of our society.

The police perform a very difficult and challenging role on behalf of all Canadians. I think that systemic racism as it impacts the delivery of policing service is perhaps one of our greatest challenges because we are dealing with people often at their most vulnerable and we have seen the disparate outcomes and listened to the lived experience of so many diverse Canadians.

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kamal Khera Liberal Brampton West, ON

In your view, Minister, where are the biggest gaps in addressing systemic racism in the RCMP?

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Again, with respect to policing, I think it's essential, first of all that—and I mentioned this earlier—governance is very important. Good quality governance is where you enable a community to engage in oversight and, through policy, have input on the types of policing services that they want to see delivered. Greater systems of oversight, accountability and transparency are also critically important.

Some of the most recent issues highlight the need for continuous improvement in training, not just in cultural competency and the communities that the police officers serve, but also in the way in which they do their job.

There's a report I would commend to you on police officers and how we deal with people in crisis in our society. It's an incredibly important issue, and it affects policing in every community in every part of the country.

There are a number of significant gaps that need to be addressed. Ultimately, our police services, as I've acknowledged in my opening remarks, are overwhelmingly good people doing their very best to do an incredibly difficult job. They need more help, and I think we need to be very clear on the type of policing we want and expect in Canada.