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First Nations policing in Canada needs to be made an essential service, Blair says

‘When I think about the defunding, I think more about funding all social services: RCMP Commissioner
WATCH ABOVE: 'When I think about the defunding, I think more about funding all social services: RCMP Commissioner

Canada’s public safety minister says that policing in First Nations communities needs to become an essential service, a change that has been advocated by Indigenous leaders for years.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told the House of Commons public safety committee on Tuesday that the federal government would work with Indigenous communities “to co-develop a legislative framework that recognizes First Nations policing as an essential service.”

“Let me be very clear: discrimination on the basis of race or the result of any other form of bias is unacceptable and abhorrent, but it is not merely unacceptable and abhorrent, it is unlawful,” said Blair.

Blair’s statement came amid his testimony before the public safety committee’s launch of a study into systemic racism in policing — a study that comes during a contentious time for police organizations not just in Canada but around the world.

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Read more: Trudeau’s government has a plan to tackle racism in the RCMP. Experts say it won’t work

Anti-racism protests sparked by the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in the U.S. have since spread north of the border.

Calls for greater accountability for police forces in major Canadian cities, as well as the RCMP, have been growing in weeks following Floyd’s death.

The push has also been exacerbated by several recently documented instances of police brutality against Indigenous communities and minorities in Canada.

Bill Blair says he’s pursuing legislation that would make First Nations police an essential service
Bill Blair says he’s pursuing legislation that would make First Nations police an essential service

The RCMP has since been pressured to explain the recent shooting death of Indigenous man Rodney Levi, who died just days after Chantel Moore, another Indigenous person, was killed by an officer of the Edmundston Police Department.

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Another instance where footage of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam being violently handled by RCMP in Alberta also arose and is being investigated.

Read more: ‘It’s not fair’: Family of Chantel Moore calls for justice on steps of B.C. legislature

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki also testified Tuesday evening, pledging to “double down” on creating a diverse policing organization.

“Let me say, we are committed to seek out and eliminate all forms of racism and discrimination in our organization,” she said.

Responding to a question posed to her on what police defunding would look like for the RCMP, Lucki argued that it would be better to fund all social services as opposed to shifting funds away from just policing organizations.

Kelowna cop on desk duty after allegedly dragging nursing student down hallway during wellness check
Kelowna cop on desk duty after allegedly dragging nursing student down hallway during wellness check

“When I think of the defunding, I think more about funding all social services. Having policed in the North myself, in many communities, there is no addictions counselling, there is no mental health crisis centres,” she said.

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“In those times of crisis, we are the first response — and even if there was those services in those areas, it’s so important that the first response when a person is in crisis, and I’ve said at three o’clock in the morning when someone is wielding a knife, that is not the time to bring in mental health practicioners, that is the time to bring in RCMP to go in, get that person calm and get them the help they need.”

Outrage grows over RCMP killing of Indigenous man in N.B.
Outrage grows over RCMP killing of Indigenous man in N.B.

On Tuesday, video also surfaced of a B.C. RCMP officer in Kelowna dragging a nursing student down a hallway and then stepping on her head during a wellness check at her apartment.

Lucki said that mental health calls to RCMP were growing “exponentially,” claiming that close to 10,000 calls a month were being made to the police service on the basis of mental health crises alone.

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“We are not a perfect organization but we will continue to learn, grow and evolve,” said Lucki, who previously backtracked on comments claiming that she found it hard to believe there was systemic racism in the RCMP.

“I have been listening and the calls for action have been heard.”

With files from the Canadian Press