Professor says new Ottawa police chief Eric Stubbs a step back for Indigenous relations

A University of Ottawa professor says the background of Eric Stubbs, Ottawa’s new police chief represents a major step back in terms of the force’s relations with Indigenous people.

Prior to his appointment last week, Stubbs was in charge of core criminal operations for the B.C. RCMP which means he oversaw the police raids on the Wet’suwet’en territory in recent years.

Veldon Coburn, who teaches in the Institute of Indigenous Research and Studies at the university, said this is a problem.

“Leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth of probably a lot of people that are committed to Indigenous issues,” he said. “Particularly because of his role either directly or even indirectly with the extra-constitutional arrests of not only just journalists who were covering the B.C. RCMP’s infringement of Indigenous rights out there but also the actual violence that’s been visited upon Indigenous folks in Wet’suwet’en but also in Fairy Creek.”

The Mounties’ CIRG or Community-Industry Response Group is a division of the B.C. RCMP that controls groups that push back against resource projects, mainly oil, gas and lumber.

It has raided Wet’suwet’en territory and arrested dozens of people trying to stop Coastal Gaslink pipeline that runs from northeastern B.C. to the coast.

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Behind the Thin Blue Line: Meet a secretive arm of the RCMP in B.C. 

Sam Hersh, who sits on the board of the community organization Horizon Ottawa, agrees the hiring is troubling.

“You Google Eric Stubbs’ name and right away you find things about arresting journalists during Wet’suwet’en or supporting that or defending that,” he said. “I can’t speak directly to those actions but only what I’ve read in official documents and the news. But I mean it’s not very promising for the safety of marginalized groups in the community. I’m worried about that as many people are.”

The way Stubbs was hired has also raised concerns.

Ottawa’s police services board chose to announce the hiring a mere 72 hours before voters went the polls in a municipal election on Monday.

The chair of the board, Eli El-Chantiry, chose not to run in the election and will be replaced.

Another councillor on the board, Jeff Leiper, was away when the vote to hire Stubbs took place.

The seven-member police services board is made up of three city councillors, three members appointed by the province and one member of the public appointed by council.

All of this doesn’t sit well with newly elected Somerset Ward Councillor Ariel Troster.

Her ward takes in the downtown core which was the staging ground for a truckers protest this past winter that jammed downtown businesses and residents while police and city officials sat idly by.

“It was at a time when so many citizens felt like they were failed by the police force,” she said. “You know, failure to protect us especially in our downtown communities. When our city was taken over by extremists. So, it’s definitely a difficult time when it comes to policing in Ottawa and extra transparency, extra accountability can never hurt. I would have really hoped that they would have waited to make that announcement.”

Hersh and Troster both said what Stubbs needs to do now is reach out to Indigenous and other marginalized groups in the city as part of an effort to show he is willing to work with them.

But Coburn said he remains skeptical whether the new police chief can bridge that gap.

“Matters of the rule of law when it comes to Indigenous peoples – they really have a damaged history with the RCMP. I mean it was established out of the Northwest Mounted Police which was a militia basically to remove Indigenous people from the land. The new Ottawa chief of police has participated in one of the more contemporary versions of that with the violent removal of Wet’suwet’en and other Indigenous peoples from their territory.”

APTN News reached out to Stubbs for an interview but a spokesperson with the police services board said he has COVID-19 and would not be doing interviews at this time.  

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