National Chief Perry Bellegarde to police forces: Don't wait for end of MMIW inquiry
Assembly of First Nations chief tells police to act before missing and murdered inquiry yields recommendations
Police services must take action on missing and murdered Indigenous women before the conclusion of a federal inquiry, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations told police chiefs Tuesday.
"Don't wait for the recommendations. That's two years away," National Chief Perry Bellegarde told a reconciliation-inspired gathering of Canadian police chiefs, justice officials and Indigenous leaders in a Wednesday morning address at Winnipeg's Fairmont Hotel.
Bellegarde said Canadian police services and all levels of government can start tackling the socio-economic divide between Canada's Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens now as a means of preventing more violence.
While Canada enjoys the sixth-highest standard of living in the world, that ranking plummets to 63rd when Indigenous Canadians' standard of living is measured alone, he said.
Things can happen now
"When you start talking about these root causes, these root causes, well, yeah, we know it's poverty. It's always the gap in education, the housing, the wellness centres, the detox centres. All these things we need. Transportation issues. You don't have to wait two years to deal with those things. Things can happen now."
Bellegarde said he knows Canadian police services in particular are changing, citing improvements made in Saskatoon since the days of the infamous "starlight tours," in which First Nations people perceived as troublemakers were left outside town by police. He nonetheless urged police to help implement 22 justice-related recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, urging police to "create space" for Indigenous Canadians by "opening up their hearts, their minds and their spirits."
"I see you all as allies. I see you all as colleagues," said Bellegarde, who nonetheless acknowledged he still fears the lights on police cruisers will light up whenever they pass him. "I don't know why. I have to work on that."
He asked police chiefs whether they had systems in place to ensure Indigenous officers can rise up the ranks and take part in decision-making.
"Prepare yourselves. Get your statistics together. Fingers are going to be pointed," he said.
Saskatoon police chief Clive Weighill, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said police services have already changed the way they handle missing persons cases.
"The days of waiting 24 hours to report a missing person are gone. Almost every policy in Canada now, if somebody reports somebody missing, we get on that immediately," Weighill told reporters after Bellegarde's address.
Bellegarde also said First Nations must take more control of aspects of the Canadian legal system. First Nations ought to have the power to issue death certificates and marriage licenses and also have jurisdiction over citizenship, he said.
Bellegarde also plans to address Canada's big city mayors, who will gather in Winnipeg Thursday for a meeting that will kick off a conference held by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.