Well, dä`nnch'e, and good afternoon, I guess, where you are.
Thank you for the invitation to be a part of this very important conversation.
I look forward to sharing information about my community, the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, or KDFN, and summarizing a collaborative, community-driven approach we have created to address community safety concerns.
I am not here today to dispute whether systemic racism in policing exists. While I can't say it is as widespread as it once was, I think we can all agree it is real and that it lives on in many of our communities and institutions today.
Given the global conversation, I would like to premise my words by saying I openly support those speaking out against systemic racism and I acknowledge the harmful effects it has had on the health and well-being of first nations people, and indeed other people of colour.
At the same time, I see value in our existing policing services. While I am not a supporter of the calls to defund policing services, I think reform is needed. Here at home, I am sure our police department could use some additional resources, given the increased crime in our area. In some cases the increased demands and inadequate resources have had a trickle-down effect, especially as it relates to prioritized calls and response times. Citizens have reported it can sometimes take an hour or more for an officer to show up, and there have been calls for which no officers attended at all.
To provide further insight, shortly after I was first elected in 2014, KDFN began looking for ways to deal with community safety concerns. I think the breaking point came after the murders of two people. These unfortunate tragedies were the catalyst for change. It brought to the surface many issues and challenges around being an urban first nation.
Through many discussions with our citizens, we learned of numerous break-ins and violent crimes. We heard from single moms who were sleeping with baseball bats by their beds, from elders who didn't feel safe going out for a walk and from citizens concerned with bootlegging and drug houses. Simply put, our community was crying out for change.
It was also made very clear that there still remained a strong distrust of the police. People are often reminded of the trauma from residential schools, the sixties scoop and forced relocations when dealing with the police, not to mention that the intergenerational fallout continues to be a challenge. As well, let's not forget about the unfinished business surrounding missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
In many ways, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, along with its 94 recommendations, and our constitutionally protected final and self-government agreements helped to establish the initial path forward.
The first step in any crisis is the admission that there is a problem, and there needs to be a demonstrated willingness to listen and participate in the hard discussions. That also means not being afraid to scrutinize your own environment. We cannot criticize if we are not willing to accept our own shortcomings. In our case, we chose to listen, learn from one another and put the words into action.
From the onset, we knew that if we were going to turn things around, we had to engage our community; and if meaningful change were to occur, it had to come from within. We also needed to reset and rebuild relationships with our community partners, so together, with the community's help, we created a comprehensive community safety plan.
We established an interagency working group of community partners including the RCMP; Bylaw Services; the Safe Communities and Neighbourhoods unit, or SCAN; Public Safety and Investigations; and the Correctional Service of Canada. We built an innovative community safety officer program, or CSO program, which launched in 2016.
It is the CSO program that I wish to highlight today. The program is designed to strengthen relationships. It works closely with law enforcement, provides early detection and de-escalation of conflict in the community, and is culturally responsive. It has been well received by our citizens.
I wish to be clear. The CSO program is not intended to replace the police. The four officers we have don't enforce the law but help to de-escalate in certain situations. They have also intervened in cases that could have ended badly, especially for women who were in unsafe situations.
It is a great example of conflict-free resolution. It has proven its worth not only to the community but to the RCMP, which has provided support to this program because it has been such a help. The CSO program frees up RCMP officers to do other work. The calls to service have been reduced significantly since the program started.
While funding continues to be an issue, the program has gained full participation of the Yukon government, the RCMP and many other community partners. We have learned a lot about each other in the process.
Any officer working in a first nation community needs to understand the dynamics, the culture, the history, and the trauma of our people. This is key to strengthening the connection and relationship with the community.
We remain committed to the process. Recently, we signed a historic document with the RCMP, defining a new relationship. The letter of expectation, or LOE, promotes a positive and co-operative relationship and provides policing priorities, goals, and strategies that are specific to the needs of KDFN.
Ultimately, it is about choosing a path where strong partnerships allow us to develop the kind of policing we know we need in our community. If we are truly going to make a difference, the justice system must create the space for community-borne safety initiatives like ours. I think we can agree that together we can bring about the much-needed change we seek.
Sha¨`w nithän, gùnálchîsh, mahsi cho.