The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s defence of the use of force during an arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam last week shows a “pattern of behaviour” that must end now, says federal cabinet minister and former human rights lawyer Carla Qualtrough.
The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson asked Qualtrough, who is Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister, about the video, which shows a Wood Buffalo RCMP officer tackling and punching Adam during an arrest, after which he was left visibly bloodied.
Video of the arrest from March was filed as part of court evidence on Thursday.
“I can’t even think of words that are extreme enough to express how sad, how outraged, how deplorable I found that behaviour,” Qualtrough said about the video.
“Even more deeply I believe we need to really dig in and call it what it is. It’s racism, it’s systemic racism within our police force.”
Pressure is mounting for RCMP and police reforms to address systemic racism.
Those calls are part of a global anti-racism movement galvanized by the death of George Floyd, a Black American man who died after a Minnesota police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis several weeks ago.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canadians must recognize there is systemic racism in Canada, not just in the U.S., and that includes systemic racism within the RCMP.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told Global News last week she has been “struggling” with the definition of systemic racism and that while there is “unconscious bias” among members in the RCMP, there are also many who are doing good work.
That interview sparked accusations from Canadians United Against Hate that Lucki was “tone deaf” and insensitive and on Friday, Lucki issued a followup statement.
“During some recent interviews, I shared that I struggled with the definition of systemic racism, while trying to highlight the great work done by the overwhelming majority of our employees,” Lucki said in her statement.
“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. I should have.”
That came after Trudeau responded to Lucki’s initial interview by saying that there is in fact racism in every government institution, including the RCMP, and that reforms are needed.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said there should be a “zero tolerance policy” within the RCMP for excessive use of force.
“The takedown that happened, there was no de-escalation,” he told Stephenson in an interview for The West Block. “There was no trying to talk things through, there was a straight-out assault and attack, and that’s what’s really disheartening and alarming.”
Bellegarde said this happens “too much, too fast, too often.”
Qualtrough said there are important questions being asked about what reforms the RCMP needs.
“I think we have to look absolutely at the leadership structures, the training we put in place,” she said.
“There’s clearly a pattern of behaviour. There’s a culture in the organization that makes it okay to do this and then justify it by saying, ‘It’s okay to do it.’ It’s unacceptable.”
RCMP say the March 10 incident with Adam was over expired licence plates on his truck.
The 12-minute video showed one officer circling around the truck repeatedly as Adams gets in and out, and says that he is being harassed by the police.
A second officer can then be seen charging into the frame of the video, tackling Adam to the ground and punching him in the head, leaving Adam bloodied.
Adam was later charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
Wood Buffalo RCMP said they were “required to use force” because Adam was resisting arrest.
They called the response by the officer reasonable and said no investigation was needed.
Alberta’s police watchdog agency, however, has opened its own investigation.
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