Minister Says Reckoning on Police Violence against Indigenous People Needed

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Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says Canada needs a reckoning over a repeated and disgusting pattern of police violence against Indigenous people.

Miller says he “watched in disgust” video and reports this week of violence against a 22-year-old Inuk man in Nunavut and a 26-year-old First Nations mother in New Brunswick.

In the first, a graphic video shows an RCMP officer in Nunavut ramming the door of his car into the man walking along the road in Kinngait Monday evening. In the second, police went to check on the well-being of 26-year-old Chantel Moore in Edmundston, N.B., Thursday evening, and ended up shooting and killing her.

“A car door is not a proper police tactic, it’s a disgraceful, dehumanizing and violent act,” Miller said, at a news conference on Parliament Hill Friday morning. “I don’t understand how someone dies during a wellness check. When I first saw the report I thought it was some morbid joke.”

Miller was there to provide an update on the status of COVID-19 cases in Indigenous communities, but spent most of the nearly hour-long event answering questions about police violence and racism in Canada.

“Frankly along with many Canadians, Indigenous Peoples living in Canada, politicians in Canada, I’m pissed, I’m outraged. There needs to be a full accounting of what has gone on. This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed him in a separate appearance Friday, saying he would be discussing the issue with the federal cabinet and the commissioner of the RCMP.

“We need a larger reflection on changing the systems that do not do right by too many Indigenous people and racialized Canadians,” Trudeau said. Each of the incidents needs to be investigated fully, he said, but there are clearly larger issues that need to be tackled.

He refused to say specifically what the federal government might do.

“We have, continue to have, systemic racism in this country, systemic discrimination, that means racialized Canadians are vulnerable in these situations.”

This isn’t new, he said, but recent events have illuminated it, including for people who had not really seen it before.

The man who was struck by the officer’s car in Nunavut was arrested and later beaten by another man also in the holding cell he was placed in, requiring him to be airlifted to Iqaluit for treatment. The 22-year-old, whose identity has not been made public, told CBC News in Nunavut that he wants the police officers involved in his arrest to be charged.

The Ottawa Police Service, which does independent investigations of police in Nunavut, has sent a team there but the officer who arrested the man has not been charged or suspended. He was flown out of the community and is on administrative leave.

Quebec’s independent police investigation agency is going to help with the Edmundston shooting at the request of the RCMP, which is providing forensic support.

Moore was killed overnight Thursday after police were asked to do a wellness check. Edmundston police say their officer encountered a woman with a knife making threats. She was shot and killed at the scene.

Miller said he wants answers, and the family deserves answers, quickly.

“It was a wellness check and someone died,” he said. “I can’t process that.”

Miller spoke of how horrified he was to see the physical fear in some of his staff when they visited Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in February, during rail blockades protesting in solidarity with B.C. First Nations over the building of a natural gas pipeline through their territory.

“I felt safe around police forces and they didn’t. I can’t speak for them. But I can see it. It’s palpable. It’s painful.”

Miller said as Canadians look south to the police violence against black Americans they need to be seeing and thinking more about what is happening in our own country.

“It is something we need to reckon as a society,” he said.

Miller said he is open to the idea of adding body cameras to all police though he said videos coming from the United States prove they have not stopped the violence there. He also said police forces need to do better with both recruitment and training. It’s not just rank-and-file officers but the senior leadership of police forces who need to do it, said Miller.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

 
   

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