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Chief backs call for Indigenous representation on proposed RCMP, CBSA watchdog

A grand chief in B.C. is backing one member of Parliament’s push for the Liberals to amend tabled legislation so a proposed new federal law enforcement watchdog would, if established, employ Indigenous people as both decision-makers and complaints investigators.

“All legislation must engage Indigenous input not after the fact but during the drafting of the legislation itself, and it’s absolutely essential that any oversight bodies of policing agencies include an Indigenous presence,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“It’s time that governments woke up and smell the coffee and begin to seriously engage Indigenous people when they’re drafting legislation.”

Bill C-20 would dissolve the current civilian review agency for the RCMP and create a replacement that would also be tasked with handling complaints against the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Because Indigenous people have well-documented issues with Canadian law enforcement, they should be included on any new oversight commission, says NDP public safety critic Alistair MacGregor, who raised this issue last week in the House of Commons.

chief backs call for indigenous representation on proposed rcmp cbsa watchdog
NDP MP Alistair MacGregor rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa in February 2017. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“We know, particularly with Indigenous people in Canada, the problems they have had with the RCMP,” said MacGregor, who represents Cowichan-Malahat-Langford in B.C.

“So I think it’s important we add this layer of accountability and transparency.”

MacGregor pressed Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to explain whether Indigenous people will be involved in the new oversight body as the House debated the bill at second reading, but didn’t receive a direct response.

MacGregor said a 2021 House committee study into systemic racism in policing recommended the current RCMP oversight body, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), be overhauled. It said Indigenous investigators should probe complaints Indigenous people file, which wouldn’t happen under C-20’s proposed reforms.

Mendicino’s response listed a number of Indigenous policing initiatives underway, which did suggest a “willingness” to possibly alter the bill as it winds through the legislative process, according to MacGregor, who said he’ll press the issue further when the bill arrives at committee.

First Nations leader backs effort

Citing a string of crackdowns on First Nations-led civil disobedience and in-custody deaths of Indigenous people in B.C., Phillip said he agrees with the MP.

“We know there’s been a spike in complaints related to lethal means being too readily employed by RCMP officers when it comes to Black people, Indigenous and people of colour — and that’s absolutely unacceptable. It’s very dangerous to continue along that path,” Phillip said.

“Clearly, we need more accountability through some very rigorous oversight. The current system is not working.”

The federal government recently passed legislation requiring it to harmonize its laws with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and consult with Indigenous Peoples on any new initiatives that may impact them, Phillip said.

When asked if he was consulted on C-20, Phillip said he wasn’t and that “reflects and demonstrates the attitudes of government” that treat Indigenous consultation as an afterthought.

CBC News asked Mendicino’s office if Public Safety consulted with any Indigenous groups before tabling C-20 but has not yet received an answer.

String of reviews impact First Nations

Meanwhile, civil liberties groups like the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) have also long criticized the current complaints process.

In 2014, the BCCLA complained to the CRCC, alleging Mounties carried out an illegal spying campaign against law-abiding protesters opposed to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project, including First Nations activists.

The CRCC probed the question and handed the Mounties an interim report in 2017. The force still hadn’t responded three and a half years later, preventing the CRCC from releasing its findings publicly.

The BCCLA sued the force, claiming the RCMP commissioner, by allowing reports to pile up, was systematically obstructing complaints. Within months, the RCMP had released multiple responses.

This enabled the CRCC to release a report that found Mounties’ use of arbitrary searches and broad exclusion zones violated protesters’ charter rights during the Mi’kmaw-led, 2013 anti-fracking standoff near Rexton, N.B.

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RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki in Ottawa in June 2021. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The CRCC then released its final report in the BCCLA’s case, which came almost seven years after the complaint was filed. This report confirmed Mounties had secretly snooped on peaceful protesters, but said the operations were legal.

Then the CRCC released another report, this time finding the RCMP racially discriminated against Colten Boushie’s mother Debbie Baptiste when informing her her 22-year-old son had been fatally shot by farmer Gerald Stanley in rural Saskatchewan.

The CRCC is currently reviewing a 2020 incident where a Mountie arrested a Kinngait, Nunavut, man by slamming into him with the open door of a moving cruiser.

Other changes

Currently, the RCMP does not report on its progress implementing recommendations from these reports, which would change under the new bill, according to Mendicino’s speech in the House.

The Mounties and border guards would have to report annually to the minister on their progress, he said, and there would now be firm timelines for the RCMP and CBSA to report.

The new agency would also publish desegregated, race-based data on complainants, which is not easily available currently.

The new agency would have to implement education and information programs to spread the word about its mandate, according to Mendicino.

It would also be the first time the CBSA has a dedicated public complaints body.

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