Treaty 8 chiefs want to see systematic change from the RCMP, judicial process, federal and provincial governments to address racism.
Grand Chief of Justice Allan Adam, Grand Chief Arthur Noskey and Deputy Grand Chief Ramona Horseman pushed for action at a virtual news conference on Friday.
“Consider if it was your son who was shot, if it was your dad out hunting,” Noskey said.
“It’s in a judicial system, a judicial process you don’t trust. Where would you like to see changes?”
“How do we move forward with rights and reconciliation?” Horseman asked. “We have thoughts, ideas and solutions. Work with us and make these come true,” she said.
“We don’t want to be statistics anymore.”
While Noskey is demanding governments be held accountable to their commitments to Truth and Reconciliation, Adam wants to see a First Nations police force with its own authority, justice measures to mitigate against systemic discrimination, liaison workers to support police and comprehensive Indigenous training for officers.
“Promises to end actions are not enough,” he said. “There has been nothing done.”
The calls come in the wake of a civilian watchdog’s report into how Mounties handled the high-profile shooting death of a young Indigenous man in Saskatchewan.
The report found officers discriminated against his mother.
The finding is detailed in a document by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP, which reviewed the investigation into the death of Colten Boushie.
The 22-year-old Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation was shot and killed in August 2016, while sitting in an SUV that he and his friends had driven onto the farm of Gerald Stanley near Biggar, Sask.
The commission found the search of Boushie’s mother’s house was “not authorized by law” and “unlawful,” adding the way officers treated Boushie’s mother when they notified her of his death amounted to discrimination based on race.
The report detailed how one officer questioned Debbie Baptiste about whether she had been drinking, while someone also told her to “get it together.”
“The RCMP members provided Ms. Baptiste with little information about what had happened to her son, but proceeded to question her and look in places in her home where no person could be hiding,” it read.
On Friday, Adam said his heart goes out to Boushie’s family.
He said the report highlighted issues of “abuse, violence, humiliation and racism.”
“When you see it in the light of day… it is very, very ugly,” Adam said.
The prominent northern Alberta First Nations chief was the subject of a violent arrest last March. A 12-minute video — RCMP dash-cam footage — showing Adam’s March 10 arrest in downtown Fort McMurray was made public.
While he was initially charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer, those charges were later withdrawn by the Crown.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is investigating the arrest itself. ASIRT told Global News on Friday that the file is still open and there is no update. An ASIRT spokesperson could not provide a timeline for the investigation “as it remains open.”
Allan isn’t holding out hope for that investigation.
“RCMP have internal affairs to justify their actions,” he said Friday. “I don’t think the RCMP should be investigating the RCMP.”
ASIRT was created as an independent agency that investigates Alberta police officers whose conduct may have caused serious injuries, death or led to serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct. It is led by a civilian executive director, who is a lawyer. The director oversees a hybrid organization that includes a blend of provincial civilian investigators and seconded police officers from various police agencies.
But for Adam, it’s about more than one incident; he thinks a complete overhaul of how governments and police forces address racial profiling is needed.
“It’s evident that racial profiling begins when you’re apprehended and the final nail is done when the judge sentences you for your misdemeanors,” Adam said.
“The whole system has to change. We cannot change the RCMP or the police force… It has to start from the law-making and the law-breaking from within the justice system.”
In a statement to Global News Monday, a spokesperson for the RCMP said “racism and discrimination of any kind have no place in the RCMP.”
Media Relations officer Robin Percival said a modernization and review of the RCMP core values are being done to “ensure they are modern and inclusive.”
“We have launched an RCMP Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, with a focus on identifying and reducing workplace and service delivery barriers, racism and discrimination for diverse groups of people.
“We are re-vamping our recruitment process to ensure it is modern, inclusive and barrier-free.
“This includes undertaking a review of attributes and characteristics needed for modern policing, and using screening measures to detect racist, sexist and discriminatory beliefs.”
Percival said “acknowledging, understanding and learning from the mistakes we’ve made in the past is critical to building trusting relationships into the future” and that “deep and meaningful changes across a large organization take time and a great deal of effort, but we are beginning to see progress.”
In November, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she has been “listening” and “learning” and has consulted with various groups in order to address systemic racism within the police force.
With files from Kelly Skjerven, Global News