Evidence of meeting #8 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 inuit.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Jean-Marie David
Terry Teegee  Regional Chief, British Columbia Assembly of First Nations
Natan Obed  President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Aluki Kotierk  President, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
Vernon White  Senator, Ontario
Benson Cowan  Chief Executive Officer, Legal Services Board of Nunavut
Robert S. Wright  Social Worker and Sociologist, As an Individual

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I wonder out loud, at this point, whether or not the contract policing arrangements with the RCMP and the provinces might be able to deal with such an issue. But that's something we can look into a little later.

I have a question for you, Mr. Cowan. Thank you for your presentation. There's a lot of talk, of course, about increasing the number of Inuit in the police force. I read a report last fall, and we heard nice words from Commissioner Lucki as well, about some training programs, but the fact of the matter seems to be that there hasn't been a single Inuit person recruited in Nunavut in the last 15 years.

Is this a realistic idea, or is this just another current response to something that's been going on for decades and hasn't been fixed?

1:05 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Legal Services Board of Nunavut

Benson Cowan

Thank you. It's a really interesting question.

Look, I struggle to recruit Inuit lawyers—it's a big focus of what I try to do—to come and work for my organization. The first principle, in my experience, is that Inuit and, more broadly speaking, indigenous people know which organizations are safe for them and know which organizations are invested in their success. That is a fundamental conversation I have, when I am recruiting, with Inuit applicants and indigenous applicants generally. It is front and centre in my strategy and in their questions and in the conversation about how we're going to advance their careers. I think the lack of success in recruiting Inuit into the RCMP likely reflects, to a large part, their assessment of whether that organization is safe for them and whether it is invested truly in their success.

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

One Inuit lawyer from Nunavut was on CBC recently. The way she described the relationship between the Inuit and the RCMP was that people feared them and didn't trust them. Maybe that has something to do with the failure to be willing to play a role in that. Is that something you could agree with?

1:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Legal Services Board of Nunavut

Benson Cowan

Yes.

I'd also say again, an organization that does not.... The control that the RCMP senior management have over conduct investigations is virtually absolute. The fact that they've struggled at the top level to even acknowledge systemic racism suggests that they would struggle to identify code of conduct violations and prosecute them, and not even for the sake of punishment but even just for the sake of remedial measures.

Let me put it this way. I can imagine that it would be very difficult for an indigenous person, especially an Inuit person, to go into an organization that does not have a record of taking these issues seriously internally.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

We're going to have to leave it there, Mr. Harris.

With that, we have Mr. Morrison, for three minutes.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Morrison Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First of all, I want to thank the witnesses today. It's really important for us to have experts like you to guide us and help us with your expertise in building some recommendations so that we can improve law enforcement and policing in Canada.

My first question is for Senator White.

I brought this up with the commissioner a little while ago, about the hiring and maybe divesting of hiring to provinces and territories for RCMP, rather than basically a centralized hiring process for all of Canada.

I wonder if in your time up north you maybe thought, wouldn't it be better if the provinces and territories were the ones that were actually doing the hiring? I know they have staffing officers in every province, but wouldn't that be better?

1:10 p.m.

Senator, Ontario

Vernon White

Certainly in 2001 when we ran our Inuit recruiting pilot project, that's exactly the way we did that. We identified the barriers to hiring for Inuit into the RCMP. We developed solutions past those barriers, which did not include a reduction in qualifications. It was raising people to the bar, like most of us have been mentored in our lives. That's the model we looked at.

The challenge you will face if you hire specifically to Nunavut is that many of those officers, like most people who join the RCMP, want the opportunity to move somewhere else in the country if they choose to. You have to ensure that you at least have a set of standards that are met.

Now, for those standards, say, as an example, a vision standard, Inuit have a higher than average level of myopia. That required, in our case, for half of our applicants to have laser eye surgery. Certainly we would not have been able to do that in the south. In fact, the RCMP at the time weren't extremely happy with me doing it in the north.

I think you have to look at those standards and decide which of those are barriers that can be overcome rather than barriers that stop the recruiting.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Morrison Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

I also have a question for Mr. Wright, and for Mr. Cowan if we have time.

Mr. Wright, I noticed when I read your resumé that you talked about crime prevention versus crime reduction. You were talking about diverting youth away from criminal activity and steering them down the right side of the street versus their getting into crime and then it's very difficult. You mentioned that in your opening statement.

I wonder if you could each briefly comment. There's not much time left.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Mr. Morrison has left you 15 seconds each.

1:10 p.m.

Social Worker and Sociologist, As an Individual

Robert S. Wright

I will say simply that we all know preventing crime is a lot easier than addressing it post-fact and that helping people to keep from developing a life of crime is easier than rehabilitating a criminal.

1:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Legal Services Board of Nunavut

Benson Cowan

Very briefly, the available resources for diversion in Nunavut are shocking and embarrassingly low compared with any other jurisdiction in the country. There are simply no practical options and there's a great deal of reluctance. I started criminal practice 20 years ago when diversion was not always available and was often looked at suspiciously, and I would say that is still the approach in Nunavut.

