Good afternoon, members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to provide some testimony.
My name is Jeffrey Schiffer. I'm a Métis person. As the chair has said, I'm currently the executive director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto.
I want to start by acknowledging the Algonquin territory that you're all gathered on today, as well as the traditional territory of the Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishinabe people from which I join you.
I applaud you for calling a series of hearings to discuss systemic racism in policing. This is an issue that we can trace back to the very inception of Canada.
As you're all aware, our nation is built on treaties. Canada today in fact derives its legal status as a nation from treaties. As numerous national commissions, inquiries and reports have noted, the indigenous signatories of these treaties had very different understanding of the implications of these agreements.
Policing in Canada emerged in part as a mechanism to enforce and expand colonization. The North-West Mounted Police, created in 1873, occupied a central role in managing and containing indigenous populations as European settlement advanced. They played a central role in forcibly relocating indigenous people to reserve lands established by the Crown and also in removing indigenous children from their families to be placed in residential schools. For almost 150 years, police in Canada have been utilized to enforce colonial interpretations of the original treaties and to implement Canadian law, which sometimes is not congruent with the vision of a shared nation that was initially promised to indigenous peoples.
We're at a crossroads today in Canada. As RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has stated, “systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included”. Our national, provincial and territorial, and municipal police services remain ensnared in the historical momentum of the racism and colonial ideologies that framed their creation so long ago. This is evident in the persistent statistics that reveal indigenous people being more frequently questioned and investigated by police, more often subject to violence, sexual exploitation and death at the hands of police, and being starkly overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
In an era of truth and reconciliation, these problems are becoming more acute, rather than getting better. Just as one example, since April 2010, the indigenous population in prisons has grown by nearly 44%, whereas the non-indigenous incarcerated population in Canada has declined by almost 14% over that same period.
Research tells us that the crossroads we're at today provides a fleeting opportunity of significant magnitude. The shock that's in our system at present, due to COVID-19 and global coordinated protests against systemic racism in policing, provides a unique opportunity for change.
I believe we have a responsibility as leaders to ensure public safety and national security that's not only evidence-based, but also framed in reconciliation, equity and diversity. We must ask ourselves, what does the data tell us about where police services succeed and where they fail? What possible pathways lie before us for innovation that can lead to better outcomes for indigenous people across Canada?
In May, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old black and indigenous woman, fell to her death from her 24th-floor apartment when police were responding to a mental health crisis. In June, Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old indigenous mother, was fatally shot by police during a wellness check. A week later, 48-year-old Rodney Levi, an indigenous man with a history of struggles with mental health, was shot and killed by the RCMP in responding to a call about an unwanted guest at a residence.
These three deaths are small pieces in a much larger picture. A study released in June revealed that while indigenous people make up roughly 5% of the population, 38 of the last 100 people killed by police in Canada were indigenous. In the decade spanning 2007 to 2017, indigenous people accounted for more than a third of the people shot to death by RCMP officers.
Mounting evidence is telling a story. It's telling us that police officers are struggling to manage with wellness checks, mental health crises and a variety of other calls and interactions, particularly when indigenous people are involved. Recent studies reveal that typical responses used by police services to address these challenges aren't effective.
In a large study assessing data from over 700 private sector establishments between 1971 and 2002, researchers investigated the impacts of police service initiatives in training, promoting inclusion and establishing institutional responsibility. Of these three strategies, training was found to be the least effective, and while these strategies had some positive impact when deployed together, the research found that systemic racism in policing is driven by a constellation of individual, group, institutional and social elements.
In short, police services may not have the capacity to resolve structural racism themselves. Support from government and community-led organizations will be critical if we're to action the change of seeing better outcomes in this area.
Recent calls to defund police are grounded in the evidence-based recognition that some work currently done by police services can be done more effectively with fewer resources by community-led organizations. For me, it's less about defunding police and more about a thoughtful consideration of how resources might be reallocated to community organizations to take on some of the work related to community safety, mental health response and victims services for indigenous people and racialized communities.
I would like to put three recommendations before you, before I finish today.
First, I recommend that the federal government work with the provinces and territories, municipalities and indigenous communities to reallocate funding and service responsibilities related to mental health and victims services to indigenous organizations. Second, I recommend that some specific funding be allocated to mental health response and victims services for indigenous people. The need is particularly pressing in urban centres like Toronto, where we're seeing massive and rapid growth in our indigenous community. Finally, I recommend that the federal government create an indigenous-led working group to better examine the service needs related to mental health and victims services for rapidly growing urban indigenous communities.
With that, I would like to thank the members of the committee for the opportunity to appear as a witness today. I look forward to answering any questions you might have later on.