Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he still has confidence in RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki after she admitted to “struggling” with the definition of systemic racism. He added that’s something many Canadians are also grappling with amid what he described as a national “awakening.”
Trudeau was asked during a press conference on Thursday about the remarks by Lucki, who said in an interview with Global News on Wednesday that she was struggling with the definition of systemic racism and how that applies to the institution of the national police force.
“We’re facing a really important time in our country right now where we are recognizing what many Indigenous and racialized Canadians have known for a long time,” Trudeau said, noting that racism “is not part of the lived reality of a significant majority of Canadians.”
“Recognizing that is difficult, and we need to make sure we are moving forward in meaningful ways, and that’s also going to be difficult … I think we’ve seen that institutions and organizations and even different parts of the country are struggling with this very difficult issue.”
Lucki was asked directly by The West Block host Mercedes Stephenson whether she believes there is systemic racism in the RCMP, a question that came following intense criticism of how the RCMP and police forces across the country interact with Black Canadians and Indigenous Peoples.
That criticism comes amid weeks of global anti-racism movements galvanized by the death of George Floyd, a Black American man who died after a Minnesota police officer knelt on his neck for close to nine minutes during an arrest.
“You know, it’s a question I haven’t been struggling with but I have been struggling with the definition of systemic racism, and when I think of unconscious bias, there is unconscious bias in the RCMP, most definitely,” Lucki said in response.
“We live in a society where inequities persist, and police are part of that society, so we have a responsibility to promote inclusion and make sure we don’t have that racism.”
“So does that mean you do believe there’s systemic racism in the force or just unconscious bias?” Stephenson pressed.
“I think there’s times when our members don’t act according to our core values, including racism, and when that happens we need to hold those members to account,” Lucki said.
“I can’t say for sure. We put in polices and procedures to make sure we don’t have systemic racism and I think for many of our members are doing great work every single day.
“To say systemically that we have racism, I think systemically there’s racism in most organizations and I don’t think the RCMP is immune to that.”
Shortly after her interview, the group Canadians United Against Hate put out a statement criticizing Lucki’s remarks as “tone deaf” and “out of touch.”
Fareed Khan, founder of the group, said the comments amount to “denying the lived reality of racist abuse by police towards Indigenous, Black and racialized Canadians.”
“Politicians at all levels had better take the bull by the horns and listen to what Canadians across the country are calling for with respect to police encounters with racialized Canadians,” he said.
Trudeau and his ministers have said repeatedly that public leaders need to acknowledge the reality of systemic racism in Canada.
On Thursday, he added that recognizing systemic racism isn’t only about specific cases of violence but about realizing that “there is unfairness built into our system.”
“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,” he said.
“That’s why it’s so difficult to address, is it does require us to look at the very foundational building blocks of the institutions in our country.”
More to come.