The commanding officer of the Alberta RCMP refused to comment on the controversial arrest of Chief Allan Adam on Friday, but did walk back on a statement earlier this week where he said systemic racism didn’t exist in Canadian policing.
READ MORE: Alberta RCMP dashcam video shows violent arrest of First Nation chief, moments leading up to it
Deputy commissioner Curtis Zablocki said since his statement was released on Monday, he’s had several conversations with community members, Indigenous leaders, and people of visible minorities in Alberta who have helped give him a better understanding of what systemic racism is.
“These have been conversations that have challenged my perceptions and made it clear that systemic racism does exist within the RCMP,” Zablocki said.
“My statement earlier this week was not intended to minimize the experiences some people have endured in working with or interacting with the systems or policies of the RCMP.
“I have also reflected on the fact that my perspective on systemic racism comes from observation rather than experience. And that my understanding of the personal effects of that would not be reflective of lived experiences of those who are racially diverse in their self-identification.”
The RCMP on a national level also said Friday that systemic racism exists within the police force, with commissioner Brenda Lucki — who earlier this week said she was “struggling” with the definition of the term in relation to the RCMP — admitting she “should have” definitively said so in earlier interviews.
Zablocki refused, however, to comment on the March arrest of Adam — and video of the incident released earlier this week — citing the integrity of the ongoing ASIRT investigation.
“There’s not a lot we can say about the chief matter at this time,” Zablocki said.
“As you know, the actions and behaviours of our members are under investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team and they’re a vital aspect of police oversight and accountability. And we really want to be sure that we don’t interfere with the processes that they have in place to do their work.”
The Alberta RCMP had said earlier on Friday that Zablocki would address both his previous comments about racism in the force and the investigation into Adam’s arrest.
When asked why, if the RCMP believes the dashcam video exonerates the officers involved, the force didn’t release the video publicly itself, Zablocki said it could jeopardize ongoing court proceedings.
“That’s something that we don’t have control of when there’s a criminal investigation,” he said
“The video is evidentiary obviously — it becomes part of the court package and relevant to the court proceedings. Once that happens it’s not available for us to release.”
RCMP future in Alberta
Zablocki said he now believes racism exists in “policies, procedures and practices that institutions or organizations have.”
“And I needed to acknowledge that, and recognize that the RCMP historically, we haven’t done everything right,” he said.
“Is it that that’s resulted in some of these systemic issues? Potentially, but we really need to dig in and dig down into our policies and procedures and just ensure that they’re inclusive and equitable and fair to everyone involved.”
Moving forward, Zablocki said there is a lot of work to do when it comes to mending relationships, bolstering trust and eliminating systemic racism in the Alberta RCMP.
“We need to look at everything,” he said when asked what needs to change, adding that training and hiring practices need to be evaluated.
“I’m completely committed to ensuring that I and the employees of the RCMP in Alberta continue the necessary work here in the province to eliminate systemic racism,” he said.
He said the Alberta RCMP is working to build a reconciliation service which will help to guide the way the force moves forward.
‘A lot of anger towards the RCMP’
Zablocki’s comments Friday come in light of weeks of protests and calls for police reform across Alberta, Canada and the world — most of which was sparked by the in-custody death of George Floyd, a Black American man.
Floyd died after being pinned by the knee of an officer during an arrest in May in Minneapolis.
Most recently, though, the Alberta RCMP’s actions and bias against minority groups, particularly Indigenous people, have been called in to question again after video of Adam’s arrest showed officers jumping on him, tackling him to the ground and punching him while trying to handcuff him outside a Fort McMurray casino in March.
The video, says Siksika councillor Reuben Breaker, “brings a lot of anger towards the RCMP.”
Reuben said for many First Nations members, years of inter-generational trauma and conflicts with police have led to “the cycle, the patterns that we endure over the years.”
Breaker also said that among Indigenous people, the sight of a police car instills fear instead of trust more often than not.
“There’s automatic fear and guilt because that’s what we associate with with the RCMP, in our language are called ‘Inakiikowan,'” he said. “That means ‘people that capture.'”
As for how the RCMP should move forward, Mount Royal University associate professor of Indigenous Affairs and Kainaiwa First Nation member Gabrielle Lindstrom said approaches to diversity and inclusion training need to shift in order to be effective.
“Diversity and awareness training responds to the comfort levels of settler society and not to the needs of Indigenous communities,” Lindstrom said. “Because if it responded to the needs of Indigenous communities, I would not be experiencing racism in at the levels that I do.”
She said the appropriate approach would through “anti-racism education.”
“It’s looking at your relationships, looking at the history of this country through a very specific lens and filtering your understandings conceptually through this lens and understanding that, in order to learn about another individual or another human being, you actually need to be in relationship with them,” she said.