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Morrison.

Mr. Fergus, you have three minutes.

July 23rd, 2020 / 1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would also like to acknowledge that we are on the unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples.

I want to congratulate all the witnesses for their testimony today.

I only have three minutes, so I will be very brief.

I will not have an opportunity to ask everyone a question, but Mr. Wright, Mr. Cowan and Senator White, thank you very much for your testimony.

Mr. Wright, you had mentioned the importance of having a critical race perspective. You gave us an example that when people are being arrested, you will see that Blacks.... If you don't use a critical race perspective, you'll come to the wrong conclusions.

I also appreciate what Mr. Cowan said, in terms of Inuit and further-afield indigenous people, that they won't feel that our federal policing service is a safe place for them to make a career.

Mr. Wright, do you find that African Nova Scotians consider the RCMP or local police services to be safe places?

1:15 p.m.

Social Worker and Sociologist, As an Individual

Robert S. Wright

I would have to say no. For the sake of brevity, I would just say that if we look at the number of human rights complaints that are being made by people who serve who come from African backgrounds, we would see that in the evidence. There are human resources and human rights complaints that are levied.

When you think about the north—even more powerfully if you think about it—we're asking people who come from ethnic settler backgrounds to train in a colonial model of policing and to deliver that service to an indigenous community. To ask indigenous people to train in a colonial form of policing to police their own communities is really to ask them to adopt an internal identity struggle before they even have their first day on the job.

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Then how do we crack this nut? How do we have an opportunity to try to...? What would you recommend as measures that we should take to try to increase the importance, so that our police forces reflect the diversity of our communities, and especially those communities that seem to be the most targeted by our police forces?

1:15 p.m.

Social Worker and Sociologist, As an Individual

Robert S. Wright

I think that, particularly in indigenous communities, probably what we need are indigenous people creating indigenous forms of public safety in policing and perhaps even looking at indigenous forms of understanding the law and public safety.

Similarly, in Black communities, I've said that we need an African Nova Scotian policing strategy here, something that is designed and run by Black folks.

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Wright.

There is a principle in our committees that we can't report unless we hear something from our witnesses or read something from our witnesses, so if there's anything that you feel should be added, I encourage all of our witnesses, please, to submit it to the clerk.

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Fergus.

Mr. Vidal, you have three minutes, please.

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank all of the witnesses again, as many of the members have indicated.

My first question is for Senator White.

Senator White, I just want to draw on your vast experience a little bit. There was recently an article in the Canadian Press detailing the work of the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service and the success that it has had in doing culturally responsive training. The article discusses the impact that the relationship between the police service and the community has on the level of trust. That portrayal contrasts with the barriers that we see. I've seen this in northern Saskatchewan, where the RCMP send new recruits to places where they face significant language and cultural barriers.

You spoke about the two-year aspect of going to these northern communities, but we also have this policy, it seems, in which we send new, young members to these communities to gain experience, so to speak. I'm curious about your opinion on what this policy says to these inexperienced members, these young recruits, and what role that plays in the lack of opportunity to build a good relationship in the communities, as you talked about early on in your presentation.

1:20 p.m.

Senator, Ontario

Vernon White

Thank you very much for the question, sir.

Certainly 15 or 20 years ago, the RCMP would not have allowed—or seldom would have allowed—you to transfer to the isolated northern communities in the three northern territories. At that time we had hundreds, if not more, applicants looking for transfers north who already had a substantial amount of experience. That's not true today and the challenge that I think they're facing in the RCMP is that they are probably thousands of officers short already. They do not have enough officers to even fill the positions they have across the country. On top of that, they have a much lower number of officers applying to go into the isolated posts in the northern territories, for example.

As a result, they're having to send people with less experience than they would have in the past. That is a problem. I don't know if it's one that's solved easily, beyond getting the RCMP numbers up to the level they should be and then trying to see whether or not they could recruit from those first nation, Inuit and Métis communities to go back into those communities—and I would argue the same for northern Saskatchewan. Many Inuit would not necessarily want to work in the community they grew up in, for example, so I'm not suggesting that, but nothing stops them from working in another community in a different part of Baffin Island.

I'm always back to the same thing: If we cannot represent those we serve, we're not representing those we serve. As I would argue in the past, we want to be recruiting with a window, not a mirror. If we can't get to that point, we're probably not going to be successful in in cracking this nut, as I think Mr. Fergus said.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you very much, Mr. Vidal.

Madame Damoff, you have three minutes, please.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Mr. Chair, I believe I'll be taking over Ms. Damoff's spot, if that's okay.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

All right.

Mr. Anandasangaree.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Thank you. I want to thank the witnesses as well.

Mr. Cowan, I want to talk to you about the issue of accountability and civilian oversight. I know you had mentioned the challenges you've had and the fact that you've made some complaints through the system.

What has your experience been in representing clients, the outcomes, the timelines, the transparency and the actual accountability measures that have come out of these complaints?

1:20 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Legal Services Board of Nunavut

Benson Cowan

With respect to the CRCC in particular, or just generally with respect to the RCMP?