Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says there needs to be “a full accounting” for acts of police violence against Indigenous people that have sparked outrage in recent days, saying they are part of a problem that “keeps repeating itself.”
At an Ottawa press conference Friday on the COVID-19 crisis, Miller was asked what he would say to Indigenous people in Canada who don’t feel safe calling the police.
Video surfaced this week of an RCMP officer in Kinngait, Nunavut using the door of a moving police vehicle on Monday to knock over a 22-year-old Inuk man. Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, was killed by police in Edmundston, N.B Thursday after they were called for a “wellness check.”
“I watched in disgust, yesterday, a number of these incidents,” Miller said. “A car door is not a proper police tactic. It’s a disgraceful, dehumanizing and violent act. I don’t understand how someone dies during a wellness check. When I first saw the report, I thought it was some morbid joke.”
Watch: Jurisdictional squabbles no excuse for poor policing, Miller says
While acknowledging that the matters are under independent investigations, Miller suggested he shares the same feelings as many across the country.
“I’m pissed. I’m outraged,” he said. “There needs to be a full accounting of what has gone on. This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself.”
Miller said Moore’s death is something he “can’t process,” and demands answers. Edmundston police have said an officer was confronted by a woman who had a knife and was making threats. She was shot and killed at the scene.
Quebec’s independent police investigation agency is assisting the probe into the Edmundston shooting at the request of the RCMP, which is providing forensic support.
The Ottawa Police Service, which does independent investigations of police in Nunavut, has sent a team there, as well, The Canadian Press reports. The officer involved in that incident has left the community and is on administrative leave, but has not been charged or suspended.
APTN News’ clip of the Nunavut incident can be seen below:
Miller referenced how many Canadians are watching protests that have erupted south of the border after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “Police serve Canadians and Indigenous peoples of Canada, not the opposite,” he said. “And it’s something that we need to reckon as a society.”
Miller said he saw first-hand how Indigenous members of his staff experience the presence of police differently when they visited the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in February. The minister’s staff met with groups blockading railways in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the construction of a natural gas pipeline on their traditional B.C. territory.
“I felt safe around police forces and they didn’t,” he said. “I can’t speak for them. But I can see it. It’s palpable. It’s painful.″
Miller suggested he agrees with the call for police services across the country to wear body cameras, a proposal being pushed by Nunavut MLA David Qamaniq, with the support of the territory’s NDP MP, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, and its Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson.
“I wouldn’t be able to see a lot of the footage that comes out from other jurisdictions without body cameras,” he said.
But Miller said there is more work to be done in training and in ensuring Indigenous people are represented in police services, especially in senior leadership roles.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who did not comment directly Thursday on the video of the Nunavut incident, addressed the matter at his press briefing in Ottawa Friday.
“The videos and reports that have surfaced from across the country over the past few days are disturbing and they bring to light the systemic realities facing far too many Canadians,” he said, adding that he will speak with his cabinet and the RCMP commissioner about the matter later in the day.
“We need to ensure that each of these individual cases is investigated properly but we also need a larger reflection on changing the systems that do not do right by too many Indigenous people and racialized Canadians. We can’t solve all of this overnight. We need to make a change. We need to start today.”
Trudeau said many Canadians are being “awakened” to issues of systemic discrimination because of the events unfolding in recent weeks. But the prime minister had no specifics about what his government will do in response.
Trudeau said he will be looking at many recommendations to move the needle on the issue, including those in the calls for justice in the final report of the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The inquiry called on all levels of government and all police services to establish a national task force of independent investigators to “review and, if required, to reinvestigate each case of all unresolved files” of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Earlier this week, British Columbia’s Independent Investigations Office also recommended charges against five RCMP officers involved in the 2017 death of 35-year-old Indigenous man, Dale Culver, after he was arrested in Prince George.
With files from The Canadian Press