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Consideration of Government’s Role in Combatting Racism in Committee of the Whole

Senator McCallum: My first question is on behalf of Senator Boyer.

“Intentional acts of racism are clearly a breach of human rights and looked upon as despicable by any decent person, though we have had our challenges in this very chamber.

“The protests in response to the recent murder of George Floyd are not the first to rock the United States. As for Canada, we have documented the overt racial practices enacted by the Canadian state toward Indigenous peoples. We also know this intentional racism continues to affect Indigenous peoples, as made evident in the findings of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, among other areas.

“My question touches on a more nebulous problem. A 1993 Ontario Human Rights decision states how, unlike intentional discrimination, unintentional discrimination may be less clear. Often it involves acting upon internalized prejudices, regardless of whether the prejudice is consciously appreciated as such by the actor.

“How will the government structurally create a framework that addresses the racism against Indigenous peoples and black men and women in this country — one in part that they are responsible for cultivating — while at the same time root out all forms of discrimination, whether they are intended or not?”

Mr. Blair: I’ll do my best to answer that. I’ve actually worked in highly racialized communities for most of my adult life, working with the police in those areas. In Canada, racism tends not to be explicitly expressed by very many people. It’s just simply unacceptable in our society, but it can be implicit and even unconscious. The impact is nonetheless devastating on the people being victimized by it. It’s important to recognize that.

Implicit bias can influence decisions within a number of systems — the health system, housing, employment, education and in the criminal justice system. There needs to be much greater awareness and lack of acceptance of it.

The very first places we need to begin as a people is to acknowledge, recognize and respect the lived experience of Indigenous Canadians, racialized Canadians and young black men who, in their lived experience, have experienced that discrimination, bias and racism. We need to listen very carefully to that lived experience, acknowledge it, and acknowledge that there are things that we need to do better.

There are individual acts of misconduct that can happen, for example, in policing. We have systems in place to detect, prosecute and punish those individual acts of misconduct, but quite frankly, only dealing with individuals when you have a much broader systemic problem just perpetuates the problem. We’ve seen evidence of that.

So I think we need to also, as a society, stop and reflect on the broader systemic racism and discrimination that exists within our society and begin to address it.

Senator McCallum: My second question is for Minister Blair. I’m asking this on behalf of Regional Chief Ghislain Picard from the Justice portfolio from the Assembly of First Nations.

He would like to know, “With regard to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, strong federal leadership is required to undertake the essential reforms and cultural change required to dismantle overt and systemic racism. The fear and mistrust among First Nations is palpable and increasing. While a new co-developed legislative framework recognizing First Nations policing as an essential service is a necessary first step, more still needs to be done, especially with regard to reforms within the RCMP.

“Minister Blair, will you commit to undertake a review and make changes to the RCMP Act to establish a stronger and more robust civilian oversight mechanism that addresses complaints in a timely manner; establish zero tolerance policies on the use of excessive force; mandatory training on enhanced de-escalation and unconscious biases; higher recruitment standards for officers; more robust supports for mental health, substance abuse and youth; the possibility of an elders advisory council; the collection and sharing of race-based disaggregated data; the recruitment and promotion of First Nations within the RCMP; and the mandatory use of body cameras for officers?”

While they want a written response to this, and we will provide you with the vice chiefs that you will need to respond, they wanted you to comment verbally as well.

Mr. Blair: Yes, ma’am. Thank you for the question.

I can also tell you that I have recently spoken to Regional Chief Picard and Regional Chief Teegee, both of whom represent their Justice portfolio on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations. I’ve also spoken, of course, to the national chief and all of the regional chiefs bilaterally and collectively on this issue. I’ve reached out to them and I’ve asked them for their help in co-producing a new legislative framework for Indigenous policing, which is recognized as an essential service. Indigenous policing can have a number of different components. It can involve, for example, the RCMP. It could also involve Indigenous-led First Nations policing services. It can have community safety officers, special constables; it has a number of different components.

I think it’s important that the nations and their leadership define the policing they want and need in their communities.

All of the things that you have read to me from Chief Picard, I agree with. They are all necessary. My answer is yes, I absolutely commit to working on those things, but more importantly I want to commit to Chief Picard and to you that we’re not going to do that in isolation. We’re going to do that with the Indigenous leadership in this country that recognizes, acknowledges and respects their jurisdiction.

I think good policing requires good governance, and empowering the nations and their leadership to provide that governance, to have a say on how they will be policed and by whom they will be policed, and to ensure that the police officers in those communities are knowledgeable, culturally competent and respectful of the people whom they’re there to serve. In order to do that, you have to make sure you’re careful hiring, but also in your training, supervision and holding people to account where they engage in misconduct. There has to be sure, certain and serious consequences for misconduct.

Policing is a very important and essential activity in every community, and every community deserves professional, respectful and competent policing services.

I think we can do better than the current model. That’s why we’ve made a commitment to develop a new legislative framework for Indigenous policing in this country, because it begins with the law. We are going to do that in partnership, collaboration and consultation with the Indigenous leadership in this country.

Senator McCallum: Thank you.

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