The Commons public safety committee continued their probe into systemic racism in Canadian policing on Friday, hearing from police, lawyer Julian Falconer and the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
When asked what the first step in fighting systemic racism in police institutions, Lorraine Whitman said Indigenous women need to be heard and be a part of the process.
“We know the stories. We know the history. We eat it, we drink it, we walk it every day. We have cultural components that go with it that differ from non-Indigenous,” Whitman said.
When asked if more Indigenous women in policing would be a solution, Whitman responded most women and Indigenous people fear the police. She said it’s ingrained in Indigenous people starting historically with RCMP officers taking children away to residential schools, then later in the ’60s Scoop.
But Nishan Duraiappah, Peel regional police chief, told the committee in his view as an immigrant and in his 25 years of policing the situation is improving.
He says the problem is police are being used as a last option. He said health and mental health authorities need to take responsibility too.
“The fact that a family can rely on calling 911 as an only source for an individual in crisis, and us to be on the doorstep that day, and for it to end in a tragic circumstance is really the failure of all those multiple contacts along other systems to not have found an off-ramp at a previous time,” Duraiappah explained
Duraiappah says a lack of healthcare access in racialized communities means police have to deal with it.
NDP MP Jack Harris took exception and blamed a lack of training.
“You do have to be responsible and the principles that we talked about the anti-biased need, the de-escalation need. That has to be present and it appears that it’s not present, Harris said. “That’s why we have these incidents.”
Lawyer Julian Falconer disagreed that systemic racism is receding and said in his 30 years of working police violence cases nothing has improved.
Bloc Quebecois MP Kristina Michaud asked Falconer whether the government needs to pitch in more funding when it comes to training officers. Falconer said police need to start specifically recruiting and training officers to be de-escalation specialists. These officers could be used on special response teams and, accompanied by a health worker, respond to 911 calls involving health or mental health issues.
Falconer alluded to defunding and suggested police “put the money into police officers who want to do that (de-escalation) for a living rather than use their gun or taser.”
Falconer says systemic racism is entrenched in the legal system and he objects to the double standard when police face allegations of misconduct.
“When police mislead about an event they don’t face obstruct justice charges as a rule,” Falconer said, “they don’t face perjury charges. When they guild the lily, when they kind of fudge the facts to get past what they’ve done to someone, they don’t face serious repercussions.”
Falconer called police a paramilitary organization that is unable to change on their own.
“What I suggest is that you take your power and privilege that you as a committee have and you force the auditor general, federally and provincially, to start enforcing these reports,” Falconer shared.
Reports like the final recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
On behalf of all Indigenous women, Whitman had a question for police and government.
“Do you finally hear us? Do you finally see us? Or do you continue to ignore and allow the violence to continue?”