RCMP needs greater transparency in light of Boushie report, says judge Marion Buller
'We have a commissioner who is committed to making institutional change. Let's have some transparency'
A report into the RCMP's handling of Colten Boushie's death provides a "platform for change" within the institution, but also raises questions about the police force's role, says Marion Buller.
Buller, who was the chief commissioner for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, says that as a national police force, serving both rural and urban communities in Canada, with connections to Interpol, the RCMP wears "a number of Stetsons."
"In my view, they're trying to do too many things," she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.
"They've got to decide, along with Parliament, exactly what they want to do."
The report, published Monday by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), found that RCMP officers racially discriminated against Boushie's mother, Debbie Baptiste, during their investigation into the man's death.
The way in which Baptiste was notified of Boushie's death was insensitive, and RCMP mishandled witnesses and evidence, according to the report.
Colten Boushie, 22, was shot and killed in August 2016 by white farmer Gerald Stanley, after he and four others from Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan drove onto Stanley's property in Biggar, Sask.
Stanley was found not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter by a jury in February 2018.
"The report ... exemplifies what we heard about at the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls — just complete inappropriateness of the behaviour on the part of the police officers towards Indigenous people," said Buller.
'There has to be a better answer'
The CRCC's report makes 17 recommendations to address what it describes as "deficiencies" in the RCMP's investigation and interactions with Boushie's family.
RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki said Wednesday that she is committed to transforming the "culture" of the force in the wake of the report. Lucki added that she is in the midst of introducing a new "equity, diversity and inclusion strategy" to address racism in the RCMP, and says that all Mounties are expected to complete cultural sensitivity training by the end of summer.
Legal experts agree that the report signals a need to reform the RCMP, with many calling for increased training, particularly when it comes to anti-racism training.
WATCH | Debbie Baptiste calls for action following report
Caitlyn Kasper, a staff lawyer for Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto, says the actions need to go further.
"There needs to be either genuine relationships built with these communities outside of the criminal justice system and/or swift, quick sanctions internally if this type of discriminatory behaviour is exhibited by their officers," she told Day 6.
While she's optimistic that both Lucki and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who is responsible for the RCMP, have signalled willingness to change, Kasper says that "legislative teeth" are needed to ensure the CRCC's recommendations are implemented.
As it stands, the RCMP are largely left to police themselves — an approach Kasper calls a "fallacy" in practice.
"Coming out of this [report], it would be nice for police agencies to recognize that they're not capable of doing that," she said. "There has to be a better answer."
WATCH | Justin Trudeau calls treatment of Colten Boushie's family "unacceptable"
Defunding RCMP not the solution, says Buller
Buller says the idea of defunding the RCMP — which can mean anything from reallocating funds for different programs to abolishing forces altogether — has been floated by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) activists.
But she argues it's not the right approach.
"There are people who are saying, let's abolish the RCMP and rebuild policing in Canada. Well, you know, that's a lot easier said than done," said Buller.
"We can't just dump something without having a replacement because I don't know about you, but if I call 911 I want somebody to respond in a timely way, and the same thing if my neighbours call if they're in trouble."
Kasper says she's not opposed to the idea of defunding RCMP, but says that can only be done if there is adequate funding for social services supports.
RCMP respond not only in the event of crimes, but as a conduit to mental health and substance abuse services.
"Unless we defund the police and put those resources back into making sure that the appropriate agencies and social services are meeting the needs that, before, the police were forced to deal with, then those people that really require assistance are still not going to get it," Kasper said.
Buller says that the National Police Federation, the union representing RCMP officers, must call on their members to embrace changes and diversity. She added that transparency is also key to meaningful change within the RCMP.
"We have a commissioner who is committed to making institutional change. Let's have some transparency. What's happening? What's changing?" Buller said of Lucki.
Written by Jason Vermes. Interview with Marion Buller produced by Sameer Chhabra.
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