Yukon RCMP say they're rebuilding trust with First Nations

New report looks at how much has been accomplished since 33 recommendations were made to improve policing in the territory following Raymond Silverfox's death.

New report looks at whether policing in the territory is improving

Relations with First Nation people are improving but it will take time to rebuild the trust they're looking for in Yukon communities, according to RCMP Supt. Peter Clark.

"Eventually there will be statistics and surveys done but a bigger and probably equal signal to me is what people are telling me and how we are being received in the communities," he said.

Over the past several years relations between the police force and Yukon communities have been strained.

Two RCMP officers went to trial on sexual assault charges and were acquitted, a First Nation man died in the detox centre after being picked up by RCMP, and three years ago Raymond Silverfox died of pneumonia after spending 13 hours in police cells in Whitehorse.

Raymond Silverfox, a 43-year-old member of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, died on Dec. 2, 2008, after spending 13 hours without medical care in Whitehorse RCMP cells. (family photo)

The 43-year-old First Nations man from Carmacks, Yukon, was extremely intoxicated and subjected to ridicule and mockery from RCMP members during the final hours of his life.

His death sparked both outrage and calls for change. 

The incidents led to a review of policing in the territory, a joint effort between the RCMP, the Yukon Department of Justice and the Council of Yukon First Nations.

A report, "Sharing Common Ground," made 33 recommendations for changes.

This week a one-year progress report looked at the feedback received from people and organizations that have an interest in the way policing is conducted in the territory. That feedback will be used to continue implementing recommendations.

The policing review included recommendations to build a new arrest processing unit to replace Whitehorse detachment cells, to establish a Police Council, and to create of a domestic violence and sexual assault committee.

Other recommendations that emerged include training officers to be more sensitive to Yukon history and First Nations culture, allowing First Nations leaders to participate in the selection of detachment commanders and increasing the number of female and aboriginal police officers.

Clark said he relies on First Nation leaders for progress reports.

"We've got mentors identified in communities and advisors throughout the territory we listen to and these are the ones who will tell us how we are doing," he said.

Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Ruth Massie said the progress so far is encouraging.

"Well, we've talked about it for a long, long time and it's nice to see the reality of it happening, and it being a very, very honest and open process," she said.