'The trust has been shaken': N.W.T. premier, MP say RCMP need to rebuild relationship with public
Cochrane said use of body cameras might help
Leaders in the Northwest Territories say RCMP need to rebuild the public's trust in the police force.
People across Canada and around the world have been speaking out against systemic racism in policing, especially toward Black and Indigenous communities. Stories of police violence in Nunavut, Alberta, and New Brunswick have also intensified the debate.
On Monday during an interview with the CBC's Rosemary Barton, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane said racism is a "huge" issue in the territory, with 50 per cent of the population being Indigenous.
"It's something we're always combating," Cochrane said.
While she said it's "incorrect" to say all RCMP officers are "bad," if there's officers abusing their power then they need to be removed.
She said the use of body cameras could help ensure that the public is being treated well by police and may also help police regain "social acceptance" by the public.
"People are afraid of them right now," she said. "So anything we can do to make people realize that the RCMP are our friends, that they're there to protect us and make sure that they also follow the law. No one is above the law."
'Missed a window of opportunity'
Dehcho Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian called Cochrane's interview disappointing, given Cochrane does not get many opportunities to speak directly to a national audience.
"I was a bit disappointed," Norwegian said. "I feel she has missed a window of opportunity by first off, not addressing missing and murdered Indigenous women, or the issue of reconciliation in the N.W.T."
Those areas are at the heart of many social issues in the Northwest Territories, and neither has seen enough concrete action from the federal government, Norwegian said.
Why did our premier not demand accountability from Liberal election promises?- Dehcho Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian
"Why did our premier not demand accountability from Liberal election promises?" Norwegian asked. "We were promised a real difference would be made in the lives of Indigenous people by closing socioeconomic gaps and greater self-determination, I feel that should have been mentioned."
Norwegian said the relationship is improving between Indigenous people and RCMP in her region. Though there have been negative incidents in the past, the RCMP have agreed to recruit more Indigenous officers and communicate with leaders in the Dehcho.
"We've been working on trying to strengthen the force, with having a more Aboriginal presence with the RCMP," Norwegian said.
Meanwhile, Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod is also calling on the RCMP to fix their relationship with the communities they are positioned in.
Speaking to the CBC, he referenced the RCMP officer who had pleaded guilty to a sexual offence before being stationed in Fort Good Hope.
"We have people in our communities who are still dealing with the fallout from residential schools. We don't have a lot of trust with a lot of people in authority," he said.
McLeod said he brought his concerns to the RCMP, and federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, but has not received a response.
"I think a lot of people thought this was a breach of trust with the RCMP and also the government that they allowed this to happen."
In a statement Monday he also called for more Indigenous police officers in the North and across Canada, who he said would be best equipped to be culturally responsive.
"The RCMP play an important role in keeping people safe, but the trust has been shaken. Let's work on rebuilding it immediately."
Written by Amy Tucker with files from Rosemary Barton and Hilary Bird