Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I know that, technologically, interpretation between French and English can be a challenge, so I will limit myself to making my presentation in one language. Obviously, I will be able to answer questions in English or French, if there are any.
Mr. Chair, members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, first of all, I just want to say that I support the comments made earlier this morning by my colleague from British Columbia, Regional Chief Terry Teegee. As you heard this morning, he shares with me the responsibility for justice issues at the national level for the Assembly of First Nations in Canada. I would also like to thank the Huron-Wendat Nation for having me here today to make this presentation.
First of all, systemic discrimination must be seen as part of Canada’s colonial past. Law enforcement played a major role in the colonization process. For example, it was the police who abducted our children and forced them into residential schools. It was the police who prevented our peoples from participating in their ceremonies and practising their spirituality. While others saw the police as a service for their protection and safety, our people saw them as the oppressors, so much so that in many first nations languages, as my colleague said earlier this morning, the word “police” is translated as “those who abduct us.”
Despite constitutional guarantees, and after several Supreme Court decisions, first nations constitutional and treaty rights continue to be violated with impunity. While systemic racism and discrimination are widely recognized and documented, some prefer to view them as the problems of others, denying that they are rooted in the very fabric of Canadian society. The right to protection and safety is something that other citizens can take for granted. However, we, the first nations people living on our territories, do not have these guarantees. This is primarily a human rights issue, but it also concerns the relationship between the justice system, the police and our peoples.
Why is the issue of the relationship between first nations peoples in Canada and law enforcement so difficult to address? The strained relationship between first nations peoples and the police has been the subject of extensive reporting since the 1960s and has been documented time and time again. Since 1967, at least 13 reports have examined this relationship. They have addressed all facets of the situation. Countless research reports have examined the issue. In every case, the conclusion is the same: Canada has failed.
Those who still doubt that the justice system has failed our people may want to take a closer look at our current reality. Numerous studies have confirmed that first nations people are more likely to be detained by the police following an arrest, most often on the basis of prejudice and racism. They are also more likely to be detained for long periods of time as part of the bail process. They are more likely to be sentenced to imprisonment and, too often, for long periods. They are more likely to be imprisoned for non-payment of fines. You can add to these deplorable facts that first nations people are more likely to be killed in police operations.
First nations women are not excluded from these statistics. A recent report published on the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal indicates that first nations women are a target group, as they are 11 times more likely to be arrested than white women. As the report of the National Survey on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls indicates, there are numerous reports of police abuse, excessive use of force, misconduct and racial profiling. These actions, taken by state officials responsible for public safety, are incompatible with their duties as peace officers and are indicative of systemic racism.
Now more than ever, the state must ensure that the police protect the public and that mechanisms are in place to do so. Over the years, despite numerous attempts to remedy the situation, the state has failed to adopt accommodation measures that truly mitigate the effects of imposing Canadian legislation on first nations peoples.
Issues of systemic discrimination against first nations are still not being addressed in a manner that reflects the urgency of the situation. Violence against first nations continues to make headlines. The time for rhetoric and political stasis is over; it is time to address the various issues that plague the justice and policing systems.
Other studies or surveys will not tell us more about what we already know. Canada must take immediate action, introduce a national plan and call on the provinces to formally recognize systemic racism. This action plan must also involve all levels of government to eradicate all forms of racism and discrimination against first nations peoples in institutions across the country, starting with police services.
The right way forward is to establish a national first nations justice and policing strategy and action plan. We need a collaborative engagement process to jointly develop legislation designed to implement necessary criminal justice and policing reforms. This task is before us. This is a national emergency. Systemic racism has gone on far too long.
In closing, I would also like to reiterate my support for the recommendations made by my colleague, Regional Chief Terry Teegee, before you this morning.