Politics

Systemic racism exists in the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki says

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said today that she believes systemic racism exists in the police force she leads — after telling several media outlets this week that she was "struggling" to define the term.

'I do know that systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included,' RCMP commissioner says

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki appears at a House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in Ottawa on Monday, May 7, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said today that she believes systemic racism exists in the police force she leads — after telling several media outlets this week that she was "struggling" to define the term.

"I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP," Lucki said in a media statement. "I should have.

"As many have said, I do know that systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included. Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly."

Lucki said that, as the country's top cop, she has a responsibility to ensure the force is "free of racism, discrimination and bias."

Since the death of George Floyd in police custody in the U.S., police in North America have been facing greater scrutiny about their treatment of minorities and use of violence.

A number of videos have surfaced of police using aggressive force against Indigenous and Black people during arrests, leading to calls for law enforcement to be more sensitive to racial issues.

In the last two weeks, the RCMP has faced questions about some questionable conduct caught on camera.

One officer in Nunavut was seen slamming the door of his vehicle into an intoxicated man. Last night, a video surfaced of RCMP officers punching Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam and putting him in a choke hold outside of a casino. The officer said the chief was resisting arrest. Adam was stopped for driving with expired plates.

"Systemic racism isn't about the behaviour of a single individual or the actions of one person. It's in the institutional structures that reflect the inequities that persist in our society. And it shows up in policies, processes or practices that may appear neutral on the surface, but disadvantage racialized people or groups," Lucki said.

The commissioner vowed to "work hard to address" systemic racism and "overcome it."

The CBC's Rosemary Barton interviewed Lucki days after Curtis Zablocki, the deputy commissioner for Alberta, said he doesn't believe there's systemic racism in policing in Canada.

Asked for her thoughts on systemic racism, Lucki initially dodged the question, saying Canada is a "society where inequalities persist" and the RCMP as an organization "can do better."

When pressed, Lucki said she has heard "about 15 or 20 definitions of systemic racism."

"If it refers to an unconscious bias that exists and we definitely have that in the RCMP and we are not immune to it at all," Lucki said.

WATCH | Brenda Lucki on racism allegations and body cameras

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki talks to CBC’s chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton about allegations of racism within the service, use of force, body cameras and the growing calls to change police funding. 9:20

She also told Global News she is "struggling with the definition of systemic racism" and then later told the Globe and Mail that "if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don't have systemic racism."

At a press conference in Edmonton Friday, Zablocki said he spent the week Googling terms like "structural racism" and "implicit bias," and speaking with his Indigenous advisory council, and now he feels differently about systemic racism in the ranks.

"I really needed to better understand systemic racism," Zablocki said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended Lucki in recent days, saying he trusts the commissioner to lead the force at this time. Trudeau appointed Lucki to the job in March 2018.

"I have confidence in Commissioner Lucki and I know that the changes that she has already begun to bring to our national police force, and the work that we're going to be doing together in the coming months, is going to make a huge difference in combating systemic racism and reducing it in this country," he said.

Watch: Trudeau on systemic racism in the RCMP

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he believes systemic racism is an issue in institutions across Canada, including police forces and the RCMP. 2:50

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

now