Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing for all police officers to wear body cameras following “disturbing” reports of violence against Black Canadians and Indigenous people.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has assured him “she will use all available tools to take quick, solid action,” Trudeau said at a press conference Monday. He will also discuss with premiers how to implement widespread use of body cameras across provincial and municipal police departments, as well as create greater oversight.
“Body cameras are a significant step towards transparency,” Trudeau told reporters. “With premiers, I highlighted the need to take concrete actions on discrimination and make real change so Canadians feel safe in their country.”
Toronto police could be wearing body cameras as early as this summer, Mayor John Tory told CP24 on Monday.
Watch: Toronto police chief takes a knee during Black Lives Matter protest. Story continues below.
Their updates come as Canadians from coast to coast to coast showed up by the thousands to protest systemic racism and discrimination, and police violence, including the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from a Toronto balcony with police present on May 27.
A number of high-profile reports of police violence against Black and Indigenous people have made headlines in the last two weeks alone.
New Brunswick police fatally shot a 26-year-old Indigenous woman during a “wellness check” last week.
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam said during an emotional press conference Saturday that he’d been beaten up by the RCMP in Fort McMurray, Alta.
And video footage surfaced of a Nunavut RCMP officer knocking down an man with the door of a police pickup truck — sparking public outrage, widespread condemnation and an external investigation.
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Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland described the video as “shocking and deeply disturbing” at Monday’s special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are absolutely committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure these behaviours do not happen in the future.”
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The Liberal government has not officially announced new measures in the wake of these incidents and demonstrations, even though Indigenous communities have been calling for change for decades.
“This is not new to people in the North. The Inuit live with mistrust of the RCMP,” NDP MP Jack Harris told parliament
“We’ve had 150 years of RCMP imposing race-based laws on Indigenous people and something significant has got to be done to change that. We have to treat it as a crisis and find a crisis-based solution for this systemic racism.”
A year ago, the Legal Services Board of Nunavut requested that the civilian oversight body for the RCMP conduct a review into officers’ conduct toward Inuit people, particularly Inuit women.
In a letter, the legal aid lawyers said the RCMP inadequately respond to domestic violence and sexual assault complaints, and have not received training for working with victims; they use unnecessary violence, fail to provide medical attention and enter homes without warrants.
The chairperson of the civilian review commission Madelaine Lahaie responded by letter in March that she’s committed to conducting a systematic review of the Nunavut RCMP, but that the process had been stalled by the pandemic.
The legal aid board provided 30 examples of inadequate, inappropriate and insensitive police behaviour, but said they were only a small fraction of what lawyers have observed while representing Inuit clients. According to the letter, these examples include:
- A woman went to a detachment to report a sexual assault. Instead of taking her statement, officers charged her with breaching her own court conditions.
- A man who was arrested for breaching his probation conditions and at the detachment was put into a restraint chair and pepper sprayed in the face. He was not released from the chair to wash his face and passed out.
- A man was tasered, pepper sprayed and repeatedly kicked during his arrest, after he’d fallen to the ground.
“People are angry and they’re feeling like enough is enough,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to parliament. “Why do Black people, why do Indigenous people have to keep asking to be treated like a human?
“People are done with pretty speeches, particularly from people in power who could do something about it right now if they wanted to.”
He called on the federal government to shift resources from policing to bolster mental health and community support so Canadians are able to avoid calling police in the first place.
“I will agree we must act and do everything we can to ensure [tragedies] are not repeated,” Freeland said in response.
She said the government will ensure anti-bias training for all police forces, including the RCMP, and that they wear body cameras. “We have to do more. We have to do better.”