Tuesday January 05, 2016

Racism within RCMP stirs debate over bad apples or systemic problems

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is aware of the racism in Canada's police force but asks for confidence in the process that exists to bring accountability.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is aware of the racism in Canada's police force but asks for confidence in the process that exists to bring accountability. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Listen 23:35
"We encounter racism, every single day. Some of the worst racists carry a gun, and they carry a badge, authorized by you,  Commissioner Paulson, to do the work. We need you to confront racism in the ranks." - Doug Kelly, Grand Chief of B.C's Sto:lo Tribal Council at AFN meeting last month

Tough words. But when it comes to relations between indigenous people in Canada and its police, there have been tough times.
 

"I understand that there are racists in my police force. I don't want them to be in my police force. I would encourage you all, though, to have confidence in the processes that exist, up to and including calling me, if you are having a problem with a racist in your jurisdiction, or any other problem." - RCMP Commissioner, Bob Paulson at the AFN meeting in Quebec last month

​RCMP Commissioner, Bob Paulson was at the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Quebec last month. It was the first time the commissioner had attended such an AFN gathering – which was a welcome sign in itself to many, including National Chief Perry Bellegarde. 

And while the commissioner's comments that day would spark complaints from his own officers' association, his words were momentous for what they were:  Frank, open talk, about racism and police.

With an Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous women on the horizon, and forces from Quebec to B.C. coming under fire for alleged racist behaviour... it's a discussion that seems overdue.

  • Keith Hobbs is the mayor of Thunder Bay, Ontario, where he was a police officer for more than 30 years. He was in Thunder Bay.
  • Larry Hay was an RCMP officer for 19 years, and then chief of police for the Tyendinaga Mohawk nation. He is currently a private investigator. We reached him at home on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
  • Susan Roy is a professor of history at the University of  Waterloo who has specialized in the history of indigenous and non-indigenous relationships in Canada. 

We contacted the Ontario Provincial Police for a comment about racism in its ranks, and received the following statement from OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes.

"Racism and prejudice exists in all societies, so I cannot claim that the OPP is completely free of these negative attitudes. I can say the OPP does not tolerate racism or prejudice in any form and takes both proactive and reactive steps to counter racism and prejudice. If we find a member has acted in a racist or prejudiced way in his or her professional or personal life, we will take appropriate educational and disciplinary action up to and including dismissal."
 

This segment was produced by Leif Zapf-Gilje and Julian Uzielli.