Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says police misconduct is indefensible

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says police misconduct is indefensible

OTTAWA — Discrimination within Canada’s criminal justice system is abhorrent, unacceptable and unlawful and related police misconduct is indefensible and must be addressed, the federal public safety minister said Tuesday as demands continue for a broad overhaul of policing in Canada.

But Bill Blair — the former Toronto police chief who has grappled many times with allegations of racism in policing ranks — said at the same time, more must be done to eliminate the social inequalities underpinning racism.

Blair appeared in front of reporters Tuesday in the wake of widespread protests across the U.S. and Canada demanding an end to the fact racialized communities often suffer harsher treatment at the hands of police than white people do.

The outcry was spurred by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis in late May, but in recent days numerous reports of quickly escalating violence between Canadians and police have begun to surface. That has included allegations of the RCMP appearing to mishandle interactions with Indigenous Peoples.

In one, there’s a graphic video showing an RCMP officer in Nunavut ramming the door of his car into a man walking along the road in Kinngait.

In a second, police went to check on the well-being of 26-year-old mother Chantel Moore in Edmundston, N.B., last Thursday evening, and ended up shooting and killing her.

The two incidents prompted Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller to say last week he was “pissed” and “outraged” over the situation and full accountability was required.

Blair said Tuesday he shares Miller’s concerns. He pointed to ongoing efforts to put in place a legislative framework governing the relationship between the RCMP and Indigenous groups that would create more accountability.

“We’re absolutely committed to providing every part of this country with professionally and culturally competent policing but also policing that is worthy and trusted by a community to provide those services in an appropriate way, in a bias-free way, in a professional way,” he said.

“I do not in any time accept any potential misconduct of police officers.”

In 2015, then-RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson acknowledged there are racist officers in the RCMP, and he wanted them gone. It was a surprising admission, made at a gathering of the Assembly of First Nations. It also came just as the newly elected Liberal government announced a public inquiry into the thousands of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Indigenous leaders and families of victims had long criticized the RCMP for failing to handle those investigations properly because the missing people were First Nations, Metis or Inuit.

Conflict between the RCMP and First Nations was a running theme in the subsequent report from the public inquiry, but whether the Liberals will move to address those issues in their response plan is unknown. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed its release.

Meanwhile, the civilian review and complaints commission for the RCMP continues to work on its own review of the RCMP’s bias-free policing model, an investigation that began in 2018. The report is to be delivered to the RCMP next year.

Blair was asked Tuesday whether the fact that Indigenous Peoples continue to make up a third overall prison population in Canada is an example of systemic racism in policing.

“Discrimination on the basis of race or any other form or bias is not only abhorrent and unacceptable, it’s unlawful, it’s contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it’s contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act,” he said.

“It is something that cannot be tolerated within policing or corrections or any aspect of the justice system.”

Some advocates for justice reform have called for a complete rethink of how policing is funded in Canada, suggested money be taken out of police budgets and put into community programs to address issues including mental health and addiction.

“It’s not a zero-sum discussion,” Blair said Tuesday.

“Every part of the country also deserves professional and culturally competent and accountable policing services but every part of the country also needs to ensure that we address those social conditions that give rise to injustice, that give rise to disparate outcomes that cause people to suffer.”

Blair wrapped up 10 years as the head of the Toronto police with a mixed legacy on race relations.

While he’d started the job with a commitment to improve the diversity of the force, he ended it mired in a debate over a practice that saw officers randomly stop people on the street and check their identification.

The practice, known as carding, was denounced as being a measure of racial profiling, as studies suggested Black people, as well as other visible minorities, were more often stopped by police.

Blair broadly defended the street checks, saying it worked to catch criminals, though he would later suggest tweaks to prevent officers from using race as a factor to stop someone.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Police

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

robbery
UPDATE: Shooting suspect arrested by Wetaskiwin/Camrose RCMP

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey. Photo Submitted
Rimbey hotel gets new lease on life

The Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey is now open and taking bookings

Leanne Evans, Rimbey Neighbourhood Place Program Coordinator, accepts a donation of $5,000 from Kevin Maxwell manager of Field Support for Telus. (Photo Submitted)
Rimbey Neighbourhood Place making big changes behind the scenes

Rimbey Neighbourhood Place recently recieved a $5,000 donation from Telus

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. Advisers are reportedly recommending Alberta's kindergarten to Grade 4 arts and social studies curriculum remove all references to residential schools because it's "too sad" for young children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Advisers suggest Alberta students not learn about residential schools before Grade 4

Documents suggest children younger than Grade 4 are too emotionally vulnerable to learn about residential schools

File photo
RCMP’s response to online discussions about anti-racism demonstrations

Ponoka RCMP Staff Sgt.’s comments misattributed online

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. The Alberta government is welcoming news that Ottawa has approved an expansion of the Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gathering system in Alberta — while condemning federal delays that it says cost this summer’s construction season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta welcomes federal approval of gas pipeline expansion while criticizing delay

The project is expected to create up to 2,920 direct jobs during construction, the federal release said

Most Read