Politics

Systemic racism exists in RCMP, Trudeau argues — after commissioner says she's 'struggling' with the term

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the RCMP and other police agencies across the country have a problem with systemic racism — a day after Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she struggles with the term and denied racism is entrenched within the organization.

Commissioner Lucki says RCMP doesn't have a systemic racism problem

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that systemic racism is an issue right across the country in all our institutions, including within the RCMP. (Valerie Zink/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the RCMP and other police agencies across the country have a problem with systemic racism — a day after RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she's "struggling" with the term and denied racism is entrenched within the organization.

"Systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP. That's what systemic racism is," said Trudeau when asked about Lucki's comments by reporters during a news conference in Ottawa this morning.

"In many cases it's not deliberate, it's not intentional, it's not aggressive, individual acts of racism, although those obviously exist. It is recognizing that the systems we have built over the past generations have not always treated people of racialized backgrounds, of Indigenous backgrounds, fairly through the very construction of the systems that exist."

Calls to change policing to better protect racial minorities are reverberating across the country.

During an interview with the CBC's Rosemary Barton on Wednesday, Lucki — who was appointed by the Liberal government in 2018 — was asked directly if there is systemic racism in policing in Canada.

Watch: Trudeau questioned about 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

"That is an interesting question because in the last couple of days I have honestly heard about 15 or 20 definitions of systemic racism," she said.

"If it refers to an unconscious bias that exists ... we definitely have that in the RCMP and we are not immune to it at all. There are times when our members don't act in accordance with our core values, which includes racism, and it's those times that we have to make sure that that doesn't happen."

Lucki was asked a similar question by other news outlets during back-to-back interviews yesterday, in response to renewed allegations against Mounties of discrimination and excessive use of force.

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."

Trudeau said some Canadians are now recognizing what many Indigenous Canadians and racialized Canadians have known for a long time — "that there is systemic discrimination right across our country, in every part of our country, and in our institutions."

Watch: RCMP head clarifies comments on systemic racism

What is the definition of systemic racism? The head of the RCMP says that may be at the centre of Alberta's deputy commissioner saying it does not exist in policing in Canada. 2:37

"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."

'The RCMP is a racist institution:' May

Lucki's comments followed controversial statements by the RCMP's deputy commissioner in Alberta, where officers are being questioned about their use of force following allegations they abused an Indigenous chief during an arrest last March. 

"I don't believe that racism is systemic through Canadian policing," Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said during a news conference in Edmonton on Monday, when asked about protests in the United States over the death of George Floyd and debates over police violence around the world.

"I don't believe it's systemic through policing in Alberta," he said.

Lucki has since spoken to Zablocki and said he misinterpreted the term "systemic racism".

"His intention was to simply say that, you know, if there is racism, he didn't believe it in his thoughts that it was rampant across the organization," she said.

Watch: 'I think the RCMP is a racist institution,' says May

Green MP Elizabeth May says she feels she was arrested "nicely" during a Kinder Morgan protest in 2018 because she's white, compared to how the RCMP has dealt with Indigenous protesters in recent years. 1:38

Over the weekend, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta alleged that he was beaten by RCMP officers back in March when police stopped him for an expired licence plate in Fort McMurray. That arrest is now under review.

Just a few days earlier, a video appearing to show an RCMP officer in Nunavut using his truck's door to knock a man over before arresting him spurred outrage. That incident is also under review. 

"From the outside looking in, I have to be honest, it does not look like a reasonable response," Lucki said in reference to the Nunavut arrest.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said he won't pass judgment on the commissioner's comments, but will be watching to see what she does next.

"I will not judge the commissioner on a series of interviews that she made yesterday. I'll judge on promises she made to Indigenous peoples when it comes to my portfolio," he said.

"We must acknowledge that there is institutional racism in Canada. The RCMP is not immune, nor is any organization, and that re-examination requires a tremendous amount of education and self-awareness, frankly."

"This will take tough leadership within the RCMP, but I think indeed most officers will welcome it."

The Green Party's Parliamentary leader Elizabeth May called the force a "racist institution" and said she feels she was arrested "nicely" during a Kinder Morgan protest in 2018 because she's white.

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